What Halloween is and is not, part one
Part one: What Halloween is.
This subject is far too wide to contain all of it in one article. The intent here is to encourage readers to begin their own research based on actual facts rather than what is preached by one religion or another.
All over the Internet and in print as well, you will find some Christian “authorities” telling you what Halloween is. Almost every word of their information is completely incorrect. It is based on rumor, misinformation and prejudice. It is an insult to the Celtic cultures. It can only be stopped by better informing the public of the actual truth.
Let us begin with the fact that Halloween as celebrated in the U.S. is based on many cultures and traditions. Though it was brought over from the British Isles, other cultures have since influenced it. You can read about this is Silver Ravenwolf’s excellent book, “Halloween.”
However, the main root of this holiday is Samhain, the ancient Celtic celebration of their new year which was also the beginning of winter for them. The closer people live to the North Pole, the longer their nights and the shorter their days are in winter. For Celts in the British Isles, it was a time of darkness and struggle. Winter was very hard for them.
The Celts were a herding culture though they supplemented their food supply with some hunting and gathering and farming. Their lives and deaths depended on paying close attention to nature and the seasons. This is why their celebrations were so connected to the seasons and the sun.
At that time they recognized only two seasons of the year, summer and winter. Samhain was the beginning of winter and Beltain (May 1) was the beginning of summer. (These are the more recent names of these holidays. You can find older ones on Wikipedia)
At Samhain, the cattle were brought in from the summer pastures. Those animals that were weak and did not seem healthy enough to survive the winter were slaughtered and preserved as winter food. This was considered the practical thing to do since this would provide food for the people as well as not wasting winter feed on animals that would not survive.
Samhain was also the third and final harvest of the year. All fruit was pick and crops harvested by sundown on Samhain. Whatever remained unharvested was left untouched. Some are of the opinion that is was left for the spirits of the dead or other beings that various Celtic tribes believed in.
Samhain lasted from sundown October 31 to sundown November 1. Since there was no one cohesive religion believed by all the Celts, it was celebrated in many ways.
One common practice was the bonfires. Opinions on why vary, but they are possibly all true. First, the bonfire was for warmth during the celebration. Also, however, it represented the sun god. Samhain was the beginning of the dying of the light. The fire marked the sun god’s death and celebrated the hope of his return.
The Celts also believed in an afterlife, sometimes called Other World or Sidhe. They believed that on Samhain the veil between this world and the next was thinnest and the spirits of the dead could come back to visit the living. Sometimes this was a good thing. It was a time to remember or even communicate with beloved friends and family members who had died.
However, some people feared the return of deceased enemies and thus dressed in disguises to hide from them. This may be the origin of dressing up for Halloween, particularly in frightening costumes. One would definitely want to scare away old enemies returning as ghosts.
Another common practice at Samhain was, and is, divination. Since the veil between worlds is the thinnest that night, it is the best time for predicting the future. Though the Celts did not use Tarot cards or crystal balls, they had their own methods of divination. The sight (second sight), dreams, and the reading of Ogham symbols were some methods used.
It is true that these are not Christian things. Celtic paganism, sometimes known as Wicca or Celtic Witchcraft, was not and is not a Christian religion. It is a nature religion. It predates Christianity, which is one of the reasons it cannot be called a “Satanic” religion. How can people who had never heard of the devil possibly build a religion based on worshiping him?
We will see some roots of that mistaken belief in part two, Halloween, what it is not.
Halloween on History.com
Halloween on Wikipedia
Real Origins of Halloween on Neopagan.net
License for moon photograph