By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
- Macbeth IV - William Shakespeare
It is that time of year when ghouls, ghosts, goblins and all kinds of spooks start gearing up to go bumping around in the dark corridors of our imaginations and scare as many poor souls as they can.
Autumn! - what a beautiful time of year and yet it can be eerily frightening as you walk alone down that dark street on your way home, the leaves rustling after you as if something is following close behind. The shadows of trees and shrubs looking as if there is something lurking just beyond the safety of the street lamp's glow that are much too far apart for your peace of mind.
Just around the corner is one of the spookiest times of year - Halloween! Why has this holiday turned into such a frightful experience? Why is it considered by many as a satanic celebration? Let us take a brief look at the history of this day and find out how it has changed over the years.
According to ancient history, Halloween was really not created to scare people out of their wits! It comes down to us from what is now Ireland, England and northern France, from the Celts of over 2,000 years ago. November 1, which marked the end of summer and the harvest, began the time of dark and bitter cold and, often in those times, death.
The night before the new year the veil between life and death became much thinner, when ghosts of the departed could return, so the Celts believed. For this reason, on October 31, Samhain was celebrated because they believed that by having the "spirits" present it was easy for the Druids to predict the future. This brought peace of mind and security to the people who were facing months of struggle through the long cold and dark winter ahead of them. This gave them something to cling to with hope.
During the Samhain celebration the people had huge bonfires, built by the Druids, and wore costumes. Because they did not have action cartoon figures or modern day heroes to go by, they used the best things they had - animal heads and skins to mimic or placate the evil spirits that might destroy their crops and bring misfortune. They reveled and told fortunes to each other. When the celebrating ended, they took to their homes flames from the sacred bonfires to light their home hearth fires. This gave them protection during the winter, with warmth from the ever burning hearth of sacred flames.
After the Celts were conquered by the Romans, A.D. 43, two other festivals of the Roman origin were added to Samhain. Feralia, to give rest and peace to the departed, a commemoration for the "passing of the dead", was the first event. The second celebration was Pomona, which was to honor the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Interestingly, the symbol of Pomona was the apple. This very possibly could explain the tradition of "bobbing for apples" that became popular at Halloween parties of modern times.
When Christianity spread into Celtic lands, in the 800's, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as All Saints Day. This was a day to honor all saints and martyrs. This was also referred to as All Hallows. The night before Samhain then became known as All Hallows Eve which eventually became Halloween. In A.D. 1000, the church designated November 2 as All Souls Day, in honor of the dead and it was celebrated much as Samhain always was - only now, the costumes became saints, angels or devils. By combining all these celebrations, it became known as Hallowmas.
The carving of pumpkins into "jack-o-lanterns' is a popular American symbol of Halloween, but it originated in Europe. The "lantern" was originally carved from turnips or rutabagas. The Celts used these lanterns to symbolize a head, the most powerful part of the body which contained the spirit and knowledge, to frighten off any evil or superstitions. The name of jack-o-lantern perhaps comes from an old Irish legend of "Stingy Jack", who, after having tricked the devil was cursed to forever wander the earth with only a candle inside a turnip to light his way.
What is now considered "traditional" images of Halloween, monsters, witches, ghosts, ghouls, vampires, bats, owls, black cats, etc. has largely been brought on due to American filmmakers and their horror movies such as Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. The wonderful old Vincent Price movies did much to cement these symbolisms.
As for the "Trick-or-Treating" fun of Halloween, this tradition began in America in the early 20th century. How or why it did is debatable among many. It is possible that the custom was brought forward from the approval of the church for "souling". This is when beggars were allowed to go around asking for food such as barley or oat cakes, in exchange for prayers. This was insurance that the beggars spirit would be allowed to enter heaven. "Soul Cake Day" is still popular in Ireland and Scotland. Soul cakes were traditionally set out with glasses of wine on All Hallows Eve, October 31, for the souls of the dead. This may be why "trick-or-treating" began.
Soul Cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake. An apple, a plum, a peach, or a cherry, anything good thing to make us merry. One for Peter, one for Paul, & three for Him who made us all. - an old British children's song