> THE ORIGINS OF HALLOWEEN > > copyright 1989, Rowan Moonstone > > In recent years, there have been a number of pamphlets and books put out > be various Christian organizations dealing with the > origins of modern- day Halloween customs. > > Being a Witch myself, and a student of the ancient Celts from whom we > get this holiday, I have found these pamphlets woefully > inaccurate and poorly researched. A typical example of this information > is contained in the following quote from the pamphlet > entitled "What's Wrong with Halloween?" by Russell K. Tardo. "The Druids > believed that on October 31st, the last day of the > year by the ancient Celtic calendar, the lord of death gathered together > the souls of the dead who had been made to enter > bodies of animals, and decided what forms they should take the following > year. Cats were held sacred because it was believed > that they were once human beings ... We see that this holiday has its > origin, basis and root in the occultic Druid celebration of > the dead. Only they called it 'Samhain', who was the lord of the dead (a > big demon)".1 When these books and pamphlets cite > sources at all, they usually list the Encyclopedia Britannica, > Encyclopedia Americana, and the World Book Encyclopedia. The > Britannica and the Americana make no mention of cats, but do, indeed > list Samhain as the Lord of Death, contrary to Celtic > scholars, and list no references. The World Book mentions the cats, and > calls Samhain the Lord of Death, and lists as its > sources several children's books (hardly what one could consider > scholarly texts, and, of course, themselves citing no > references). > > In an effort to correct some of this erroneous information, I have > researched the religious life of the ancient Celtic peoples and > the survivals of that religious life in modern times. Listed below are > some of the most commonly asked questions concerning the > origins and customs of Halloween. Following the questions is a lengthy > bibliography where the curious reader can go to learn > more about this holiday than space in this small pamphlet permits. > > 1. Where does Halloween come from? > > Our modern celebration of Halloween is a descendent of the ancient > Celtic festival called "Samhain". The word is pronounced > "sow-in", with "sow" rhyming with "cow". > > 2. What does "Samhain" mean? > > The Irish-EnglishDictionary published bythe IrishTexts > Societydefinesthewordas follows:"Samhain,AllHallowtide, the feast ofthe > dead inPagan andChristian times,signaling theclose ofharvest and the > initiation ofthe winter season, lasting till May,during which > troopswere quartered. Fairies were imagined as particularly active at > this season. From it, the half-year is reckoned. Also > calledFeile Moingfinne (Snow Goddess).2 The Scottish Gaelic Dictionary > defines it as "Hallowtide. The Feast of All Souls. > Sam + Fuin = end of summer."3 Contrary to the information published by > many organizations, there is no archaeological or > literary evidence to indicate that Samhain was a deity. Eliade's > Encyclopedia of Religion states as follows: "The Eve and day of > Samhain were characterized as a time when the barriers between the human > and supernatural worlds were broken... Not a > festival honoring any particular Celtic deity, Samhain acknowledged the > entire spectrum of nonhuman forces that roamed the > earth during that period."4 The Celtic Gods of the dead were Gwynn ap > Nudd for the British and Arawn for the Welsh. The > Irish did not have a "lord of death" as such. > > 3. Why was the end of summer of significance to the Celts? > > The Celts were a pastoral peopleas opposed to an agricultural people. > The end of summer was significant to them because it > meant the time of year when the structure of their lives changed > radically. The cattle were brought down from the summer > pastures in the hills and the people were gathered into the houses for > the long winter nights of story- telling and handicrafts . > > 4. What does it have to do with a festival of the dead? > > The Celts believed that when people died, they went to a land of eternal > youth and happiness called Tir nan Og. They did not > have the concept of heaven and hell that the Christian church later > brought into the land. The dead were sometimes believed to > be dwelling with the Fairy Folk, who lived in the numerous mounds, or > sidhe, (pronounced "shee" or "sh-thee") that dotted the > Irish and Scottish countryside. Samhain was the new year to the Celts. > In the Celtic belief system, turning points, such as the > time between one day and the next, the meeting of sea and shore, or the > turning of one year into the next were seen as magickal > times. The turning of the year was the most potent of these times. This > was the time when the "veil between the worlds" was at > its thinnest, and the living could communicate with their beloved dead > in Tir nan Og. > > 5. What about the aspects of "evil' that we associate with the night > today? > > The Celts did not have demons and devils in their belief system. The > fairies, however, were often considered hostile and > dangerous to humans because they were seen as being resentful of man > taking over their land. On this night, they would > sometimes trick humans into becoming lost in the fairy mounds, where > they would be trapped forever. After the coming of the > Christians to the Celtic lands, certain of the folk saw the fairies as > those angels who had sided neither with God or with Lucifer > in their dispute, and thus were condemned to walk the earth until > judgment day.5 In addition to the fairies, many humans were > abroad on this night, causing mischief. Since this night belonged > neither to one year or the other, Celtic folk believed that chaos > reigned, and the people would engage in "horseplay and practical > jokes".6 This also served as a final outlet for high spirits > before the gloom of winter set in. > > 6. What about "trick or treat"? > > During the course of these hijinks, many of the people would imitate the > fairies and go from house to house begging for treats. > Failure to supply the treats would usually result in practical jokes > being visited on the owner of the house. Since the fairies were > abroad on this night, an offering of food or milk was frequently left > for them on the steps of the house, so the homeowner could > gain the blessing of the "good folk" for the coming year. Many of the > households would also leave out a "dumb supper" for the > spirits of the departed.9 The folks who were abroad in the night > imitating the fairies would sometimes carry turnips carved to > represent faces. This is the origin of our modern Jack-o-lantern. > > 7. Was there any special significance of cats to the Celts? > > According to Katherine Briggs in Nine Lives: Cats in Folklore,, the > Celts associated cats with the Cailleach Bheur, or Blue Hag > of Winter. "She was a nature goddess, who herded the deer as her cattle. > The touch of her staff drove the leaves off the trees > and brought snow and harsh weather."7 Dr. Anne Ross addresses the use of > divine animals in her book Pagan Celtic Britain > and has this to day about cats."Cats do not play a large role in Celtic > mythology ... the evidence for the cat as an important cult > animal in Celtic mythology is slight"8 She cites as supporting evidence, > the lack of archaeological artifacts and literary > references in surviving works of mythology. > > 8. Was this also a religious festival? > > Yes. Celtic religion was very closely tied to the Earth. Their great > legends are concerned with momentous happenings which > took place around the time of Samhain. Many of the great battles and > legends of kings and heroes center on this night. Many of > the legends concern the promotion of fertility of the earth and the > insurance of the continuance of the lives of the people through > the dark winter season. > > 9. How was the religious festival observed? > > Unfortunately, we know very little about that. W.G. Wood-Martin, in his > book, Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, states, > "There is comparatively little trace of the religion of the Druids now > discoverable, save in the folklore of the peasantry, and the > references relative to it that occur in ancient and authentic Irish > manuscripts are, as far as present appearances go, meager and > insufficient to support anything like a sound theory for full > development of the ancient religion."10 The Druids were the priests of > the Celtic peoples. They passed on their teachings by oral tradition > instead of committing them to writing, so when they > perished, most of their religious teachings were lost. We do know that > this festival was characterized as one of the four great > "Fire Festivals" of the Celts. Legends tell us that on this night, all > the hearth fires in Ireland were extinguished, and then re-lit > from the central fire of the Druids at Tlachtga, 12 miles from the royal > hill of Tara. This fire was kindled from "need fire" which > had been generated by the friction of rubbing two sticks together, as > opposed to more conventional methods (such as the flint- > and-steel method) common in those days.11 The extinguishing of the fires > symbolized the "dark half" of the year, and the > re-kindling from the Druidic fires was symbolic of the returning life > hoped for, and brought about through the ministrations of the > priesthood. > > 10. What about sacrifices? > > Animals were certainly killed at this time of year. This was the time to > "cull" from the herds those animals which were not > desired for breeding purposes for the next year. Most certainly, some of > these would have been done in a ritual manner for the > use of the priesthood. > > 11. Were humans sacrificed? > > Scholars are sharply divided on this account, with about half believing > that it took place and half doubting its veracity. Caesar > and Tacitus certainly tell tales of the human sacrifices of the Celts, > but Nora Chadwick points out in her book The Celts that "it > is not without interest that the Romans themselves had abolished human > sacrifice not long before Caesar's time, and references > to the practice among various barbarian peoples have certain overtones > of self-righteousness. There is little direct > archaeological evidence relevant to Celtic sacrifice."12 Indeed, there > is little reference to this practice in Celtic literature. The > only surviving story echoes the tale of the Minotaur in Greek legend: > the Fomorians, a race of evil giants said to inhabit portions > of Ireland before the coming of the Tuatha de Danaan (or "people of the > Goddess Danu"), demanded the sacrifice of 2/3 of the > corn, milk, and first born children of the Fir Bolg, or human > inhabitants of Ireland. The de Danaan ended this practice in the > second battle of Moy Tura, which incidentally, took place on Samhain. It > should be noted, however, that this story appears in > only one (relatively modern) manuscript from Irish literature, and that > manuscript, the "Dinnsenchus", is known to be a collection > of fables. According to P.W. Joyce in Vol. 2 of his Social History of > Ancient Ireland, "Scattered everywhere through our > ancient literature, both secular and ecclesiastical, we find abundant > descriptions and details of the rites and superstitions of the > pagan Irish; and in no place - with this single exception - do we find a > word or hint pointing to human sacrifice to pagan gods or > idols."13 > > 12. What other practices were associated with this season? > > Folk tradition tells us of many divination practices associated with > Samhain. Among the most common were divinations dealing > with marriage, weather, and the coming fortunes for the year. These were > performed via such methods as ducking for apples > and apple peeling. Ducking for apples was a marriage divination. The > first person to bite an apple would be the first to marry in > the coming year. Apple peeling was a divination to see how long your > life would be. The longer the unbroken apple peel, the > longer your life was destined to be.14 In Scotland, people would place > stones in the ashes of the hearth before retiring for the > night. Anyone whose stone had been disturbed during the night was said > to be destined to die during the coming year. > > 13. How did these ancient Celtic practices come to America? > > When the potato crop in Ireland failed, many of the Irish people, modern > descendants of the Celts, immigrated to America, > bringing with them their folk practices, which were remnants of the > Celtic festival observances. > > 14. We in America view this as a harvest festival. Did the Celts also > view it as such? > > Yes. The Celts had 3 harvests. Aug 1, or Lammas, was the first harvest, > when the first fruits were offered to the Gods in > thanks. The Fall equinox was the true harvest. This was when the bulk of > the crops would be brought in. Samhain was the final > harvest of the year. Anything left on the vines or in the fields after > this date was considered blasted by the fairies ("pu'ka") and > unfit for human consumption. > > 15. Does anyone today celebrate Samhain as a religious observance? > > Yes. many followers of various pagan religions, such as Druidism and > Wicca, observe this day as a religious festival. They view > it as a memorial day for their dead friends and family, much as the > world does the national Memorial Day holiday in May. It is > still a night to practice various forms of divination concerning future > events. It is also considered a time to wrap up old projects, > take stock of one's life, and initiate new projects for the coming year. > As the winter season is approaching, it is a good time to > do studying on research projects, and also a good time to begin hand > work such as sewing, leather working, woodworking, > etc., for Yule gifts later in the year. And while "satanists" are using > this holiday as their own, this is certainly not the only example > of a holiday (or even religious symbols) being "borrowed" from an older > religion by a newer one. > > 16. Does this involve human or animal sacrifice? > > Absolutely NOT! Hollywood to the contrary, blood sacrifice is not > practiced by modern followers of Wicca or Druidism. > There may be some people who THINK they are practicing Wicca by > performing blood sacrificing, but this is NOT condoned > by reputable practitioners of today's neo-Pagan religions. > > FOOTNOTES: > > 1 Tardo, Russell K., What's Wrong with Halloween?, Faithful Word > Publishers, (Arabi, LA, undated), p. 2 > > 2 Rev. Patrick Dinneen, An Irish English Dictionary, (Dublin, 1927), p. > 937 > > 3 Malcolm MacLennan, A Pronouncing and Etymological Dictionary of the > Gaelic Language, (Aberdeen, 1979), p. 279 > > 4 The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, "Halloween" by > Primiano, (New York, 1987) pp. 176-177 > > 5 Katherine Briggs, Nine Lives: Cats in Folklore, (London,1980), p.5 > > 6 Dr. Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain, (London,1967), p. 301-302 7 W.G. > Wood-Martin, Traces of the Elder Faiths of > Ireland, Vol. II, (Port Washington, NY, 1902), p. 5 > > 8 Kevin Danaher, The Year in Ireland, (Cork, 1972), p. 214 > > 9 Alwyn & Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage, (New York, 1961), p. 90 > > 10 Wood-Martin, op. cit., p. 249 > > 11 Rees & Rees, op. cit., p. 90 > > 12 Nora Chadwick, The Celts, (Harmondsworth, 1982), p. 151 > > 13 P.W. Joyce, A Social History of Ancient Ireland, Vol.2, (New York, > 1968), pp. 282-283 > > 14 Madeleine Pelner Cosman, Medieval Holidays and Festivals, (New York, > 1981), p. 81 > > BIBLIOGRAPHY: *Bord, Janet & Colin, The Secret Country, (London: Paladin > Books,1978) > > *Briggs, Katherine, Nine Lives, Cats inFolklore, (London: Routledge & > Kegan Paul, 1980) > > *Chadwick, Nora, The Celts, (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, > 1982) > > *Coglan, Ronan, ADictionary of Irish Myth and Legend, (Dublin: 1979) > > *Cosman, Madeleine Pelner, Medieval Holidays and Festivals, (New York: > Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981) > > *Danaher, Kevin,The Year in Ireland, (Cork, Ireland: The Mercier Press, > 1972) > > *Dinneen, Rev. Patrick S., M.A., An Irish-English Dictionary, > > (Dublin: The Irish Texts Society, 1927) > > *Joyce, P.W., A Social History of Ancient Ireland, (New York: Benjamin > Blom, 1968) > > *MacCana, Proinsias, Celtic Mythology, (London: The Hamlyn Publishing > Group Limited, 1970) > > *MacLennan, Malcolm, A pronouncing and Etymological Dictionary of the > Gaelic Language, (Aberdeen: Acair and Aberdeen > University Press, 1979) > > *MacNeill, Maire', The Festivalof Lughnasa, (Dublin: Comhairle > Bhealoideas Eireann, 1982) > > *Powell, T.G.E., The Celts, (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1980) *Primiano, > Leonard Norman, "Halloween" from The > Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, (New York, McMillan > Publiching Co., 1987) > > *Rees, Alwyn and Brinley, Celtic Heritage, Ancient Tradition in Ireland > and Wales, (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1961) > > *Ross, Dr. Anne, Pagan Celtic Britain, (London: Routledge and Kegan > Paul, 1967) > > *Sharkey, John, Celtic Mysteries, (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1975) > *Spence, Lewis, British Fairy Origins, > (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1946) > > *Squire, Charles, Celtic Myth & Legend, Poetry & Romance, (New York: > Newcastle Publishing Co., Inc., 1975) > > *Toulson, Shirley, The Winter Solstice, (London: Jill Norman & Hobhouse, > Ltd., 1981) > > *Wood-Martin, W.G.,Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, Vols. I & II, > (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1902) > > Published by CultWatch Response, Inc., P O Box 1842, Colorado Springs, > CO 80901-1842. This article may be reprinted > only if it is not excerpted or abridged in any way except for review > purposes. Permission to republish must be requested in > writing from the author at the above address. Price: $1.00 each, > 10/$8.00, over 100/$0.65 ea., other quantities available. All > prices are postpaid.