What is the origin of Halloween?
No one can answer this question quickly because Halloween is a cultural invention, and the Halloween we see today is the product of many past adjustments and creative interpretations.
We can see the timeless symbols of one of the biggest holidays in the US in equally timeless items like Xinar’s sterling silver Halloween charms. Crafters have been using our sterling silver charms to produce excellent and meaningful creations, like charm bracelets, friendship bracelets, and chokers, for over twenty years.
What is the Origin of Halloween: The Samhain
The Wheel of the Year completes its rotation at Samhain. Finally, all the crops have been harvested, the dying god has been buried, and the goddess has gone to the underworld to be with her mate.
Above, her people get ready for the thinning of the veil between the worlds: dead ancestors will be visiting, and now that harvest is over, there’s a new year to consider, resources to manage, farewells to say, and plans to make.
Meanwhile, the Crone’s rule is established over a desolate landscape.
October can be a beautiful yet melancholy month in some regions. In the fall, the trees are bare, and the ground is covered in leaves resembling bright bleeding. The morning frost adds a white hoar to the browning grass.
As we spend more time indoors due to the dropping temperature, we can use the supplies we’ve gathered to honor the memories of those we’ve lost. Many Neopagans consider the autumn equinox when the veil between the material and spiritual realms is at its thinnest.
The Fire Celebration
What is the origin of Halloween and the Fire Celebration?
Samhain was the most significant of the four Celtic fire festivals to the ancient Celts. It is one of the four cross-quarter celebrations between the equinox and the solstice. People let their fireplace fires go out every October after the full moon in preparation for the winter. Finally, the harvest was finished, and the herd animals were brought back from grazing.
After the fires died out, they gathered with the rest of their tribe to watch the Druid priests use friction to rekindle the community’s sacred fire. To create sparks, the priests used a wheel and spindle to create friction, with the wheel representing the sun rotating from east to west. They prayed and made offerings or sacrifices based on their needs at this time. Scholars are divided over whether the Crom-crunch, a sun symbol carved into a pillar of stone, was meant to represent a Pagan god or some other aspect of nature.
At the outskirts of the village, the locals set out food for the ghosts and faeries who were said to pass through. One or more black animals (sheep, pigs, or cattle) were slaughtered as a sacrifice. In the end, everyone took a brand from the sacred fire back to their homes to relight their fireplaces and then to light bonfires or place torches along the outskirts of their fields. If the fire in the fireplace died out, it was considered a sin in ancient times.
Samhain signaled to the ancient Celts that harvesting was complete and that they should focus their efforts on getting ready for the coming winter. It was also a sign that their ancestors would visit them and that all good and evil creatures would cross over to the mortal world on that night of Samhain. To protect themselves from the sometimes-hostile faeries and later the witches, Celts donned animal or other frightening creature costumes.
Halloween and Christianity
What is the origin of Halloween and its links to Christianity?
The European church leaders sought to convert the local heathen population by redefining their holidays as Christian ones. Church leaders sometimes do this by moving a celebration to a less auspicious time of year. Sometimes, they would give the new saint a different name for the old Pagan holiday. For example, Pope Boniface tried to convert the ancient celebration of May 13 into a Christian holiday honoring saints and martyrs in the fifth century.
Pope Gregory decided to return the celebration of saints and martyrs to the same day as the secular festival of the dead in the ninth century when late October/November fire festivals continued regardless. Instead of trying to eradicate Samhain as a festival honoring the dead, the church instead designated November 1 as All Saints’ Day (also known as All Souls’ Day). Church leaders may have felt All Saints’ Day wasn’t successfully replacing Pagan practices by adding All Souls’ Day on November 2.
What is the origin of Halloween and All-Saint’s Day?
All Saints’ Day came to be a celebration of the departed who were thought to have reached heavenly bliss, while All Souls’ Day became a day to remember those whose spirits were possibly still resolving issues in limbo. After the end of the Irish cow-milking season, these days were traditionally set aside for family gatherings. Hallowe’en, Allhallows eve, and Hallowmas are just a few of the many names for the evening of October 31 that have come to contain the remnants of the original Pagan practices.
Hallowe’en’s Global Reach
Ulster Protestants (Ireland) brought traditional practices surrounding Samhain and Halloween to the United States by Ulster Protestants (Ireland) in the nineteenth century. They held carnivals with games and masquerade processions, inviting even their non-Irish neighbors to join in the fun. For the most part, the other colonists took on the practice of having celebrations and games centered around children. However, as a part of local courting customs, these gatherings may be attended by teenagers and young adults.
What is the origin of Halloween and the links to modern celebrations?
In the 1930s, Halloween pranks became a widespread and costly issue across the United States. By 1950, trick-or-treating had become common for communities to keep mischievous youth occupied.
Around 1970, Halloween crossed over from being a children’s holiday to being celebrated by all Americans as a secular event. Companies began making paper-wrapped candy and house decorations, and the LGBT community in New York adopted the holiday as a day to celebrate their authentic selves with costume parties and trick-a-shot events.
Halloween controversy increased as it became more widely celebrated in the United States. Knowing its pagan roots, some Christians have vehemently opposed the holiday’s widespread celebration in the USA. Historically, rural residents have given Halloween the pejorative name “Beggar’s Night” because they perceive the holiday as an opportunity for aggressive panhandling and extortion.
Setting Up Night Lights
What is the origin of Halloween and setting up night lights?
Part of knowing the origin of Halloween understands how practices evolved. New forms of the Celtic fire festival emerged during the Middle Ages and have survived to the present day. In Wales and the Scottish Highlands, for example, servants and boys in their early teens would gather at a bonfire in the center of the village, light torches, and then sprint out to the fields and farms to place them at the property lines.
Then, people about farms might gather to have a bonfire. The land rituals of the night began with these bonfires, known as samghnagans. The Welsh believed this was done to ward off faeries. Later on, they claimed it warded off witches and protected their homes and farms.
The people who ventured out at night did so with carved turnips on strings, each holding a glowing piece of coal. The name “jack-o’-lantern” originates from a Christian folktale about a blacksmith named Old Jack, who was so evil that he was denied entrance to either heaven or hell.
He was doomed to wander the streets of Hell on Hallowe’en night with only a turnip lamp for company. The Irish immigrants who brought Hallowe’en to the New World found pumpkins more readily available than turnips, so they began using pumpkins as lanterns in its place.
What is the origin of Halloween and nighttime activities?
On Halloween night, the men of Wales would frequently spend the evening at the bonfires also lit on hilltops, engaging in violent games, throwing firebrands at each other, and lighting fireworks. Then, they ran down the hills screaming as the fires died out. In the northern regions of Britain, they sometimes played noisemakers like bells and horns as they ran.
Traditional rituals meant to ward off faeries eventually became more broadly aimed at warding off “witchcraft.” For example, in Victorian times, “burning the witch” meant tossing an effigy of an elderly woman into a fire.
Tinley was enacted as a Halloween tradition in some Welsh communities. Each community member would then place a stone in the ring formed by the ashes of the fires ravaging the town or farm. A person was thought to have been claimed by the fey and to die sometime in the following year if they awoke to find their stone had been moved. Despite their seemingly superstitious nature, these rituals served a practical purpose: the fire and ash kept noxious weeds at bay in the fields the following year.
On Samhain, however, Irish custom dictated that all home fires be extinguished and replaced with candlelight. So the house ladies would hand-make candles for their friends and neighbors. She would light candles and pass them out to the neighbors, and she would pray over the candles that were given to her.
Shining a Light for the Departed
The Welsh lit torches to “keep witches away,” but these same torches and the jack-o’-lanterns left at the edge of walks also provided a pathway for those who had crossed over. To help the departed find their way to the front door, candles may be placed in windows, typically in the west, to symbolize the land of the dead, or lights may be placed along walkways and paths.
The Celts believed it was bad luck to have a fireplace fire go out on Samhain night that the next year would bring them darker fortunes.
Providing Food for the Dead
It was also customary to prepare a “dumb supper” or similar meal for any ancestors who might pay a visit this evening from beyond the veil (or purgatory). People prepare meals for their loved ones and ancestors who passed on during these celebrations. Diners spoke only at the beginning, when they invited ancestors, and at the end when they bid the ancestors farewell.
Irish custom dictated that homes be left unlocked and treats stored away for the dead be left out. Any living person who broke the law by eating it would be punished in the afterlife by being turned into a greedy spirit. After eating, the ancestors likely expected some entertainment, so the kids would play Samhain-themed games while the adults caught them up on the year’s happenings.
This custom developed into an openly superstitious form of magick in Colonial and post-Colonial America. One group of Kentucky folklorists claimed that the supper was prepared in complete silence while the cooks walked backward the entire time and, whenever possible, prepared the food with their hands behind their backs (Lindsey). No one would eat until a supernatural sign materialized, like two men carrying a body or a huge white dog.
Terrible Things That Go Bump at Night
Celtic Christians may have come up with Old Jack, but the British Isles have a long history of scary creatures. Still, others demonstrated the development of political institutions throughout the Isles’ history.
Samhain night used to be when people went out in groups while carrying lanterns for fear of encountering various evildoers. However, a Pucah (or Pookah), a shapeshifting faery prone to seduction and outright kidnapping, might cross their path.
But that was hardly the only shadow in the distance. His illogical poetry may blend mythical water spirits and long-forgotten goddesses. The folklore of the British Isles is replete with tales of white women and White Ladies in various forms.
In one account, a kind stranger approaches her when he notices her trouble and asks if he can help; she tells him to hold on to her hands until she tells him to let go, at which point she will no longer be troubled.
However, when the dog’s barking diverted the man’s attention, she slipped away while wailing about being confined for another seven years. An alternative legend tells of a woman in white who was seen by a farmer sprinkling rose petals over a sheep’s pasture. He gathered the blossoms after she had left. The flowers were gone the next day, but in their place were three gold coins.
Other, less reassuring stories about the White Lady can be found in various parts of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, her role in many of these stories is that of a tragic figure, such as a treasure keeper or a victim of murder or suicide.
In other accounts, she is a banshee and an omen of death, while in still others, she appears as a spirit who dances in a memorial at the site of mass deaths. While the Lady in White is often mentioned in these tales, in Wales, she takes on a more specific identity: the Lady Wyn, a figure closely associated with the Celtic holiday Samhain. Contrarily, the term “white lady” can be used to refer to a specific category of ghosts who are known primarily for appearing clothed in white, such as in the style of traditional funeral robes.
Sometimes a malicious imp, the Dullahan is more commonly a headless horseman who rides the nighttime highways alone. This figure appears as a grim reaper, dragging his severed head behind him while he yells out the name of someone who will die later that evening.
The Faery Host, another myth involving a band of horsemen on the prowl, was strikingly similar to the Wild Hunt of Northern Europe. Legend has it that the Wild Host/Hunt (or Faery Host) emerged from faery mounds on Samhain night.
Typically, this involved a royal hunting party preceded by a pack of baying black dogs. Those who witnessed the abduction of mortal adults by the Wild Hunt often said they saw their neighbors running with or away from the bandits. If a traveler was ever caught outside, the best way to avoid capture was to throw themselves on the ground or, better yet, into a fallow field.
The hunters and their prey were different characters in different regional folktales. The hunters would sometimes be characters from other stories, like King Arthur or King Herod, and other times the locals would recognize the man as a real-life sinner or sacrilegious.
Community sinners who have recently passed away, a mysterious woman in white, or even forest spirits could be among the hunted. The Scottish added to the mood of this legend by telling stories of infants who had not yet been baptized wandering the woods at night, crying out for their mothers.
In Northern Europe, the hunts were worshiped alongside the gods of death and the weather (in the case of Woden, these were the same.) The locals thought that Odin himself led these hunts, sometimes accompanied by the goddesses Bertha and Holda, earning them the name the Furious Host. The ghostly storm’s legends included Odin’s hunt and the Goddess Bertha rounding up armies of unbaptized children and flying them across the winter sky.
The modern custom of “trick-or-treating” has its roots in the ancient rituals of the Irish, Manx, and Scottish peoples, which often stretched out over several nights in the run-up to Samhain. The Irish poor traditionally raised money by “mumming” or “souling” door-to-door.
They sang hymns of worship to the departed. Homeowners often offered “soul cakes,” cookies decorated with a cross to symbolize each lost soul in purgatory, as payment for the house calls. In the eyes of some, the sellers, who were frequently accompanied by turnip lamps as they made their rounds, played the part of the departed in search of sacrificial offerings.
These areas also had a form of folk theater known as Mummer’s Theater, hence the name “mumming.” These stories typically had a sloppy, bizarre plot with stereotypical characters. The play “Saint George and the Doctor” was frequently performed at Samhain.
What is the origin of Halloween and Punkie night?
On October 30, known as “Punkie Night,” children in Somerset went door to door to collect candy. Their turnip (or beet) lanterns inspired the slang term “punkie.” On this holiday, kids would go door-to-door, pleading for money from their neighbors so they could buy fireworks to set off the night after for Mischief Night. Locals saw the kids carrying the punkies as carrying the spirits of children who had passed away, so they believed it was unlucky to say no.
Halloween rhyming has become a common name for this door-to-door fundraising strategy in some areas. It was customary for children to sing a song and offer soul cakes or soul meat to whoever answered their doors. In place of mumming, the Irish started knocking on neighbors’ doors and pleading, “Help the Halloween party!” Got any apples or nuts?
There was a slight variation in French custom. Instead of making demands for food, kids went around collecting flowers from their neighbors to place on family graves the following day.
What is the origin of Halloween and pranks?
Strange as it may seem, blaming the faeries for misfortune has roots in Pagan tradition, including the custom of playing pranks on Halloween. It appears that part of the celebration involved pulling a series of pranks, either to trick the faeries or simply because people might blame them, allowing the perpetrators to avoid punishment for the things they wanted to do. De-picketing fences, soaping up windows, and removing the hinges off doors are all considered “threshold” pranks that proved to be quite popular.
It’s possible that these practical jokes symbolized lifting the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds, as the season marked a transition between the two. Although the original ritual motivation behind these pranks has long since been lost to history, oral histories often note that the targets of these jokes were outcasts within the community.
October 30 is known as “Cabbage Night” in Scotland, while the same celebration is known as “Cabbage Stump Night” in Nova Scotia. As a celebration, haters will hurl cabbage stems at the homes of their enemies. One possible benefit of this practice is that it provides an outlet for frustration without causing as much physical harm to others’ possessions as other methods of expression.
Frustrated young men in Scotland would sometimes disguise themselves as straw and break into the home of their would-be sweethearts, stuffing the father up the chimney or stealing food and demanding a dance from the daughter if the father refused to allow the young men to court his daughters.
What is the origin of Halloween and mischief night?
“Mischief Night” was a northern English term for Halloween or October 30. You know it will be a wild night when you see young men setting fireworks in mailboxes, whitewashing windows, gluing locks, and stealing gates. People in Oxfordshire have been seen rolling tar barrels through the streets. The tar barrel race was a popular event in the North of England. It’s safe to say that many practical jokes were inspired by stories of pranks pulled by faeries and goblins.
The actual practical jokes frequently had long-standing names and customs. For example, a common Halloween prank in some parts of the United Kingdom and Canada is to rub chalk on a victim’s back, then yell “Halloween!” and run away. Perhaps an obscure old holiday known as Chalk-Back Day is where the custom of “chalking” started.
Burning the Reekie Mehr is a traditional Scottish practical joke that calls for a tallow-filled kale stalk. The prankster blew on the other end while holding the lit end up to the victim’s keyhole, filling the house with smoke. It was common practice for young men to leave a punkie in the middle of a kale field when their female counterparts went to pick the stalks.
Not only have Allhallows pranks persisted and evolved, but they are also the primary reason almost every city in the United States now permits trick-or-treating, even though it is unclear what spiritual role such mischief played on Allhallows (other than, perhaps, to convince the goblins their services weren’t needed).
What is the origin of Halloween and wearing costumes?
Mumming is a form of mobile ritual theater that developed from the practice of Druids and ancient Celtic villagers dressing up as animals or frightening creatures like ghosts and wandering the outskirts of their settlements. Performers often wore period garb in addition to singing traditional songs.
Men and boys in South Wales would dress as women and sing about a White Lady who ate pigs and apples while perched in a tree. The locals called these people in costumes gwarchod, which means “hags.” They donned masks, tattered garments, and sheepskin coats as part of their costumes.
When performing their rounds, mummers were sometimes accompanied by a man dressed as a horse. This persona concealed a blackened, ribbon-adorned horse skull beneath a white cloth. The traditional form of this featured a snapping jaw. This skull was given several names, including “Old Hob” and “Wild Horse.”
The Irish brought their clothing customs to the New World. Colonial America was known for its elaborate masquerade processions, which quickly spreading throughout the region. Since the Victorian style was so popular in the United Kingdom and the United States, Halloween has become a much more subdued event than its folkloric origins would have you believe. Vintage Halloween cards are an excellent example; they depict young women engaging in witchy activities that make allusions to divination and other relics of the past, giving the impression that these games were popular at once.
In the 1930s, when commercial costume companies first emerged, the costumes began to diverge from those of ghosts, ghouls, and faeries. Instead, historical figures like Little Orphan Annie, Mickey Mouse, and the ever-popular were featured in the earliest costumes.
Festivities and Recreation
What is the origin of Halloween recreation and festivities?
Over the years, Halloween night has evolved into a time for adults to celebrate the past year and look ahead to the next while children are entertained. These gatherings brought together extended family members and gave singles in the area a chance to meet potential spouses.
What is the origin of Halloween and children’s participation in it?
Children were frequently given apples and nuts, and kale played an essential role in the Samhain celebration. This was due, in part, to the fact that kale matured later in the fall than other vegetables and that stores of apples and nuts for the winter began to become available around Samhain. Nutcrack Night was a common alias for Halloween, presumably because that was the night when people started cracking open the nut crops they had been saving all season.
What is the origin of Halloween and playing games?
Throughout the night, guests participated in a variety of games. Apples featured prominently in the games and superstitions that people tend to recall. Apple bobbing (also called apple ducking) was a popular Hallowe’en game in the United States and the United Kingdom, in which kids used only their teeth to pluck apples out of a tub of water.
A hostess in the United Kingdom may drop a silver coin on the water’s surface. The contest winner was assumed to be the first person to get married after being the first to catch it without using their hands. The first young American woman to successfully steal an apple was honored as the country’s first bride.
What is the origin of Halloween and Snap-Apple?
Snap-Apple, a famous British game, has been around since the time of the original Druids. The original version involved the host tying an apple to one end of a rope, throwing it across a barn rafter, and then lighting the other end of the rope on fire.
As a part of the game, participants had to avoid getting burned by the candle while trying to catch the apple in their teeth. The game eventually evolved into a safer version known as Snap Apple (or “tethered apple” in the United States), in which players tethered apples to strings and swung them at each other tether-ball-style, attempting to catch an apple with only the teeth. Divination predicted happy marriages for the winners within a year.
Aside from these activities, there were rituals involving apple peels and seeds to determine the future. You can learn much about your potential life partner by peeling an apple in a continuous spiral and tossing it over your shoulder.
The initial of the true love’s first name could be seen in the peel. If the peel remained intact, the querent could expect to get married before the end of the year; if it broke, the querent would have to wait another year before finding love.
It was common practice for women to name two apple seed halves with contrasting life outcomes, such as “wealth” and “poverty,” “travel” and “home,” “marriage” and “spinsterhood,” and then place one on each cheek or eyelid. Of course, the solution to the puzzle collapsed first. Divination could also be achieved by lengthwise slicing an apple in half to reveal a star at its core.
Early marriage was predicted if two seeds appeared in the apple; wealth or inheritance if three; travel if four; good health or a sea voyage if five; wisdom if six; fame if seven, and a wish if seven seeds appeared.
Another option is for three guests to stand in front of the fireplace with apples strung between them; whoever’s apple falls first will get married, while whoever’s apple falls last may never get married.
The nuts’ abundance also made them famous for use in Samhain and Autumn Equinox divinations. The two people were matched based on their preferred method. A successful union was predicted if two nuts were thrown into a fire and the names of the couple involved burned brightly together. Warning signs of an argument were provided by two nuts that jumped apart. A sour fate awaited the two as the nut failed to catch fire.
Both cabbage and kale have been used in popular divination rituals and spooky Halloween spells. Among the most common of these was for young people of marriageable age to sneak into a kale patch at night and steal a stalk without even looking at it.
The kale was hung from the ceiling of the youngest person’s room and studied the following morning. The kale’s personality supposedly foretold the kale thief’s future partner’s personality. To marry into the upper class, for instance, if a plant required a lot of soil. A black center indicated that my potential future spouse was quick to anger. A taller sweetheart corresponded to a more extended plant.
One fun activity at the gathering was to give each of the seven kale stalks a name in honor of one of the guests. After pulling on the stalk, each guest at the party got a glimpse of their personality reflected in kale. For example, if kale were pulled on H, Children who wanted a sibling badly would leave piles of kale outside their parents’ door.
Given that November was traditionally the most popular month for weddings, it makes sense that many Samhain divination traditions focused on predicting the person who would one day become a person’s life partner.
For example, a diviner played the alphabet game by floating the individually cut letters of the alphabet in a bowl of water. A person’s potential life partner’s name might be among the letters that rose to the surface.
Young men participated in a similar game in which they were instructed to write the names of their female friends on slips of paper and then roll the papers in the dough. The boys then tossed the dough into the water, and the girl who emerged as the dough dissolved was each man’s, true love. Someone wrote three names in the dust on the fireplace’s mantle, and the one the young man’s finger landed on was his true love.
Another possibility is that a young woman will thresh wheat on Halloween in the hopes of having a vision of her future husband while she works. Finally, a less strenuous variant involves a curious person climbing to a height that no four-legged animal could reach (typically a house roof) and then closing their eyes.