The Dark Origin and History of Halloween
The word Halloween itself is derived from the word “Allhallow-even” or “All Holy (Hallow means holy) Evening.” What was once a religious holiday before All Saints Day on November first, has transformed into a secular holiday involving costumes and candy.
Similar to Christmas Eve, it originally was supposed to be a celebration before All Saints Day, a Catholic holiday which celebrates the saints (Christians who have died) in heaven.
Now, known in some Christian circles as Satan’s holiday, how did this holiday evolve overtime from All Hallows Evening to children dressed as ghosts and goblins? Does the holiday span further back than when Pope Gregory III instituted All Saints Day?
Let’s look at the different cultures throughout history that have had a hand in molding our current Halloween traditions. Starting with the Celtics, Rome, and then Medieval Christianity.
What Is the Origin of Halloween?
The origin of Halloween may, in fact, span farther back than the ninth century when All Saints Day was created. Linked to the Celtic holiday Samhain, this could indicate where some of the odder Halloween traditions such as jack-o-lanterns and costumes. Although the original date of this holiday isn’t easily found, historians have ventured guesses that the tradition is several thousand years old—at least two thousand years old.
During Samhain, a feast of the dead, participants would light community fires, perform animal sacrifices, carve turnips (and later pumpkins in Medieval times), eat food, and throw wood at each other.
Even though these Celts were ruled by various kings, the real power behind the throne was in the hands of the Druids. They were a secret, bloodthirsty priestly society who ruled by terror, sorcery and witchcraft. Even the various Celtic kings feared their black powers.
The most important religious day for the Druids was the celebration of Samhain, Lord of the Dead. The Celtic New Year began on November 1st. The night before, October 31st, was the night to reverence Samhain. It was the time of the falling of leaves and general seasonal decay—so the appropriate time to celebrate the Lord of the Dead.
They believed that on that night the Spirit world came into its closest contact with the human world. As such, it was a night when the souls of the departed dead returned to their former homes to be entertained by the living (much like ancestor worship is practiced today by many religions).
It was also a time when demonic and evil spirits came out of their shadowy nether world. If proper food, shelter and provision were not provided, these evil spirits would cast spells, wreak havoc on man and beast, and generally torment the living! If the proper “treat” was not awaiting to appease them, then they would respond with an appropriate “trick”—thus our custom of “trick or treating.”
Others, in order to fool and evade the invading spirits, would themselves dress up and masquerade as evil spirits, witches, ghosts, and ghouls. Again we can see the origin of our custom of dressing up as fiendish characters and creatures.
The perverted climax of this dark night was animal and human sacrifice to placate this Lord of the Dead. It was carried out by the priestly Druids who would rip the hearts out of their victims and use the blood for religious rites. They would also use the entrails and other body parts to divine the future and forecast the New Year. The remains were then burned in “bone fires,” from which we get the popular “bonfire.”
Samhain celebrated a broken barrier between the physical world and the spiritual one, hence why items such as ghosts have made their way into common Halloween lore.
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