By Deb Avery
Over 2,000 years ago, October 31st would have been Samhain Eve.
The word Samhain (pronounced Sow-wen) literally means, “summer’s end.” The actual day for Samhain is November 1st, but the rituals and festivities would begin at sundown the previous night on the Eve of Samhain.
The day would be spent sweeping (literally and figuratively) the houses with a straw broom to remove not only the dust and cobwebs, but the old energies of the house as well. This was all in preparation for the coming of the new year with its new energies. Food would be prepared and costumes made and decorated to honor the dead and celebrate their release for the night.
It was a joyful time of celebrating life, the harvest, and the connection not only between the people and nature, but also of the connection beyond this world.
People of the community would make huge bonfires that would light up the sky after sunset and as with many different other cultures from around the world in that time period, ritual animals would be sacrificed to the gods and goddesses as a way of expressing their gratitude for a good growing and harvest season.
It was also believed that the veil between the worlds was at its most thinnest this time of the year and that the spirits of those departed could return to this world if they so chose. Food was set aside for them in a place of honor and there would be much dancing and celebration.
With the coming of Christianity to the Celtic regions of Europe (what is now Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, parts of France and Britain) in the 1st century, things changed dramatically for these people and their way of life.
Yet, despite the mighty Roman army, much persecution, death and psychological coercion, conversion still proved difficult. These were a proud, intelligent and independent race of people and they did not give up their beliefs and way of life easily.
The leaders of the new religion soon realized that along with other ways of conversion, they needed to sway the masses by keeping their festivals as familiar as possible. So the church kept the dates of the ancient festivals but changed them into feast days instead. Mary became the replacement for the goddess and “the son” replaced “the sun” in bringing light into the world.
All rituals were spoken in Latin, so an overwhelming majority of the people did not understand one word of the services. However, the priests were telling them in their native tongues of a god that was more powerful than all their gods and goddesses combined—a god who was a jealous god. A god who would send them to an all consuming fire for eternity if they did not believe in him and repent.
It soon becomes understandable how slowly, over a period of many years, most of the earth-loving pagans began to change their ways.
All of the major and minor festivals of the Pagan nation were transformed into the feasts days of the Christian church. Yule was replaced with Christmas, Ostara with Easter, and the celebration of Samhain was replaced with All Hallows, Hallowmass, or All Soul’s Days.
Much has changed over the years and many cultures have influenced this classic holiday. But the Pagan roots are still evident in what is commonly called Halloween today.
Over the centuries Halloween has been used as a secular holiday to bring communities together to share in a common bond. Many festivals and activities were planned and implemented to bring about closeness and fun for families—especially the children.
Eventually, it evolved to the Trick or Treat of modern days. This tradition primarily comes from the belief that spirits roam the night and with some being mischievous, they must be placated with treats to keep them from playing a trick on the people of the community. Children dress in costumes, often of scary monsters, ghosts or spirits, to act out the part of these restless spirits in the night.
But even now, so many years later, religion is still trying to demonize Samhain/Halloween by teaching that it is evil and demonic. A lot of communities no longer have Trick or Treat, but instead have church festivals, hay rides and church related activities.
But the truth is, the ancient festival of Samhain is alive and well. And on October 31st, many will be celebrating this ancient festival with rituals, bonfires, costumes, food and dancing.
In whatever way you celebrate may you have a happy Samhain/Halloween.
And be sure and watch out for the ghosts and goblins.
Editor: Dana Gornall