So, before it's asked of me, no I don't participate in any Halloween celebrations, but yes I've decided to start this lengthy 7 day blogging spree all about it's origins. This is meant to be an informative series of posts, that give you but a glimpse of the worldwide holiday many today now celebrate. So how am I going to break this up? I'm still asking myself the same thing. All I know is what I want to do for the seventh part.
So, I guess I'll go ahead and begin discussing the Celtic festival, Samhain (pronounced Sow-wen), which is Gaelic for "summer's end" and is a far earlier tradition than the "Christian" celebration today. In fact, the Celts were harvesters, so once Winter came around it became a tough time for their survival. Nevertheless, every year on the very night we now recognize as October 31st, the Celts had their Druidic priests pray to their gods for help, so they may be sustained throughout the Winter months. This also had to do with the Sun setting earlier at this time of the year. They thought that, since the gods controlled the Sun, they were showing their power by allowing it to set earlier. This transition was a very magical time for the pagan Celts. Weird things were said to have happened.
The Celts of Ireland believed that on the night of October 31st, the veil between the world of the living and the realm of the spirits was thinnest. They thought that the spirits of those who had died in the past year would awaken from their rest and walk the streets of Celtic villages. Not all of these "spirits" were friendly.
So as to ward off these evil spirits, they performed many rituals to both placate their dead ancestors and appease the gods. Many wore costumes and masks, impersonating the spirits. Others would carve faces into turnips to ward off the more harmful spirits, (much like how scarecrows scare crows, haha). While dressed, many Celts would parade towards the end of their villages with food, trying to coax the spirits from haunting or bringing any harm to their homes. Another custom was to leave food or sweets outside of their homes so that if their dead loved ones payed them visit, they would be at peace. If you didn't treat the spirits, they may decide to "trick" you.
Since the Celts were harvesters, they would thank the gods for their plentiful harvest they received during the Summer months, specifically their earth god Dagda. Doing so, they burnt blood offerings of cows and horses in large bonfires, as a sort of trade for the good food they had been provided. Many would walk in-between two bonfires as a manner of cleansing rituals. They then had the Druids of the villages look over the burnt entrails of the sacrificial offerings, and read the future, as some would read into tea leaves in modern times. Since the boundary of the living world and the spirit world was thinner, they believed the dead would help in the foretelling. The Druids would divine who would die within the next year. These divinations would travel throughout the villages and were told at bonfires and such. This is thought to be the ancient day origins of the now very popular ghost stories told on the very night that Samhain would take place thousands of years ago.
If you found this interesting, please note that this is only the first of a seven part origin series that I plan to continue until October 31st. So please stay tuned, or follow the blog... cause you might just learn a little something here or there.