Halloween…When the Dead Walk the Earth by Judy Teel

Please help me welcome Judy Teel to my blog today. She’s giving away a copy of one of her ebooks, winners choice, to one lucky commenter, so be sure and leave a comment for her.

Chilling, isn’t it? Originally Halloween was considered the festival of the dead, the biggest Celtic holiday of the year. What became November 1 on our calendar marked the beginning of winter for the Celts (their New Year), making October 31 both an ending and a beginning, much like death itself.

During Halloween, or Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween), it was believed that the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead thinned. Ghosts, both evil and good, could cross into our reality and walk among us. Breaching dimensions wasn’t limited to the dead, but also applied to fairies, leprechauns, demons and other mystical beings.

As near as I could determine, when Christianity spread abroad in 601 A.D., Pope Gregory the First ordered his missionaries to morph local customs into Christian ones to make conversion of the population easier. This was a brilliant approach and Samhain turned into All Hallows Eve with November 1 becoming All Saints Day. However, much to the missionary’s frustration, local people hung on to this particular festival and refused to give it up.

Deciding to oust the competition, these early Christians then branded the local Celtic priests and priestesses as evil and malicious devil worshippers. With Samhain being the most important day of the year for the Celts, it was only natural that October 31 would get a corresponding bad rap. Thus, witches, black cats , sorcerers and the devil became integrated into the spooky Halloween story.

Fearing for their souls on what was now called Hallows Eve, peasants donned masks to fool the evil entities roaming about and put out food and drink to pacify them. Supposedly trick-or-treating started as a way to get free cake in exchange for praying for the givers departed loved ones. Personally, I think nobody wanted to risk offending the other side, so anyone who showed up at the door looking like a creepy crawly and asking for goodies got them, no doubt to the delight of enterprising children.

To me, the most amazing aspect of this holiday is how well it’s held up over thousands of years. Despite ongoing religious influences from the Romans to the Christians, Halloween has maintained many of its original, or near-original traditions. Even carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples and drinking warm apple cider harkens back to the core of the festival which was to celebrate the harvest and prepare for winter.

How has this happened? Maybe because it’s fun to dress up, act crazy and beg for free treats. Or perhaps because a day when the dead can walk among us calls to the mystical side of our psyche and the hope that death is not an end but a beginning.

How do you feel about Halloween?

Find out more about Judy Teel and the Cinderella Heiresses series at http://judyteel.com.

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Reference articles:
The Fantasy and Folklore of Halloween by Jack Santino

History of Halloween

7 thoughts on “Halloween…When the Dead Walk the Earth by Judy Teel

  1. Hi there,

    As a practicing witch, let me say, “Not bad!” So many people don’t understand the concepts behind our new years celebration and you did a great job with it.

    If its okay, I’ll share a bit about carving pumpkins? One custom that goes back many, many hundreds of years was the sharing of the fire. Before the huge feast (Samhain is the third of three harvest festivals, including Lammas or lughnasadh – pronounced LOOnas and Mabon) everyone in the village would put out their hearth fires. They would then attend the bonfire with their family and neighbors, and take some of that fire home with them. They would carry a red-hot ember in a hollowed gourd (not a pumpkin, they were too big). From that ember they would light their hearth fire and keep it lit all winter. This way, the entire community shared the same fire and would enjoy peace and calm throughout the winter months. Cool, right?

  2. I love research type things. The Popes did the same clever trick with other pagan holidays, co-opting them into Christianity as best they could. But the Popes had nothing on capitalism. Look how commercialized Halloween has become over the years. But it’s still fun.

    • You are absolutely right, Carly! Once you start researching many of the Christian traditions, it’s kind of shocking. Your point about capitalism co-opting everything is a great observation, too. Thanks for the comment.

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