A Haunted History of Halloween More than three thousand year ago, the holiday now recognized as Halloween began in Ireland. The Celts were an agricultural community, dependent on successful harvests. As winter, the most difficult season, approached, the Celts asked the druids, their priests, to pray to the gods for a good harvest. The most important night of prayer came late in the year; the last day of the harvest, and the first day of winter. This night marking the transition from summer to winter was called Samhain.
On Samhain, the Celts believed that the wall separating the spirit world and the living world was thin enough that spirits came out to roam the land. Not all spirits returning to the Earth were friendly, so to appease the spirits, the Celts paraded out to the edge of their villages with gifts, such as food and sweets, to keep the dead from coming and haunting their villages. Trick-or-treating gets its origins from this tradition. The Celts also believed that the gods were in control of the sun, and the shortening days were displays of the gods’ power.
To acknowledge the power, the Celts built bonfires, and to thank the gods and nature at harvest time, the Celts offered blood sacrifices such as cows and horses, by throwing them onto bonfires. Druids would “read” the burning offerings and read them like tarot cards, telling the villagers who would die in the following year. Samhain was seen as the night on which druids could make the most accurate predictions about the future because it was believed that the spirits that were wandering the earth at that time would offer guidance.
This is thought to be one of the origins of telling ghost stories. The Irish call the piles of stones scattered around the country side fairy mounds, as it was believed that on Samhain night, fairies would come out and perform pranks on the villagers. There are still pagans, people who are polygamous, that practice the same religion as the Celts did 3000 years ago, in northern England and Ireland today. At around the same time as the ancient Celts, the Romans celebrated a holiday, called Pomona that resembles modern Halloween as well.
The Romans thanked Pomona, the goddess of gardens and fruits, for a bountiful harvest by laying out fruits such as apples and nuts. This is where apple bobbing comes from. Pomona and Samhain mixed when the Romans engaged in war with the Celts. As Christianity began to take hold, Christian convert Emperor Constantine summoned the Council of Nicea to lay out Christian doctrine and inspire missionaries to convert people to Christianity. However, the old religions were rooted in tradition, and would not go away so soon.
After many tactics to try and persuade the pagans to convert to Christianity, Pope Gregory Ill turned Samhain, November 1, into a Christian holiday, naming it All Saints Day, to honor those saints who do not already have a day of their own. It is also known as All Hallows Day, and the evening prior is known as All Hallows Eve, which eventually became contemporary holiday of Halloween. In the tenth century, the church named November second All Souls Day, in remembrance of everyone who died within the past year.
Pagans continued their tradition of dressing up as scarecrows and making offerings to the souls of the dead, except under the ame of Halloween instead of under the name of Samhain. The practice continued tnat worrlea cnrlstlans tne most was wltcn craTt. I ne word “wltcn” comes Trom tne old English word “wicca,” which means “wise one. ” In the 1400s, Christians hunted suspected witches down because witches were portrayed as evil and following the devil’s commands. Pope Innocent VIII outlawed the pagan-Celtic religion all together because of its links to witches, among other things.
Witches were hunted down and hanged all over Europe during the 1400s; even Joan of Arc was convicted of witchcraft nd burned at the stake. Even animals associated with witches gained negative connotations; the black cat, nocturnal by nature, was believed to be a witch, only in animal form. The bat also earned its association to Halloween because people lit bonfires around Halloween, which attracted mosquitoes, thus attracting the bats. Throughout history, every culture that celebrates Halloween has altered the holiday to mix with its ancient traditions.
This is vividly seen in Mexico’s Day of the Dead, an ancient festival on All Soul’s Day that combines pagan and Christian lements. The Mexican church celebrates the lives of those who have passed by laying out food and gifts at the gravestones and at the houses’ altars. The biggest alteration of Halloween occurred in the early 1 500’s, when Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis on Halloween, 1517. He rejected all the symbols that stood between worshipers and God, including saints. The church stopped recognizing All Saints Day and All Hallows Eve, but the celebrations accompanied by the holidays were too popular to discard.
On November 5, 1605, a catholic militant named Guy Fawkes was rrested for trying to blow up the Protestant-dominated House of Lords. Ever since then, Guy Fawkes Day has been a popular British holiday, celebrated with fireworks and bonfires. A tradition that has developed in England surrounding Guy Fawkes Day is that children make effigies of Guy Fawkes, and throw them into the fires, much like how Guy Fawkes was thrown into a fire. Even though the ways in which Halloween is celebrated today varies in each culture, aspects from the ancient Celtic religion can still be noted in each way the holiday is celebrated.