Got your costume yet? Have you decided what you’re going to be? If there are children in your home, there’s been one big question that has superseded everything else, What are you going to be for Halloween? From ghoulies and ghosties to long leggity beasties, this is the night where the werewolves howl, the super heroes walk, run and fly and the princesses prance. Sugar comas are incoming! It’s also the time where our imaginations soar, and we get good creepy goosebumps regularly.
The word Halloween itself is a contraction of All Hallows Eve. The origin of Halloween is linked to several ancient festivals. The Pagan Romans held a feast on the first of November in honor of Pomona, goddess of the fruit trees. In the British Isles, Hallowe’en was originally known as Samhain.
Samhain marked the change of the season from summer to winter. It was the rite of the passage of power from the High Priestess, who ruled growth, fertility and the harvest, to the High Priest, who was empowered during the time of the hunt. It was believed that the agricultural year divided at Samhain and Beltane (May Day).
According to ancient tradition, Samhain was the night when the veil of the astral world was at its thinnest, making it possible for humans to embrace the primal nature of life. Traveling through that thin veil between the worlds, people believed that loved ones could come and visit them. Huge bonfires were lit to welcome old friends and ancestors while scaring off evil spirits. The Jack O’Lantern has become the modern version of this welcoming fire, and some people light a candle for folks who’ve passed over to send their greetings, letting it burn all the way out.
The Jack O’Lantern originated in Ireland, where, according to legend, a drunkard named Jack ran into the Devil on a country road. The Devil wanted his soul, but Jack had other plans. He asked the Devil to climb a nearby apple tree and fetch him an apple. When the Devil obliged, Jack carved a cross into the trunk and trapped him in the branches. Jack then made him promise never to ask for his soul again.
The legend continues to say that when he died, Jack was desperate for a resting place. He approached the Devil. The Devil turned Jack away, citing their bargain. The road back was dark and windy, so the Devil tossed Jack a coal from hell’s fire to light the way. To stop the wind from putting out the coal, Jack placed it inside a turnip. Since that night, Jack of the Lantern, or Jack O’Lantern has been traveling in search of a place to rest.
Irish children traditionally carved turnips and potatoes to light the night on Halloween. The custom came to the United States in the 19th century with Irish immigrants. Pumpkins replace the original turnips.
Other Halloween imagery includes witches on broomsticks. This comes from the Wiccan sabbats, during which practicing witches would apply a specially formulated “flying cream” to aid in trances and psychic visions.
Samhain was also known as All Fool’s Night. The tradition of wearing masks stems from the Druids. They believed that the donning of a mask characterized different aspects of an individual’s personality. Different masks could express different facets, thus setting one free from the expectations of social conditioning.
When Christian Romans conquered the British Isles they made November 1st a day of feasting called All Saints Day. All Hallow’s Eve (hallow-holy) replaced Samhain and has evolved into a party of the fantastic for children of all ages.
South of the border, an important Mexican holiday that celebrates and honors deceased loved ones is the Day of the Dead, Día de Muertos or Hanal Pixan in the Maya area. The celebration is held from October 31 to November 2nd, coinciding with the Catholic feast days of All Saints and All Souls, but the festival’s origins are rooted in a unique combination of elements drawn from indigenous beliefs and Catholic teachings. Over time it has evolved, adding some new ideas and practices. People honoring their deceased loved ones with altars, create elaborate sugar skills and bake Day of the Dead bread.
Gives a new perspective on carving the pumpkin this year, doesn’t it? However you interpret or celebrate this holiday and its history, give a thought to the thinning of the veil between the worlds, and a tip of the hat to Jack’s soul journey. While munching candy. Happy Halloween!
© 2019 Cristina Smith. All rights reserved.