Halloween brings to mind images of grinning jack-o-lanterns, black cats and masked munchkins darting from door to door squealing with glee as they collect bags of goodies. Not many, though, know the true origins of this fun (and sweet!) holiday ~ it holds a very deep and spiritual meaning for some!
All Hallow's Eve, more widely known as Halloween, was originally the Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) Festival, which has been a Celtic/Pagan celebration for over 2000 years. Samhain translates roughly to “Summer's End”, which the Celts considered the end of the “lighter half” of the year, and the beginning of the “darker half”. Because it was harvest time, it was also time for slaughtering the livestock, and preparing the winter stores. In order to honor the animals, bonfires would be lit, and the bones would be thrown onto the fire, the same manner in which the bodies of loved ones who had passed on were cremated. It was believed by some that the burning of the bodies would release the Soul from the confines of its Earthly shell, so that he or she could be at peace in the afterlife. Sometimes, two bonfires would be lit, one beside the other, so that people could walk between them for cleansing and purification to enter into the Celtic New Year.
Samhain was also known as the time when the veil between Earth and the Other Side would be lifted, so that Spirits of all kinds could enter our Realm. Just like people, some Spirits are good, and others are bad; ancestors were honored and encouraged to join the celebrations, while “evil” spirits were driven away.
Loved ones who had passed away were called upon for guidance, and Divination was used as a channel of communication. Because the walls between our worlds were so thin, it was easy to hear and understand the messages that were received, and many methods and tools were used, such as Runes and Crystals. The direction and advice that derived from the messages were taken very seriously, and were very sacred to the individuals receiving them.
Sources of information vary on exact dates, but sometime during the 800's, Christianity decided to adopt these Pagan traditions, because they had been unsuccessful in convincing the masses to cease the celebrations and traditions. The church changed some things about the holiday to mold it around the established doctrine; for example, one alteration was to call it “All Saint's Day”, its purpose being to commemorate passed loved ones, while continuing to reject the belief that Spirits were conscious, living souls, and that they could interact with the rest of us on Earth. Some people of the Christian faith still do not observe Halloween, but for the most part, it is viewed by people in many parts of the world as an exciting and fun time for children and adults alike ; a time in which they can let their imaginations run wild, and pretend to be someone (or something) else for just a little while.
A few of the most popular Halloween traditions have interesting histories:
Costumes were used by the Celts as disguises so that the living would blend in with the evil spirits as they roamed the Earth during this time. It was believed that by hiding among them, people would go unnoticed, and be safe from their negative influence. In Scotland, young men would dress in white and blacken their faces to mimic the Spirits.
Jack-o-lanterns are another Celtic tradition, and were lit and placed in windows to ward off evil spirits. Instead of pumpkins, turnips were hollowed out and faces were carved into them. In medieval times, this tradition was adopted by Christians, to honor the souls they believed to be in purgatory. In North America, pumpkins were used instead, because they were easier to carve, were bigger, and were in greater supply. Prior to the 19th century, North Americans associated jack-o-lanterns with harvest time in general; it wasn't until later that it became a symbol of Halloween.
Trick or treating began in Celtic times, as well, when children would visit their neighbors, offering songs and poems in exchange for candies and other treats. In medieval days, this tradition changed in order to follow the Christian faith, and instead, the poor would travel from door to door, asking for food in exchange for prayers for the home-owner's deceased loved ones. This was called “Hallowmas”, which was observed on the eve of November 1st. In North America, as far as my research tells me, it wasn't until 1911, when a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario discussed the traditions of children dressing in costumes and collecting candy, that trick or treating became popular in our society. Over time, the term “Trick or Treat” was coined, as a half-serious “threat” by mischievous youngsters to perform trickery upon someone if they did not give them candy.
To me, Halloween is a time of transformation. We have a tremendous opportunity to release and let go of old habits, thoughts, and negative energy, leaving them all to be broken down and purified by Earth, along with the fallen leaves. This is the end of one cycle, and the beginning of a new one ~ it is the perfect time to decide exactly what we want, and to sow our seeds in order to manifest the future we desire. The coming of Winter symbolizes a time of dormancy, when we need to be still and silent, allowing for the gestation of our manifestations. During Winter, we have time to lay a stable foundation of knowledge and learning, to prepare for the future as our goals and dreams come to fruition. As always, we need to listen to our Guides, Angels and Loved Ones – they have Universal and Infinite Wisdom to share with us!
However you celebrate Halloween, make sure you take the time to enjoy it fully ~ celebrations were very important to our ancestors, and for very good reason; it raises our vibration, promotes a sense of community, and nurtures our relationships with each other, with Earth and with the Universe. There is much to be learned from the ways of old; imagine how wonderful life would be if we could embrace and celebrate all of the cycles of our lives, and of Earth!