Irish customs reveal spiritual roots of popular American celebration
When most of us think about Halloween, thoughts of witches with long, warty noses, black cats and broomsticks, and the worship of Satan pop into our minds. But is this really what Halloween is all about? Or is there a deeper, more spiritual meaning?
Many followers of the Christian faith today recognize Halloween as being the holiday of the devil and think of those who celebrated the holiday in the past as performing bloody sacrificial rites and other evil acts. Many Christians look down upon those who celebrate this holiday; even in the most innocent ways of trick-or-treating or dressing up in costumes. Actually, the hypothesis associating evil with Halloween couldn’t be any more wrong.
During the Middle Ages when common folk believed that witchcraft was devoted to the worship of Satan, this cult included periodic meetings, known as witches’ Sabbaths, which were allegedly given over to feasting and revelry. One of the most important Sabbaths was held on Halloween.
Witches were thought to fly to these meetings on broomsticks, accompanied by black cats who were their constant companions. Stories of these Sabbaths are the source of much folklore about Halloween.
Halloween was first celebrated by the ancient Celts of Scotland. This day was called Samhain (pronounced SOW — WHEN). In pre-Christian Ireland and Scotland, the Celtic year ended on October 31, the eve of Samhain, and was celebrated with both religious and harvest rites.
For these people, Samhain was the end of summer and a festival of the dead. The spirits of the dead were believed to be able to come back and revisit their friends in search of happiness before winter came. The Celts also believed that all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to walk among the living.
The Celts were pagan, and took this night to honor deceased loved ones and other deities. Yes, the Celts did believe in entities such as faeries, giants, spirits, and elves. But these entities were in no way thought of as evil, so much as they were dangerous.
The Celts didn’t even have demons or devils in their belief system. As part of the pagan faith (where there is no belief or Satan or hell), they worshipped several different gods and goddesses but all in a harmless fashion. Paganism is in no way related to Satanism, thus cannot be related to any type of evil.
Halloween is also celebrated by the Christian faith. By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1st All Saints Day, or a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is commonly thought today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church celebrated holiday. The celebration was also called All-Hallowmas, and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-Hallows Eve. This eventually was turned into Halloween. Later, in 1000 AD, the church would make November 2 All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costume.
Eventually, when European immigrants began to come to America, they brought along their different Halloween beliefs. The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated with the Celts as a part of All Souls Day — a day when Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” which were made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors.
These new immigrants introduced their ideas and soon enough all Americans began in some way celebrating Halloween. Common pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates. Children began dressing up and going house to house asking for food or money. This turned into what we now call trick-or-treating.
Nowadays, Halloween is a variable holiday. There are modern day pagans who still celebrate the holiday of Samhain, children who enjoy the holiday for trick-or-treating, and there are still Christians who oppose the holiday because of their mix-up of paganism and Satanism. Anyway that you celebrate Halloween, it is the second largest holiday in the United States as a time for parties, trick-or-treating, and dressing up in costumes.
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