Something Wiccan This Way Comes
The History of Halloween by Bryna Sweeney
What the Celt?
Costumes, candy, ghosts, and goblins, nothing says American Halloween better. From carving scary faces in pumpkins to watching terrifying movies, October 31st has become one of the most celebrated holidays. But why the costumes? Why the gory death symbols?
Well, just like the Easter Bunny, it mostly stems from the ancient Celts. Then it was known as Samhain (pronounced like “Sow-in”) and celebrated as a time between the Fall Equinox and the Winter Solstice. Samhain was a day when the worlds of the dead and living were merging, and spirits would comes to haunt or bless the people.
Haunting ghosts? Sounds familiar. It gets better. The Celts would light bonfires and dance around them in animal furs and masks to scare away the negative spirits. Jump forward to the present, this became our modern day costume.
Conversely, the good ghosts weren’t shunned away, but appreciated. Candles would be lit for them and treats left at doorsteps. In a tradition known as a ‘dumb supper,’ there would be a table setting for the lost family member, and everyone at dinner would eat in silence, hoping to hear the voice of the loved one from the other side.
Now, ghosts were not the only things on their minds. Samhain was a time of harvesting the fruits and memories of the last year. A feast would be had in preparation for the long Winter. This was their New Year, minus the champagne and sparklers.
Ding, dong, the Witch is Dead
The Samhain tradition lasted hundreds of years, even influencing the Romans to have holidays such as Pomola, the celebration of the namesake Goddess of fruit and harvest. She favored the apple, and it is said this was the origin of bobbing for apples in modern times.
Then the Christians came and in their efforts to convert the heathens, they created a holiday on November 1st, All Saints Day. It had similarities, such as the bonfires and the costumes, but the attire changed into angels, saints, and devils, instead of Nature’s animals. They would also hold a parade through towns. Samhain was now a thing of the past, worshipped only by the choice few who kept the fire lit.
Next, we jump forward to colonial America. Now, for the Puritans to have fun, it would be like adding entertainment value to The Scarlet Letter. It wasn't much of an option. The harvest was mostly celebrated by the southern colonies, where the title All Hallow’s Eve finally appears. It was quite similar to Samhain without the ghosts, where feasts were made, families and friends gathered, and fun was had.
When the Irish immigrated to America in the 19th century, they brought with them the spirits of the Celts. Being of the poor, they would create ‘tricks’ if people would not give them ‘treats’ at their doorsteps. Halloween started to pick up a following. By the late 1800s, it had died down to a nice community harvest holiday.
Around 1950 it turned into much of the holiday it is now. It became directed at youth while gaining the fearful images, especially since props were able to look more and more realistic.
No Rest for the Wiccan
As many pagans such as myself and Riley know, the ancient religions will never die. Over half a century ago, the Wiccan religion was born. In short, it is the Nature-based religion that combines many of the ancient polytheistic pagan beliefs into one coherent philosophy. Nature-based? Yes, we follow the cycle of the seasons. Polytheistic? Many Wiccans believe in two Gods, the God and the Goddess, and within them, the separate Gods worshipped by the ancients. Think of them as masks, offering different aspects depending on the most important things in your life.
The God I connect with in my life is known to many as ‘The Horned One,’ and is a version of Cernunnos, the Celtic horned God of the woods. This God symbolizes the seeds of life and the wilderness.
The Goddess is widely known now as ‘Mother Nature.’ She is the Earth that becomes fertile from the seeds of life, or the God. Making sense?
Now how does this tie into Halloween? Because we celebrate Samhain, the tradition that started it all. This is the time when the God decays into the Earth, the Goddess, and we harvest His fruits and breads for the Winter. Ancestors and loved ones who have passed are remembered and celebrated, and the new year comes, this time with the option of champagne and sparklers. As Riley likes to say, “It is a solemn holiday, but not a somber one.”
Pumpkins are still carved, pies are still made, and the occasional Halloween party is still attended. Wiccans get a lot of flack during this season, but we really are normal people, I promise! And as much as flying on brooms would save on filling up the tank, the evil qualities of Witches are superstitions. Hint: if you meet a bad Witch, they’re probably not a witch.
So, as you run after your kid this Monday, or sit inside pissed at the noisy trick-or-treaters, take time to remember Samhain and the ancestors before you. They would appreciate it, I’m sure.