In the northern hemisphere, Halloween, an annual celebration on 31 October, is associated with trick-or-treating and dressing up in costumes and scary masks, carving pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns, lighting bonfires and playing pranks.
But Halloween has its roots far back in time in the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain, which literary means 'end of summer'. Hallows or Hallomas started out as a festival to honor the Crone, the wise grandmother. Over the years it has been transformed into wicked old witches flying on broomsticks with black cats. The Celtic name is Samhain -summers end – and is the beginning of the Celtic New Year.
Samhain (pronounced sow-in as in ‘sour’) was the time when the cattle were moved from the summer pastures to winter shelter. It was the end of the growing season, the end of harvest, a time of thanksgiving, when the ancestors and the spirits of the beloved dead would return home to share in the feast. Death did not sever one’s connections with the community. People would leave offerings of food and drink for their loved ones, and set out candles to light their way home. Those traditions gave us many of our present day customs. Now we set out jack-o-lanterns and give offerings of candy to children—who are, after all, the ancestors returning in new forms.
Many symbols became associated with the celebration of Halloween.
A common practice among our ancestors at the time of summer's end (Samhain, Oct. 31) was to all insect meal. And so, bats were a common sight at
build tremendously brilliant bonfires. The blaze warded off unfriendly spirits, provided heat and a means of cooking for the harvest feast, etc. The light drewsorts of insects, which in turn drew their natural predators looking for an easy
Halloween-time festivities. Bats are sort of creepy and certain groups thought that the little flying rodents were able to communicate with the dead, but once vampire legends made their way into Halloween folklore, the position of the bat was set. It was thought that vampires could transform into bats and witch hunters were pretty sure that witches could transform into creepy creatures like black cats, bats, and spiders. And as vampire bats only feed on blood, bats became entrenched as Halloween symbols.
Represented the souls of the dead.
Originally, they were turnips hollowed out and equipped with candles to light the way of 'guisers' (trick-or-treaters) and beggars roaming about on All Hallow's Eve for a bite to eat or rousting neighbors door-to-door for a donation to their cause. With their mass migration to the United States after the potato famine, the clever Irish replaced their illuminated turnips for more accommodating pumpkins. Carved in various grotesques and ghoulish faces, unfriendly spirits are kept at bay or frightened away entirely.
Various legends speak of the name Jack. An Irishman named 'Stingy Jack, a drunk and a prankster, he managed to make both God and the Devil angry. When he died, neither heaven nor hell wanted him, so he was stuck wandering around on earth. He carried a turnip, hollowed out, with a candle inside to light his way. The Irish carved scary jack-o-lanterns to put around their houses to keep him away. A tradition was born.
The Witches' Caldron
Adder's, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing
Fire burn, and caldron bubble"
The image of a witch riding her broomstick across a full moon is one of the most traditional Halloween symbols today.
From way back, witches have always been known as supernatural beings. This is the perfect symbol for Halloween since unseen energies are said to be the strongest during this season. Witches are also called when there are messages from unseen forces that need to be interpreted. Witches have through the ages been thought to be tellers of fortune and to cast spells, both good and bad. This frightened many because it was believed that supernatural powers were strongest on Halloween night.
I wish everybody a wonderful Halloween!
Maggie Tideswell, paranormal romance author of Dark Moon and Moragh, Holly's Ghost. Both are available in paperback, ebook and audio format from Amazon here:
Also available from Barnes & Noble, kalahari.net and many other fine stores