Hallowe’en, All Hallows Eve, or just plain All Hallows. Or as we Neo-pagans call it, Samhain (pronounced Sow-wain or Saw-wain) in Gaelic. There is some debate about the origins of this hallowed day, or holy day. Some scholars argue it is a strictly Christian holiday and others believe it is a Celtic holy day ( hallows=holy) taken over by Christianity. I am inclined to agree with the premise of taken over by Christianity–as so many holidays of other religions have been–or if not taken over, stripped down of their pagan clothes and dressed in masks more suitable to a Christian audience–this wouldn’t be the first time that’s been done by a newer religion to the older ones that came before it.
There are many names for this holy day, and not just the aforementioned Christian All Hallow’s Eve, or the Scot Gaelic Samhain. It’s origins or at least it’s rituals and iconography go back before Christ was a twinkle in his father’s eye, as the saying goes. This is a harvest festival, the most important harvest before the cold, icy, and often deadly grip of Winter began. There is a reason that the full moon of this holiest of months is the “Blood Moon”. This is a harvest festival of not only plants but animals. It is a month of sacrifice and death. The death of the living so that others might live to see another Spring, another turn of the Goddess’s silver wheel.
Apples, berries, nuts, the last grains growing in the field, and yes, culling the herds. There is only so much food to go around during the months of ice and snow. Culling not only provided food for those people looking at long dark nights and short frozen days. It culled the sick, the old, the weak and made the flocks, and herds stronger. Keeping those more likely to survive and breed again, strengthening the animals, improving their progeny’s productivity and survival.
Of course this holy day isn’t just about the last viable harvest before the cold and dark sets in. It’s also about celebrating the dead, honoring their lives, and acknowledging the hole they leave with their passing and facing our own mortality. These celebrations took place all across the globe, throughout history, and still do. Our modern day Hallowe’en bears this out with one of the most telling symbols of this holiday, the mummy. Egyptian celebration of the dead took place as a single event starting at the end of October lasting three days carrying the celebration into November. The skeleton and especially the human skull have been revered by people all over the world even used as decorations in churches. But our link to them on this finest of holy days is Dia de los Muertos or day of the dead. I don’t know about you but I love the skeletons dressed in their finest clothes, covered in roses or marigolds. Sugar skulls with icing and the names of loved ones passed, food, candy, bread, candles and partying all to celebrate lost loved ones and to remind us of the sweetness of life, add to that the cleaning and decorating of the graves of loved ones. And Day of the Dead wasn’t just one day, it was, by the ancestors to our modern day Mexican brothers and sisters, a longer more involved celebration.
With a similarity in celebratory acts, is the Japanese Buddhist Bon Festival where graves are cleaned and special foods are prepared. It lasts three days, and before the change to the Gregorian calendar this festival took place (and one still does, Kyu Bon) on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, so it varied. One of the most beautiful parts to this celebration is the lighting of lanterns and floating them on the river or other bodies of water at night. Of course the Chinese Buddhists also celebrate the dead with the Ghost Festival, so another iconographic symbol to our modern Halloween, ghosts. But both the Japanese and the Chinese celebrate the dead in the 9th day of the ninth month with the Chrysanthemum festival (in China it’s also the “double yang” festival, or the “double ninth festival”). Again, ghosts are the prominent features of these holidays, as are of course, Chrysanthemums (similar to marigolds) and the drinking of tea and wine made from these flowers are drunk and wearing wreaths made of same. And though some of the days are in the Summer months rather than Autumn ones, the celebrations are very much like ones held in different parts of the world, at different times.
Of course we have witches, the pointed hat worn by wise men (and women) called “wizards”, thus we get the pointed hat wearing “hag” as age is synonymous with wisdom. Monsters are based off of gargoyles (used to protect buildings, not just churches). One of my favorite movies on the traditions of Hallowe’en is animated movie, “The Halloween Tree” with the talented voice of Mr. Leonard Nimoy (my heart breaks thinking of him, gone from us now. Hmm, celebrating dead loved ones, I’ll have to put my Spock ears on for Samhain). Of course I can’t find a DVD or Blue Ray copy, and that makes me sad. But if any of you find it, I highly recommend it, even if you don’t have children.
There is so much that is wonderful about this holiday. More than I can put here. This really only scratches the surface of the depth and history of the many fine traditions. I know that even before I became a Wiccan, I loved this holiday and not just because of the candy. I loved the dressing up, the time of year, the food, and the… magic of it. Because what is more magical than connecting with the loving intelligent universe and our beloveds who are physically not here, but are with us always, whether you believe in an afterlife, or if you don’t, you do carry them in your memories. And maybe that is the only afterlife any of really need, for what greater way to continue on, than in the minds and hearts of those who are living.
Photo by starsandspirals