Blessed Samhain and Happy Halloween, a bridge between cultures and worlds.
While it's widely known for the Christian holiday preceding All Saint's Day, Halloween is actually the result of combining the Celtic observance of Samhain with the Christian church's All Saint's Day. The result was a new religious holiday that could be embraced by both groups; however, the Christian church's intent was to incorporate Pagans into their fold for conversion.
This type of 'mirroring' ( using established Pagan holidays ) was prevalent in the Christian church was to project unification as an attempt to attract other cultures, hoping that newcomers would ease into membership. While All Hallows Eve is still recognized as a church holiday, the modern non-religious observance has evolved into 'Halloween'.
History of Samhain is an interesting one. The ancient Celts believed there were just two seasons to the year: Beltane ( spring and summer ), and Samhain ( autumn & winter ); therefore, the Celtic culture celebrated October 31 as their New Year's Eve.
There was a great feast and a time to reflect on the previous months as well as plan for the future. Part of this tradition was honoring their dead, whom they believed ( on this night ) the veils between worlds were thin, enabling their departed loved ones and friends to return and feast with them.
Thus, table settings with plates of food and drink were laid out for them. Legend dictates spirits visited until sunrise before returning to their graves for another year. Visiting from house to house to share a drink was popular, and visitors would wear disguises as part of the celebration. However,
not all spirits were welcome; therefore, a gourd was carved with a scary face to ward off evil spirits. This became known as the Jack-O-Lantern in modern observances. Scrying was also very popular, as it was believed Samhain reached beyond the boundaries of time, making it a fortuitous night for seeing the future.
As previously stated, the Christian Era attempted to absorb Samhain ( as well as other Pagan observances ) for the specific purpose to converting the observance into a new one that would still honor the departed ( All Saints Day ) in a more 'Christian-like' and acceptable manner.
Because divination was strictly forbidden in the bible, honoring Christian Saints as a prelude to All Saints Day was encouraged. Instead of visiting homes to fellowship, the church encouraged people to remain in their homes and use the evening as one of reflection and preparation for the following day.
The Christian church attempted to fully replace Samhain traditions; however, the history of All Hallows Eve reverberates through the modern name of Halloween. For most, the celebration is secular in nature while retaining many of the original traditions in the evening: Trick-or-treating, wearing costumes, and Jack-o'-lanterns.
Then there are those who choose to remember the old ways to perform rituals to commune with the spirits of their ancestors as well seeking future knowledge.
The history of All Hallows Eve is much like the United States of America, a melting pot of cultures and observances under one roof of a nation. If nothing else on Halloween night, we should honor the historical bridge between cultures, the past, and the future.
Image: October by Lisbeth Cheever-Gessaman
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