Well, first… Happy All Hallows Eve, all. 🙂
Sheree did a post mentioning how France celebrates “All Saints Day” on Nov 1st instead of Halloween. I thought it would be fun to go into the origins of Halloween, given the day and all… 🎃
The general consensus is that Halloween is an evolution of the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain (actually pronounced sow-in or sow-win. And I wonder why I have no luck with Gaelic despite my roots, lol). In reality, several cultures such as the Romans (and Egyptians IIRC) had similar holidays around this time. Samhain probably is the primary influencer of modern Halloween however.
LONG story short, Samhain was a recognition or belief that the spiritual veil between the material world and all of the spiritual realms is thinnest on this day of the year. This had both good and bad effects for the Celts and Druids.
The bad side of this was that all manner of evil was or is (if you’re a neo-pagan), able to walk the Earth this night. The masks we now associate with trick or treating were worn to frighten off demons and other dark spirits of all kinds. Bonfires served a similar purpose.
What kind of boogies might one encounter? Well, per History.com:
“Some specific monsters were associated with the mythology surrounding Samhain, including a shape-shifting creature called a Pukah that receives harvest offerings from the field. The Lady Gwyn is a headless woman dressed in white who chases night wanderers and was accompanied by a black pig.
The Dullahan sometimes appeared as impish creatures, sometimes headless men on horses who carried their heads. Riding flame-eyed horses, their appearance was a death omen to anyone who encountered them.
A group of hunters known as the Faery Host might also haunt Samhain and kidnap people. Similar are the Sluagh, who would come from the west to enter houses and steal souls.”
Technically, anyone into metaphysics will tell you that with the veil being thin everywhere, one could encounter anything from Heaven, hell or anywhere in between. 🙂
The good aspect of the day, to the ancient Celts, is that it also made it easier for their priests and druids to commune with the spirit world and receive prophecies on the coming year’s weather, events, etc… It was also considered the end of the year. These predictions were taken very seriously too, with planning for the upcoming year being made based on them. So, Samhain was a very important religious day for the Celts.
As Christianity spread into Northern Europe, the Catholic church attempted to incorporate pagan holidays into it’s own calendar, with a twist towards it’s own beliefs. With Samhain, the first attempt came in the fifth century by Pope Boniface. He moved the celebration to May 13th and specified it as a day celebrating saints and martyrs. The celebrations of October and November, however, did not end with this decree.
In the 9th century, Pope Gregory moved the celebration back to November 1st, but declared it All Saints’ Day. All Souls’ Day would be celebrated on November 2nd.
Eventually, blended traditions led to “All Hallows Eve” or (later) just Halloween. Much of the US traditions around Halloween came from 19th century Irish immigrants. Again, per History.com:
“Trick-or-treating is said to have been derived from ancient Irish and Scottish practices in the nights leading up to Samhain. In Ireland, mumming was the practice of putting on costumes, going door-to-door and singing songs to the dead. Cakes were given as payment.
Halloween pranks also have a tradition in Samhain, though in the ancient celebration, tricks were typically blamed on fairies.“
And the evolution continues with modern neo-pagans trying to reclaim the holiday from the candy and costume manufacturers that have most recently hijacked it. 🙂