Halloween is a fine blend of pagan tradition, Christian influence, and the American media. Its earliest inception is believed to have stemmed from the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain, a harvest festival commemorating the beginning of the new Wheel of the (harvest) Year. Samhain occurs during a time when it is thought that the veil between this world and the afterlife is at its thinnest, allowing ghosts and otherworldly spirits to roam about the earth. While many people embraced this time as a chance to reconnect with the spirits of beloved people and pets, others were fearful and wore masks and/or costumes to disguise themselves so the spirits would leave them alone.
The custom of 'guising" goes back to 16th century Britain and Ireland. Guising, dressing up in costume and going door to door in search of money or food, was a Scottish tradition that spread throughout the land and eventually to Ontario, Canada where it was first recorded in North America in 1911. In the earlier days, guisers, or mummers, would have to earn their 'treat' by performing a song, reciting verse, or doing something to entertain their benefactor. If a person answered the door and attempted to shoo the guisers away, they retaliated with threats of mischief - tricks.
Early Christians shared 'soul-cakes' at Allhallowtide (Oct 31 - Nov 2). Known as 'Souling', people would initially visit houses and bring soul cakes in return for prayers said for mercy on all Christian souls. In later years, the practice evolved into singing at churches for soul cakes. The Christian holy days of All Saints and All Souls (Nov. 1 & 2) grew from Allhallowtide as well.
The tradition of trick-or-treating incorporates both guising and souling, but didn't really begin to evolve until the early 20th century. The popularity of sending postcards for Halloween was right up there with Christmas and birthdays, but the act of "trick-or-treat" wasn't depicted on cards in those early years, nor was the phrase widely used Sugar rationing in America as a result of World War II put Halloween trick-or-treats on hold for the duration of the war. But the practice picked up again in the media through children's magazines and several popular radio shows.
In the early 1950s, trick-or-treating got a boost from two heavy hitters in the cartoon industry. American illustrator Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, featured the gang "Halloween ghosting" in three of his popular strips that ran October 29, 30, and 31, 1951. In 1952, Walt Disney Productions created the short animated film, TRICK OR TREAT, featuring Donald Duck and his impish nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Halloween and the tradition of trick-or-treating continued to take off from there, becoming so popular that the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) started an annual campaign to raise funds as children went door to door on Halloween night.
Halloween is now big business in the United States.. Costumes can be found in sizes for infants to adults - and let's not forget the huge market for pets. Still, the basic roots of this annual tradition remain.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy Halloween!
- Barbara 🙃
The ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain (sow-in) marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the dark time (winter) on the seasonal-based Wheel of the Year. Modern day followers of WICCA and other nature-based spiritual paths celebrate Samhain as one of the Greater Sabbats - which are festivals celebrating the cycle of the seasons. It is a time to take stock of what transpired that year and plan for the dark days ahead, as well as the new planting/harvest cycles to follow. For this reason, Samhain is considered to be the beginning of the new year.
It is also believed to be the time of year when the veil between this world and the afterlife is at its thinnest, allowing spirits of the departed to roam freely about the earth. For many, this was a welcome time as they prepared celebratory meals and offerings to share with the souls of their family members and pets who crossed over. This celebratory theme is also reflected in other paths, such as the Christian celebrations of All Saints and All Souls days, and Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which stems from Aztec traditions.
However, not all people welcomed the spirits during this time. Those who may have done a departed soul wrong in life or who believed that mischievous spirits, sprites, goblins, and fairies could cause them harm, would wear a mask and/or costume as a way to hide or protect themselves from such souls. This practice of dressing in disguise eventually morphed into the Halloween theme as it is celebrated today.
Samhain celebrations can be as simple as an appreciatory nature walk or as complex as a full-blown Sabbat ritual circle. Create your traditions on what seems realistic and genuine for you. Below are a few suggestions. Incorporate any or all of them into your own celebration.
-Take a walk outside and really look at and reflect on the beauty of this time of the year. Bring a small notebook or journal as you may be inspired to compose a story, poem, song, or other work of art during your walk (it's fine if you don't - the main thing is to enjoy where you're at right now).
-Visit a cemetery and commune with the spirits of your loved ones, giving them thanks for being part of your life or lineage., sharing thoughts and stories, or telling them things you always meant to say. Often people will leave a small token, leaf, rock, or something as a grave offering. A long-standing Jewish tradition is to leave a small pebble or rock at a gravesite. The origin and actual meaning of this very old Jewish custom are not certain.
-Create an Ancestral Altar by placing photographs and keepsakes of departed loved ones (people and animals) on a table other surface, along with several votive candles and small seasonal offerings. As with a cemetery visit, speak to your ancestors as you light the candles and reflect on their lives.
- Prepare a meal using foods of the season. Choose from apples, squash, gourds, turnips, nuts, bread & grains, and corn as some foods to include. Light candles and decorate your table with offerings of the season. Add an extra place setting and invite the spirits to join you, asking that they come and leave in peace.
A Fresh Start for a New Year
Take time to reflect on your own year. Make a list of what good things you have reaped, and what things happened that need action, whether it be healing or some type of change.. Think about where you are at now and where you want to be at this time next year. Jot down or make a mental list of any negativity you want to banish and either burn that list in a fire-safe mini cauldron (bean pots work well) or hearth fire - or mentally envision the negativity draining from you to disperse into the earth's fiery core.. Then take the one major thing that you want to change and envision yourself doing so. What small steps can you take to move forward? Let them be the beginning steps on a positive path that moves you forward one day at a time during this new cycle. Many people begin here and use the Gregorian New Year of January 1 to review and reinforce their path.
Have a safe and blessed Samhain.
- Barbara 🙃
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