Halloween is one of the most celebrated holidays around the world. Today’s Halloween is not so different from it’s origin. Although recent Halloweens are more commercialized majorly from tv shows and movies laced with fear and horror, some of the same customs, traditions and symbols come from the origins of the 1500’s or Middle Age festivals from pagan cultures, later christian holidays.
The faith of Celtic paganism, or Druidism celebrated the festival of Samhain, the end of harvest. The fields become bare, the leaves have fallen from the trees, and the skies are going gray and cold. It is the time of year when the earth has died and gone dormant. Every year on October 31 celebrates the cycle of death and rebirth, the end of light days and the beginning of darker cooler days. For many Pagan traditions, Samhain is a time to reconnect with our ancestors, and honor those who have died. A the time when the live world and the spirit world come together. The time of year to make contact with the dead. It’s a time for Druids to make predictions to the future bringing comfort to the people in the long season to come.
The Druids built huge bonfires that lit the night sky. They wore costumes, and predicted futures as the celebrated Samhain. Later in history, Christianity designated November 1 as All saint’s day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. This night was called Hallowmas in some cultures and Samhain became All Hallows’ Eve, now Halloween.
How did the symbols of a Halloween we know today get started?
1) Cornstalk Decorations
The traditional Celtic festival of Samhain celebrated the end of summer and end of harvest. Crops change and dry as the seasons change. Therefore the dried cornstalks stand as a reminder that everything dies.
Owls have always had the characteristic of being wise. The Druids, during the night of Samhain would communicate with the owls on predictions of the new year and season.
3) Full Moon
The moon lights the way in the darker days of winter.
4) Grim reaper
A skeleton like creature with a long black hooded robe carrying a sickle come to take life away from people and escorts them the their afterlife. The sickle representing the harvest, reaping the wheat, reaping the dead.
In Ancient Egypt, a person was embalmed and wrapped in white cloth to prepare them for their afterlife. Another symbol of death of a season of life.
6) Orange and Black
During Fall, the trees change colors to warm colors of oranges, reds and yellows. The sunsets and sunrises decorate the sky with brilliant colors. These colors against the black night and dreary days of winter create a contrast. Bright life vs. dark cool black nights. Again in contrast, life vs death.
While the Druids built their huge bonfires, the many bugs that slumbered in the crops were stirred in the night sky providing a feast for the nocturnal creatures such as bats and owls.
8) Black Cats
Ancient Celtic cultures taught that cats were reincarnated humans and were capable of seeing the future. Often in ancient Celtic and other faiths, cats were associated with witches. In Egypt, their were honored.
The skeleton is a symbol used my many cultures as the shortness if human life.
As Samhain celebrates the end of harvest by the end of life, their ancestors walk the earth among the living.
11) Costumes and
12) trick or Treating
During Samhain, people wore costumes to confuse and trick the spirits so they would leave the live alone and move on. In the early 1900’s, Americans started wearing costumes for All Hallow’s Eve. It wasn’t until the mid 1900’s, that trick or treating became popular in America. The act of going from house to house may have come from the poor children in the Middle Ages collecting needs for prayers for the dead.
13) Jack o Lanterns
There was an Irish legend that Jack the Stingy man died while wandering around the countryside carrying a turned that was hallowed out and a candle in it guiding his way. The children going from house to house also used the primitive, yet functional and affordable lanterns. They used the food they had available, where as today we grow pumpkins.
One goes back to the Old Salem Witch Trial days for the symbol of witches. They were feared unkillable characters that had powers especially strong on Halloween. They lurked in the night able to alter people’s lives.
A memorial to those who died, a symbol of death. A marking that represents the change in one’s life.
Their magic, formulas and spells connect spirits and again like witches alter lives.
The eyes are watching you in the night. Symbolism of your not alone. Others are hunting.
Fire is symbolized with warmth as well as death and destruction.
During Samhain, the Druids used the fire to protect against the bad spirit and ritual of sacrifices among various religions and cultures.
All through the years, blood has been used as a symbol for death, horrific injury, or sacrifice. Blood is once again the sign of an altered life.
Sometimes webs are known as passing time. Walking in an abandoned building or around the windows in your basement, you may see spiders and their webs. It takes a spiders life to weave it’s web, catch it’s food, multiple and die, the passing of its life, like the passing of a humans life.
Throughout the symbols mentioned above, the constant theme is the change of lives, the change of seasons and the life vs death.