Halloween: Origins and Traditions
Halloween (Hallowe’en , also known as Hallowmas, All Hallows, and Hallowtide) is an annual holiday that is observed on October 31. It derives its name from the Christian calendar and occurs the day before All Saints’ or All Hallows’ Day. Some scholars however claim that the All Hallows’ Eve’s tradition initially was incorporated from pagan harvest festivals and festivals honoring the dead, particularly the Celtic Samhain.
Samhain (derived from an old Irish word Samuin, meaning “summer’s end”) falling on the last day of autumn, was a time for stock-taking and preparation for the harsh, cold winter months ahead. According to the ancient Celts’ calendar, this was the last night of the old year and at this time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were the closest, all manner of magical things could manifest. For one thing the souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on Samahain eve, while witches, hobgoblins, warlocks and other evil entities walked abroad and devoted themselves to wicked revels. To defend against these wayward evil spirits, the Gaels would built huge, symbolically regenerative bonfires and invoked the help of the gods through animal and perhaps even human sacrifice. In the Western Isles of Scotland the Slaugh, or fairy host was composed of the souls of the dead flying through the air, and the feast of the dead at Hallowe’en was also the festival of the fairies. But the good fairies, too, according to some folklore, made their appearance at this time from dusk until midnight.
Later on Halloween was heavily influenced by the Christian holy days of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day which, falling on November 1 and 2, were a time for honouring the saints and praying for the recently departed who had yet to reach Heaven. In 837 Pope Gregory IV ordered the church-wide observance; by the end of 12th century this became the holy days of obligation across Europe, incorporating such traditions as the ringing of bells for the souls in purgatory and “souling”. “Souling” is when the poor folk or, later replaced by costumed children, carry lanterns made out of scooped out turnips and go from go door to door on Hallowmas, Nov 1, receiving food or coins in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls ‘Day, which is on Nov 2. There was also the custom of baking bread or sour cakes for “all christened souls.
Another scary belief held that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day and All Hallows’Eve, providing the vengeful spirits a last chance for revenge before moving onto the next world. Christians therefore took to disguising themselves and, by wearing masks and costumes and following the lighted candles set by others to guide their travel for worship the next day, avoided any repercussions from these rancorous souls. In this day and age, this custom has been perpetuated by the children donning disguises and going out trick or treating. It is interesting to note that this “trick or treating” actually dates back to the Middle Ages and includes Christmas wassailing, resembled the late medieval practice in Scotland and Ireland’s ‘guising. Costumed children visited each house asking for treats, with the question, “Trick or treat?” The word “trick” refers to a, mostly idle, “threat” to visit mischief or harm on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given.
The ‘guising participants traditionally modelled their costumes after supernatural figures such as monsters, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils, which over time incorporated popular characters from fiction, celebrities or generic archetypes such as batman, superman, ninjas and princesses.
The Carving of jack-o-lanterns meanwhile has been derived from the Samhain custom of carving turnips into lanterns to light the way of the souls held in purgatory.
In North America the Puritans of New England had strong opposition to this holiday, so it was not observed until the 19th century when the influx of Irish and Scottish immigrants reintroduced it. At first it was confined to immigrant communities but, by and by, it has became a widespread celebration by all social, racial and religious backgrounds in North America and elsewhere. Today the Halloween imagery includes themes of evil, the occult, death and mythical monsters. Black and orange are the traditional colors now. Meanwhile the jack-o-lantern custom of carving the turnip has evolved into a carved pumpkin that is far softer and much larger.
Halloween has always been considered a particularly auspicious occasion for supernatural experiments and games. Some observe the religious rites such as praying, fasting and attending vigils or church services. Others indulge in carving pumpkins, decorating house with ghoulish images to scare the trick and treating children and conducting party games such as apple bobbing. There is, of course, a whole host of other fun activities, that include young and old, such as visiting haunted attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories and watching horror films. Here are few more mentioned below:
“Bobbing” for Apples- No Halloween is complete without an “apple bob.” Each member of the party is given an apple from which a small piece has been cut and into which a fortune written on a slip of paper has been inserted. The apples are thrown into a large tub of water and the company invited to duck their heads and retrieve an apple with their mouths. From the apple they draw out the slip of paper and read their fortune. These fortunes, which must be brief, will be of greater interest if they deal with affairs of love such as “Your husband will be masterful and handsome”.
Few, mainly college and university students, partake in the old Celtic custom that includes lighting great bonfires on Halloween and, after these had burned out, make a circle of the ashes of each fire. Within this circle, and near the circumference, each member of the various groups that had helped to make a fire would place a pebble. If, on the next day, any stone was out of its place, or had been damaged, it was held to be an indication that the one to whom the stone belonged would die within twelve months. Such a morbid superstition, however, does not find much favour in modern times, and those manifestations which are connected with affairs of the heart are more popularly sought after on the Eve of All Hallows. Here are some of the spells that may be cast by college students in dorms, for fun sake, only on Halloween.
To See Your Future Spouse- Retire into a dark room with one lit candle as the only means of illumination. Place the candle in front of a mirror and peer into the glass. At the same time, you must either be eating an apple or combing your hair. After a few moments it is said that the face of the man whom you will wed will appear over your shoulder.
There is an old country superstition which decrees that if a girl should eat a salted herring just before she goes to bed her future spouse will appear to her in a dream carrying a cup of water with which to quench her thirst.
A similar test may be made with three saucers. One is filled with clear water, another with ink or muddy water, while the third is left empty. A girl or boy who wishes to know their fortune is blindfolded and led toward the table with their left hand outstretched. They then told to touch one of the saucers. Should the participant touch the saucer containing the clear water he or she will soon be married to a beautiful girl or a handsome boy. If on the other hand he or she touches the saucer containing the ink or muddy water their future spouse will be a widower. If it so happens that they touch the empty saucer it is an indication that they are unlikely to ever marry. (Remember folks this is only a guessing game… No one can truly predict the future. )
According to custom mashed potatoes is the correct dish for Halloween, and they also offer us a method of divining which member of the company will be the first to wed. Into the heap of mashed potatoes a ring, a low domination coin, a button, a heart- shaped -charm, a shell and a key are inserted. Then all the lights in the room are turned out and each guest, armed with a spoon or fork endeavours to find the hidden charms. The one who finds the ring will marry first; the coin signifies wealth; the button brings bachelorhood, or spinsterhood; the heart, passionate love; the shell, long journeys; the key, great success and power.
To ascertain if your lover is true: On Halloween select one of the notes which you have received from your sweetheart, especially one which contains a particularly passionate and important declaration; lay it wide open upon a table and then fold it nine times. Pin the folds together, lace the letter in your left-hand glove, and slip it under your pillow. If on that night you dream of silver, gems, glass, castles or clear water, your love is true and his declarations are genuine; if you dream of linen, storms, fire wood, flowers or that he is saluting you, he is false and has been deceiving you.
To find whether Lover will be Happy?… Well, there is a game-spell for that also:
A group of friends sit around an open fire and a boy, selecting the girl of his choice, invites her to place a nut in the glowing embers; he, too, does likewise. If the burning nuts merely glow or smolder, then the respective couple who place them there, are suited for one another, and will enjoy a good relationship in perfect harmony and love. But if the nuts should burst, or crackle loudly, or fly apart, then beware, for it portends that the boy and the girl will have a stormy relationship, their temperaments not being in synch, they will quarrel excessively.
Have fun on Halloween.