The roots of Halloween travel much deeper than candy, costumes, scary movies and the occasional prank. The name itself is an evolution of Allhallowmas, celebrated on November 1st, who’s name eventually shortened to All Hallow’s Eve as a nod to the night before. If you know your history, then you know that Allhallowmas was the original name for All Saints Day.
However, All Saints Day took a page from Celtic Pagan traditions when the Catholic church decided to place their holy day on November 1st in order to convert those pagans to Christianity. Samhain (pronounced SAH-win), ‘Summer’s End’ is a time to commemorate the end of the harvest season and the coming of winter. Traditionally, the festival would take place during a full Celtic day which was marked from sunset to sunset, meaning that Samhain would start on October 31st, and end on November 1st.
Paganism is an umbrella term used in reference to nature-based religions and belief structures. There is no such thing as a ‘Devil’ or ‘Devil Worship’ in paganism, the devil is a Christian concept only. Since this is a common mistake, it is important to note the difference and separation when discussing paganism in general.
Samhain is also known as the Festival of the Dead, meaning that it was a time to remember those who were recently lost, to honor the ancestors, and likewise marked a time when the crops had all been harvested and the world moved towards the quiet sleep of winter. The earth was perceived as ‘dying’ with nature withering down into a dormant sleep and the sun sitting lower in the sky, keeping much of the world in darkness as the days became shorter.
It was believed then and is still believed by some now, that during this time the veil between the living and dead became very thin. Families would spend the time honoring their dead with candles, offerings of incense or food. It’s, for most, a very personal holiday and a memorial of sorts. It’s a way to reconnect with those beloved who have passed.
Over time, the traditions have changed to incorporate different beliefs. Some believe that the dead will wander during this time, and even though we have a chance to commune with our ancestors and lost loved ones, there are those who have no family and nowhere to go. Food would be set out, candles or lanterns lit to help those lonely souls find solace along their way. Others believe that not all the dead had good intentions, that those lost spirits are unfriendly and potentially harmful. People would disguise themselves with costumes to confuse the dead and drive them away.
So if you feel deeply connected to this time of year, you may just be hearing the echo of an ancient time when the idea of death wasn’t so terrifying, but in fact, was seen as a necessary part of the life cycle. Halloween can trace its roots all the way back to Samhain, and although the traditions have changed on how we treat this time of year, the old ways are very much evident in the celebrations of today.