Monday, October 31, 2011

Origins of Halloween.

Origins of Halloween a timeless tale of terror

October 30, 2011
DOTTI MILLER - Former Salem News lifestyle editor , Salem News
According to legend, a falling star means a witch has died. However, the stars don't dare descend to earth on Monday, Halloween night, for this is the night when witches are reputed to ride through the skies on their broomsticks as they reign over the earth mingling among the living.
Halloween is, according to legend, the darkest of nights, when the witches and other evil spirits, having sold themselves to the devil, collaborate with him to conjure up a night of vile, loathsome pranks. On Halloween, these witches were said to dance on the hilltops with goblins and imps while the devil himself played castanets made from dead men's bones.
Originally called Hallowmas or All Hallows Eve, Halloween has become one of the most celebrated holidays throughout America. Through the years it has been labeled a pagan festival, also a special time set aside for Christian celebrations, a time for mischievous tricks or treating and fun-filled parties.
When youngsters wear witches costumes or carry pumpkin lanterns and select black cats for their Halloween decorations, they are following ancient customs. Today's light-hearted Halloween observances are a mere "ghostly shadow" of the Celtic ritual, B.C., when spirits of the departed were thought to roam the earth on their way to the "other-world." They believed this was a "crack in time" when the dead could visit the living.
The Celts, who occupied northern and western Europe, were fearful that they might be possessed by wandering souls and disguised themselves in frightening costumes and lit huge bonfires to guide the spirits on their journey.
Druidism was the religion of the Celts and focused on two important feasts, Beltrane on May 1, and Samhain, the autumn festival on the last day of October. Coming after the harvests have been gathered, this holiday meant the end of summer and the beginning of winter. This new year began on Nov. 1 and our Halloween was their New Year's Eve. This autumn festival had supernatural tones as the Druid priests, who were nature worshippers, felt the need to appease the "Lord of Death." They believed that he allowed the spirits of those who died during the past year to spend a few hours at their homes on earth to warm themselves at the blazing hearth and once again savor the smell of food cooking in the open fireplace.
Another belief was that sinful souls of those who died during the past year had been relegated to the bodies of animals. Through gifts and sacrifices of the living, the sins of loved ones could be expiated and their souls freed to claim their heavenly reward. The main sacrificial offerings were black cats who were thought to be friends of the witches or even transformed into witches.
Another belief was that the "Lord of Death" called forth hosts of evil spirits. Fearful of this, the Druids lit great fires to ward off these evil spirits and also to rejuvenate the sun on this, the last evening of the year.
As the Celts celebrated the night around their massive bonfires, they talked of mysterious sights or weird sounds they had encountered. This practice is believed to be the forerunner of today's custom of sharing ghost stories on Halloween.
Through the years, Scottish folks who believed in witches and ghosts, lit fires in peat-type torches to carry through their orchards hoping to singe the witches and ghosts that might be hovering around. Farmers in north Wales also were known to set forkfuls of hay on fire and wave them in the air to frighten the witches and ghosts.
Another custom that has survived is the use of hollowed-out pumpkins carved to resemble grotesque faces and lit by candles.
Pumpkins weren't always the vegetable of choice for Halloween. Jack-o-Lanterns, which were first made in Ireland, were originally created of turnips. When the Irish came to America in the 1840s, they brought with them the beloved legend of the mischievous "Jack-O-Lantern" and replaced his turnip with the more abundant pumpkin found in America.
One tale of the Jack-o-Lantern is based on the story of a stingy, drunken Irishman named Jack. According to legend, Jack tricked the devil into climbing an apple tree to get a piece of its delicious fruit. Once the devil was in the tree Jack quickly carved the sign of the cross into the tree trunk. Jack then made the devil swear that he wouldn't ever come back for his soul. Upon dying and reaching the gates of heaven, Jack was turned away because of his bad habits while on earth. The only place left for Jack to turn to was the devil. However, he was not accepted into hell either for the devil, while in the apple tree, promised never to take Jack in. He was told to go back where he came from.
As a final gesture the devil threw a live coal to Jack, who was eating a turnip. Jack carved out his turnip and placed the coal inside it. According to legend, ever since then Jack has been traveling around the earth with his Jack-o-Lantern in search of a place to rest.
A story from rural England insists that long ago the men folk there would go to the annual fall fair and get too tipsy on hard cider to find their way home. Their women folk would make lanterns out of their pumpkins or "punkies" and set off in the night with these special lights to find them and lead them safely home.
The custom of going door to door begging for "goodies" goes way back to the pagan New Year's feast. The ghosts, believed to throng about the houses, were greeted with banquet tables overflowing with food. At the end of the feats the villagers, in masks and costumes to represent the souls of the dead, paraded to the outskirts of the town to "lead the ghosts away from the town."
Halloween today is a time for fun-filled house parties, youngsters to go out to ring doorbells and shout "Trick or Treat' which has stemmed from the old custom of poor folks going to homes of well-to-do neighbors and beg for a "soul cake" on All Souls Eve. Costume parades also are popular, as are family-oriented "Trunk or Treat" celebrations more....


Pre-Christian influences

Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while "some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)", derived from the Old Irish Samuin meaning "summer's end".[5] Samhain was the first and by far the most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Irish and Scottish[6] calendar[7][8] and, falling on the last day of Autumn, it was a time for stock-taking and preparation for the cold winter months ahead.[5] There was also a sense that this was the time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest and magical things could happen.[7][8] To ward off these spirits, the Gaels built huge, symbolically regenerative bonfires and invoked the help of the gods through animal and perhaps even human sacrifice.[5]

Christian influences

Snap-Apple Night (1832) by Daniel Maclise.
Depicts apple bobbing and divination games at a Halloween party in Blarney, Ireland.
Halloween is also thought to have been heavily influenced by the Christian holy days of All Saints' Day (also known as Hallowmas, All Hallows, and Hallowtide) and All Souls' Day.[9] Falling on November 1st and 2nd respectively, collectively they were a time for honoring the Saints and praying for the recently departed who had yet to reach heaven. By the end of the 12th century they had become days of holy obligation across Europe and involved such traditions as ringing bells for the souls in purgatory and "souling", the custom of baking bread or soul cakes for "all crysten [ christened ] souls".[10] It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints Day, and All Hallow's Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving onto the next world.[11] To avoid being recognised by a soul, Christians would wear masques and costumes to disguise themselves, following the lighted candles set by others to guide their travel for worship the next day.[11] Today, this practice has been perpetuated through trick-or-treating.[11]
In Britain the rituals of Hallowtide and Halloween came under attack during the Reformation as Protestants denounced purgatory as a "popish" doctrine incompatible with the notion of predestination.[9] In addition the increasing popularity of Guy Fawkes Night from 1605 on saw Halloween become eclipsed in Britain with the notable exception of Scotland.[12] There and in Ireland, they had been celebrating Samhain and Halloween since the early Middle Ages,[13] and it is believed the Kirk took a more pragmatic approach towards Halloween, viewing it as important to the life cycle and rites of passage of local communities and thus ensuring its survival in the country.[12]
North American almanacs of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century give no indication that Halloween was recognized as a holiday.[14] The Puritans of New England, for example, maintained strong opposition to the holiday[14] and it was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that the holiday was introduced to the continent in earnest.[14] Initially confined to the immigrant communities during the mid-nineteenth century, it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the twentieth century it was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds.[15]


The word Halloween is first attested in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even ("evening"), that is, the night before All Hallows Day.[16] Although the phrase All Hallows is found in Old English (ealra hālgena mæssedæg, mass-day of all saints), All-Hallows-Even is itself not attested until 1556.[16]


Jack-o'-lanterns in Kobe, Japan
Development of artifacts and symbols associated with Halloween formed over time. For instance, the carving of jack-o'-lanterns springs from the souling custom of carving turnips into lanterns as a way of remembering the souls held in purgatory.[17] The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween,[18][19] but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which are both readily available and much larger – making them easier to carve than turnips.[18] The American tradition of carving pumpkins is recorded in 1837[20] and was originally associated with harvest time in general, not becoming specifically associated with Halloween until the mid-to-late 19th century.[21]
The imagery of Halloween is derived from many sources, including national customs, works of Gothic and horror literature (such as the novels Frankenstein and Dracula), and classic horror films (such as Frankenstein and The Mummy).[22] Among the earliest works on the subject of Halloween is from Scottish poet John Mayne in 1780, who made note of pranks at Halloween; "What fearfu' pranks ensue!", as well as the supernatural associated with the night, "Bogies" (ghosts), influencing Robert Burns' Halloween 1785.[23] Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks, and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween.
Halloween imagery includes themes of death, evil, the occult, or mythical monsters.[24] Black and orange are the holiday's traditional colors.

Trick-or-treating and guising

Trick-or-treating in Sweden
Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Children go in costume from house to house, asking for treats such as candy or sometimes money, with the question, "Trick or treat?" The word "trick" refers to a (mostly idle) "threat" to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given. In some parts of Scotland children still go guising. In this custom the child performs some sort of trick, i.e. sings a song or tells a ghost story, to earn their treats.
The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays dates back to the Middle Ages and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls' Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland and Britain,[10] although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy.[25] Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering or whining] like a beggar at Hallowmas."[26]
In Scotland and Ireland, Guising – children disguised in costume going from door to door for food or coins  – is a traditional Halloween custom, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895 where masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips, visit homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money.[19] The practice of Guising at Halloween in North America is first recorded in 1911, where a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario reported children going "guising" around the neighborhood.[27]
American historian and author Ruth Edna Kelley of Massachusetts wrote the first book length history of the holiday in the U.S; The Book of Hallowe'en (1919), and references souling in the chapter "Hallowe'en in America";
The taste in Hallowe'en festivities now is to study old traditions, and hold a Scotch party, using Burn's poem Hallowe'en as a guide; or to go a-souling as the English used. In short, no custom that was once honored at Hallowe'en is out of fashion now.[28]
Halloween in Yonkers, New York, US
In her book, Kelley touches on customs that arrived from across the Atlantic; "Americans have fostered them, and are making this an occasion something like what it must have been in its best days overseas. All Hallowe'en customs in the United States are borrowed directly or adapted from those of other countries".[29]
While the first reference to "guising" in North America occurs in 1911, another reference to ritual begging on Halloween appears, place unknown, in 1915, with a third reference in Chicago in 1920.[30]
The earliest known use in print of the term "trick or treat" appears in 1927, from Blackie, Alberta, Canada:
Hallowe'en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.[31]
The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show children but do not depict trick-or-treating.[32] The editor of a collection of over 3,000 vintage Halloween postcards writes, "There are cards which mention the custom [of trick-or-treating] or show children in costumes at the doors, but as far as we can tell they were printed later than the 1920s and more than likely even the 1930s. Tricksters of various sorts are shown on the early postcards, but not the means of appeasing them".[33] Trick-or-treating does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930s, with the first U.S. appearances of the term in 1934,[34] and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939.[35]
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