Halloween as it is celebrated these days is but a pale representation of its rich and multicultural history. It is not, as some would call it, a celebration of the Devil or of Hell or of the Damned, but rather a blending of the celebrations marking the end of the growing season, a heralding of the coming of the winter months and folk traditions that told of the day when the veil between the living and the dead, ever a transparent, gossamer veil at that, would lift and ghosts and ghouls would walk among the living. From those many traditions, coming to us from the Celts, the Roman rituals and even Catholic tradition, we get the stirrings of what would eventually become Halloween.
Back in the Old Days
Back in the old days, or once upon a time, in the tradition of fairy tales, there were the Celtic people and their Druid priests. The Druids were believed to have the ability, among other skills, to commune with the dead. Their powers, it was rumored, were much more powerful on the day of Samhain (pronounced sow-en), which was the last day of the year in the Celtic calendar. But, before believing that the Halloween celebration came directly from Samhain, a day mistakenly attributed directly to the Wiccans rather than to the Celts, you must understand that it is a blend of Hallowmas, a celebration of Catholic origins, as well as the Roman festival called Feralia.
On the day of Samhain, the Celtic people would all extinguish their home’s hearth fire. They would gather in front of a blessed bonfire and would sing, dance and listen to the stories that were told during the celebration. At the end of the evening, each person would take some of the bonfire home to relight their heart fire in hopes of ensuring good fortune to their home and family for the coming year. It is said that if your hearth fire would not light from the sacred bonfire, misfortune, even death, would befall someone in the house that very year.
By the 19th century, most of the religious aspects of the Halloween celebration had dwindled away and it was mostly a secular holiday, a gathering of community with only some of the remnants of the past clinging to it like the cobwebs of a haunted house. People would still dress up in costume, but less for the original reason of confusing the dead and more for just plain entertainment and fun.
Halloween Travels to the New World
European immigrants brought many of their traditions and beliefs with them to the New World, even those that were sometimes frowned upon or scoffed at. Halloween itself was largely disallowed, even forbidden, but in Maryland, the tradition was not only allowed but encouraged. The people there held what they called “play parties” where they would take turns telling each other’s fortunes, dancing, singing and telling ghost stories. The children would dress in costumes and try to scare one another as well.
The Irish immigrants came to the new world in great masses, fleeing from the Potato Famine that was starving them to death, and brought with them the Halloween tradition of going door to door looking for sweets and other treats. The tradition of trick or treating is still a favorite among little children today.
The Witchcraft, Halloween Connection
There are still many, especially among fundamentalist Christians, who believe that Halloween is nothing more than a celebration of paganism and witchcraft because of some of the traditions that are involved. It was thought that on Halloween night, a young woman could determine who her future spouse would be by staring into a mirror in a darkened room or by peeling an apple in one long strip and then casting the peel over her shoulder. Other traditions involved baking small coins and trinkets in a barmbrack, a type of fruit cake that would be shared among the neighbors. This was done as sort of a fortune-telling game, and if you got a trinket in your piece, that was your fate for the coming year. Traditional things baked into the barmbrack were: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) and a ring. If you got the pea, that meant you would not marry that year; the stick, “to beat one’s wife with”, mean you would have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes with your spouse; the cloth or rag would mean you were to be destitute; the coin meant would enjoy good fortune or be rich; and the ring foretold you would be wed within the year.
While the Catholic Church bears no ill will toward the Halloween traditions and the holiday itself, there are some Christian churches who say that it encourages witchcraft and may even lead to Satanism. These churches hold “Hell Houses” meant to scare children and young adults away from the traditions and to lead them back to the church. Some of these churches even hand out pamphlets and religious tracts on Halloween night to be found when the children go through their candy.
The Druids and Celts and Halloween History
When it comes to Druids and Celts and Halloween, there is a connection that dates back eons. Of course the tales surrounding their connection involving Halloween are deeply shrouded in mystery and lore, as the holiday itself is. While there some variations in the tales, the core of the stories remain the same.
The First Halloween or Samhain
The celebrations for this holiday started in ancient, pre-Christian times as a Celtic ceremony for the dead. The holiday fell upon October 31, as it still does. It was called Samhain and marked the eve of the next season and new year. During this time period, November 1 was the beginning of the cold season, which was a time of hardship. In this era the year was divided up based on four holidays, as opposed to seasons but each division was still affiliated with a season. For this situation, the season was winter.
The winter ahead promised to be cold, long and harsh. The people would get ready by relocating their livestock closer and preparing them for the cruel season ahead. The cessation of the crop cycle was at this time, with the harvests being stored for the winter. Because of the severity of this season, and the long, dark, cold spell upon the Celts, it became affiliated with death.
The festival of Samhain became a time that people believed the worlds of the living and the dead could become one again, with the presence of spirits. Spirits could return to earth and be mischievous, like causing crop damage. The Celts also thought the priests, or Druids, could make forecasts with greater ease for the coming year when the un-living were around. Animal sacrifices would be made and fires lit to try to keep the souls at bay but help them see their way from the earth to the beyond.
Costumes were adorned during these early festivities, usually those made from the skins and heads of dead animals. The Celts would try to make predictions for one another, gathered around the large bonfire, then returned home to start their own hearth fire back again. They would use a flame from the Samhain bonfire, believing this would help to protect themselves and their homes.
Eventually, the holiday we know as Halloween became known this way after Christian missionaries set out to tamper with the ways the Celts practiced religion. The holiday really began to change following the Roman’s domination over most of the Celtic territory. Samhain was then combined with two Roman holidays.
Samhain was declared pagan as Christianity spread, and a celebration associated with the devil and all things evil. Since Druids were priests and scholars of the practice deemed pagan, these scholarly men were seen as worshipers of evil and the Devil. Christians categorized the underworld of the Celts as tied in with Hell. Many held on strong to their core beliefs as the changes were made.
First – All Souls Day was started, where the living paid homage to the dead, or souls, who had passed. This took place on November 2 of each year. All Saints Day occurred on November 1, but it was the night before All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows, that the lines between the living world and the spiritual one were blurred. This night was called All Hallows Eve, and eventually Halloween. The Celts maintained many of their beliefs and traditions involving this holiday and time of year. One change that happened was that the spirits, once viewed as simply mischievous, were considered evil. This is how the Druids and Celts and Halloween all went down in history together.
The Druids and Celts and Halloween Connected to Modern Traditions
Though the holiday saw many changes in both name and traditions, much of the modern day celebrations can be said to still be tied to original Samhain practices. For example, the Celts wore the hides and heads of animals as costumes during this event, and the use of costumes is still practiced today.
Trick-or-treating is another example of Celt traditions that live on. Since, originally, people left food and offerings to wandering spirits to appease them, people began to use costumes of spirits to go from door to door to collect these offerings. This is what became the first true type of trick-or-treating.
While customs continue to change and evolve, it is doubtful the holiday will ever transform so much that there will not be some remaining proof of the Druids and Celts and Halloween connection.
**Information taken from Halloween.com**