Halloween/All Souls Night originates from the Celtic Pagan Festival `Samhain´ ( pronounced Sow'en, Gaelic). Samhain was and still is the deep sacredly mysterious time when the doors to the otherworld are wide open, allowing spirits to pass through in both directions.It has been christianised as All Saints day / All Souls night.
Samhain is the Celtic New Year and an ancient festival of the dead. The word Samhain is also used in Celtic Gaelic for the `winter season´. The Celtic year is rather like the progress of the soul itself, beginning in cold and darkness and proceeding through the seasons of life until it reaches maturity, fruition and death in the cold again.
The first Halloween fires can be traced back to the Great Festival Fires built on two hills 'Tlachtga' and 'Tara' in Ireland around 4500 years ago, long before the european Celtic tribes were established. It became more popular throughout the Celtic lands approximately 2000 years later,
Samhain has three distinctive foundations. It was and still is for a few of us an important fire festival originally celebrated on and over the evening and night of 31 October. The flames of the old fires were extinguished and ceremonially re-lit by Druids, Mystics & Elders at this time. The main hilltop fire was also the source of flame to all the smaller hearths in the local village.
Samhain had the power somewhat like the modern New Year's Day, in that it had the notion of casting out the old and moving forward into the new. To our Ancestors it was a time when all the crops would have been gathered and stored, the preserving and pickling complete, livestock brought to safety and preparations finalised in awareness of the long cold winter ahead.
To ward off any disturbing, malevolent or annoying spirits and to invite helpful spirits and reachable family ancestors on the other side our european ancestors lit great fires to attract the helpful spirits, the family members wore strange disguises to confuse spirits bringing trouble and stop them identifying and casting negative energy to individuals who they had disliked in their own lifetime. Animal bones were cast into the fire and food was prepared for the living and the dead.
The disguises our Celtic relations wore were usually the heads of animals and rough animal furs. they would sit round the fire making rituals and singing ancient songs as well as other soul nurturing pastimes like story telling and prophesying.
The prepared food and wines were left at earthy power places and areas where hawthorn (whitethorn) was growing in the hope the meal would please and calm the annoying spirits. Offerings were also left in other places as gifts of hospitality to their own ancestors.
Halloween may stir up thoughts of hollowed out pumpkins illuminated from the inside and groups of children knocking on the door asking for sweets but the actual pumpkin/trick or treat custom is a very recent tradition grafted on to deep roots.
In Great Britain for hundreds of years the custom was always the carving out of turnips to frighten away any unwanted spirit, in the same style as the recent pumpkins adding a gruesome face and adding a candle to complete the vegetable face lantern. The scary turnips were left on gateposts, doorways and on window ledges. This turnip tradition was still very active in Parts of Europe up until 20 years ago when the pumpkin industry crowded the turnips out.
In the 1900,s immigrants to the US from Ireland and Scotland used pumpkins instead of turnips (probably because they were cheaper and more widespread) for their halloween lanterns therefore over recent years the Halloween pumpkin tradition spread across the Atlantic and back into Europe.
The term `Jack o Lanterns´ is associated with Halloween, it originates from an 18th century Irish folk story. "Jack tricked the devil and had him climb an apple tree to take an apple, when the devil climbed up the tree, Jack cut the sign of a cross into the trunk to prevent the devil from coming down, the devil was trapped in the tree branches. When Jack died he couldn't gain access into heaven because of his life of selfishness and the devil didn't want anything to do with him because of his trapping cross carving trickery some years earlier. The devil threw a burning coal at Jack, so Jack put it in a hollow turnip to make a lantern and Jack was forced to walk the earth endlessly as a ghost.
Trick or Treating our ancestors would often go from door to door at Halloween time collecting offerings to donate to the pagan dieties. The younger folk would collect old wood and stack it all on top of the ceremonial hill for the great Halloween fire. Over the years these social practices transformed into todays `trick or treating´ where the children proceed from door to door asking for sweets.
In 840 AD Christianity incorporated the honouring of the dead into the Christian calendar with All Saints day on November 1st in an attempt to subdue, regulate and control the wonderful Pagan Fire Festival.
In europe these days modern day druids, pagans and witches celebrate Samhain either from sundown on October 31 through November 1 or on the the Full or New Moon closest to this time.
Honour and Respect to our Ancestors
Samhain is the main time when we should honour our ancestors, especially if we've had a loved one die in the past year, this is the perfect night to celebrate their memory. Its easy and beneficial to communicate with the departed at this time, who can impart to us advice, protection and guidance for the next year.
The cycle of life and death
This time of year the earth passes away, the leaves fall, the fields become empty and the land sleeps. we can use this the time to remember the dead and contemplate this endless cycle of life, death and rebirth.
The God and Goddess of Samhain
At Samhain the Goddess has entered her incarnation of Crone. She is the Old One, the earth mother, the wise one we turn to when we need advice. She teaches us that sometimes we must let go in order to move on. The God, at Samhain is the Horned One. Its also time now to decorate your alter/shrine with antlers, acorns, pine cones, bones and red and black candles. Rosemary, Apples and Rowan berries are also great offerings for this time.
Samhain is known as the night when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. at this time the spirit world is at its closest, It's time to honor the spirit world, and call upon those ancestors who came before us after all, if it wasn't for them we wouldn't be here now, so if you haven't engaged in otherworld communication before, now is a good time to get busy.
try to work outside at Samhain time, it's much more powerful. locate a flat stone, and decorate it as your earth alter with items as mentioned above, make a herb mix of sage and rosemary for incense to spiritually freshen up the area,
Relax, breathe deep breaths, close your eyes and bring to mind all the people you come from, or a friend or loved one who recently departed, These spirits are a part of you and can alter and guide and support us on our life path. Appreciate, Respect and Honour them for who they were, no expectations or apologies are necessary, know and feel them close by watching, you may see them with your inner vision and if you have had practice before be able to hold communication with them. Certainly they will show up in our impending dreams and communicate with us there. Sooner or Later we will all be on that side so a bit of early doors preparation and communication can go a long way.
The title Halloween is hundreds of years old and derives from the title All Hallows Eve. Hallow meaning Sacred and eve meaning even, so over the years All Hallows Eve was shortened to Halloween. There are quite a few other names for Halloween including All souls night, Snap Apple Night, Feast of the Dead and Witches Night.
Although Halloween has been downgraded and devolved from a first class night of deep/commemorative spirit communion and otherworld mediation to a shallow,commercialised fright night muddle, it still remains a time of the year where social normality is turned upside down and a temporary freedom of expression rules the roost.
Halloween still is magical time where supernatural forces are in abundance, and the spirits of the dead although cannot be seen by mortal eyes, return to visit there earthly abodes.
Happy Samhain time to all.