A Brief History of Halloween's Myths & Mysteries

The History of Halloween
Halloween fire
October 31 Allhallowmas
Jack-O-Lantern

For the ancient Celts, the bright half of the year ended around November 1st or on a Moon-phase near that date. That first day of the daker half of the tear is referred to in modern Gaelic as Samhain ("Sow-in" or alternatively "Sa-ven", meaning: End of the Summer. The next day marked the beginning of Winter, often associated with human death and the slaughter of livestock to provide meat during the harsh winters. After the adoption of the Roman calendar and along with it its fixed months, the festival began to be celebrated independently of the Moon's phases.

The Celts believed that on the last day of the warmer half of the year the boundary that separated the dead from the living became blurred and that the spirits would help them to make accurate predictions about the harvests for the coming year. After all, the Celts' survival during the cold, harsh winters depended on the prophecies of their priests and priestesses (druids) and the accurate prediction of how much food would be needed to sustain the people before the next harvest.

Customs varied from region to region, but generally involved the lighting of bonfires and the reinforcement of boundaries, across which malicious spirits might be prevented from crossing and threatening the community. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes of animal heads and skins and attempted to prophesy or tell fortunes. Once the celebration was over, the people would return to their homes and re-light their hearth fires with fire from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

As with most observances around this season, warmth and comfort were emphasised, indulgence was not. Stores of preserved food were needed to last through the winter, not for parties.

Rome comes to Celtic Lands

By 43 C.E., Rome had conquered the most of the Celtic lands and for the next 400 years would continue to rule. During this period, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The first Roman festival was Feralia, a day in late October when Romans commemorated the passing of the dead. The second Roman festival was held in honor of Pomona, Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

Halloween and Christianity

By the 800s, Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1st All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs, in an attempt to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. In A.D. 1000, the church made November 2nd All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the Eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas, All-hallows, or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day). The night before All-hallows, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Hallowe'en and finally Halloween.

Commonly accepted Halloween Correspondences:

Also called: Allhallowmas, All Hallows Eve, All Saints and All Souls, Day of the Dead

Symbolism: Third Harvest, the Dark Mysteries, Rebirth through Death

Dates: October 31 thru early November

Colors: Black, Orange, Purple (or Indigo), Green, Red

Halloween Color Symbolism

  • Black: death, night, witches, black cats, bats, vampires
  • Orange: pumpkins, jack o' lanterns, Autumn, the turning leaves, fire
  • Purple: night, the supernatural, mysticism
  • Green: goblins, monsters
  • Red: blood, fire, evil, the devil

Energy: Death and Transformation; New Year

Deities: Crone Goddesses, Dying/Aging Gods, Sacrificial Gods, Death and Otherworld Deities including: Anubis, Arianrhod, Astarte, Baba Yaga Beansidhe (Banshee), Belili, Bran, Cailleach Beara, Cernunnos, Cerridwen, Demeter, Hathor, Hecate, Hel, Horned God, Inanna, Ishtar, Isis, Kali, Kore, Lakshmi, Lilith, the Morrigan, Nephthys, Odin, Osiris, Oya, Persephone, Pomona, Rhiannon, Tlazoteotl

Herbs: Mugwort (for divination), Sage, Straw, Pumpkin Seeds, Apple Leaf, Thistle, Allspice, Broom, Catnip, Deadly Nightshade*, Mandrake*, Oak Leaves, Patchoulie, Chrysanthemum, Rosemary (for rememberance of ancestors), Mullin seeds (for abundance), Rue, Calendula, Sunflower Petals and seeds, Wild Ginseng, Wormwood, Tarragon, Bay Leaf, Hazel Nut, Pine Needles, Nettle, Garlic *CAUTION: Poisonous, do not take internally or apply to skin!

Rituals: Honoring of ancestors, Releasing the old, Foreseeing the future, Gaining understanding death and rebirth, All forms of Divination

Symbols: Pumpkins, Corn Stalks, Gourds, Apples, Black Cats, Balefire, Waning Moon, Jack-O-Lanterns, Besoms, Cauldron, Mask

Metals: Gold, Steel, Brass, Iron

Incense: Heliotrope, Apple, Sage, Mint, Nutmeg, Copal, Sandalwood, Mastic Resin, Benzoin, Sweetgrass, Wormwood, Mugwort, Myrrh or Patchouli

Stones: Jet, Obsidian, Smoky Quartz, Hematite, Onyx, all Black Stones, Amber, Pyrite, Garnet, Clear Quartz, Marble, Sandstone, Diamond, Ruby

Foods: Turnips, Apples, Gourds, Cranberry Muffins, Corn, Hazel Nuts, Herbal Teas, Nuts, Mulled Wines, Cider, Pumpkin dishes, Poultry, Beef, Pork

Animals: Stag, Cat, Owl, Jackal, Elephant, Ram, Crow, Scorpion, Heron, Robin, Bat

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