To: Dan Eastman Msg #203, 26-Sep-92 05:24pm Subject: The
From: Christopher Baker
To: Dan Eastman Msg #203, 26-Sep-92 05:24pm
Subject: The Origins of Halloween
[this is available as an orange flyer/handout from American Atheist Press as
their stock #8377, 20 for $2.00. their address appears at the end of this
Copyright 1991 by American Atheist Press, Austin, Texas.
At Halloween it's fun to dress up in scary costumes and decorate with black
cats and orange pumpkins. You know it's make-believe. But the ideas behind
Jack-O-Lanterns, ghosts and witches go back to a time when people lived in
dread of goblins, demons and Warlocks.
Halloween's origins reach all the way back to hunting societies. Animals were
sometimes sacrificed at a festival which marked the beginning of the winter
animal breeding season. The people hoped to increase births in the season to
come. Since in winter there would be a shortage of fodder for cattle, in
later times cattle were killed instead and a great feast was held.
More than 2,000 years ago, the Celts (pronounced KELTZ) practiced cruel
religious rites on the evening of October 31, some of which can be traced
back to the Cult of Dionysus of ancient Greece. Their priests were called
Druids (DROO-IDZ). The Druids lit huge bonfires to celebrate their most
important festival of the year. They burned alive prisoners of war, criminals
or animals in weirdly shaped baskets. By observing the way they died, the
Druids thought they could foretell the future (fortune telling).
The Celts believed Samhain (SAH'WIN) "Lord of the Dead," controlled the souls
of those who had died. People who had not lived good lives on earth would
become animals, while those who deserved it would be given human form
(reincarnation). The very wicked took the form of black cats. The souls of
the dead were thought to come back to visit with the living at the death of
the old year, which was October 31. The beginning of the new year (Nov. 1)
was a joyful harvest festival.
The Druids burned animals and humans both as gifts to Samhain and in hopes
that the spirits would be too busy with the souls of the new dead to bother
the living. Bonfires (from bone fire) were also believed to frighten off
raging demons, witches and ghosts. People put out sweets and other good
things to eat to attempt to placate the evil spirits. They would gather
around the bonfire and tell about the strange sights they had seen on Oct. 31
(storytelling). Some, hoping to fool the demons, disguised themselves. Others
wore masquerade costumes made from animal heads and skins in Samhain
processions to scare away evil spirits.
About 2,000 years ago, Roman armies invaded Great Britain and Gaul, as France
was called then. During the 400 years that they ruled, the Roman festival for
the dead (the Feralia) and their early November festival honoring Pomona (the
goddess of the orchards) gradually blended with the Samhain Vigil. They
played games, held races, and pictured Pomona with a crown of apples on her
Some of the Roman soldiers adopted the beliefs of the Druids. This disturbed
the Roman emperors and they banned the Druid religion. Many Druid priests
were killed, but the Celts believed that the spirits would harm anyone who
failed to honor them and so they continued to build bonfires and prepare for
the arrival of spirits on the eve of Samhain. Large turnips and potatoes were
hollowed out and used as holders to help carry the candles to the fields
without dripping hot wax. Slits were cut to let more light through. The name
Jack-O-Lantern came from an Irish story about a man named Jack. He tricked
the devil so many times that he was doomed to wander forever in lonely
places, waving his lantern.
In the meantime, a new religion, Christianity, had started. It was hard to
convince people that their old gods were evil and to wipe out their rites and
symbols, so the Christian church gave the old symbols new names. Rites for
Samhain were combined with the Greek Feast of the Unknown Gods, which was
held to ensure that they didn't miss honoring one of their many gods. The
Christians changed that to All Saints Day, also know as All Hallows, to honor
all dead saints who didn't have a day of their own. This was originally
celebrated in May, but in 900 CE [Common Era] it was changed to Nov. 1. The
evening before became All Hallow's Even, later shortened to Halloween.
As much as the early church leaders wished the pagan rituals of Pomona Day
and the Vigil of Samhain would be covered up by their new day, they were not.
While All Hallows was a day for religious thought and church services, All
Hallow's Even remained a night for magic. The people went on expecting the
arrival of ghosts. They still left food out on the night of Samhain. They
continued celebrating the harvest by feasting on nuts and apples, telling
fortunes, dancing, and playing games.
During the Middle Ages, witchcraft emerged as an organized cult opposed to
the Roman Catholic Church. The witches were originally respected as they knew
how to heal the sick with herbs and plants, and other secrets of nature. The
word witch comes from the Old English wicce (WITCH-uh), which means a wise
woman. Since the Christian religion did not allow witchcraft, they had to
meet secretly at night, wearing black clothes. They would gather to mock the
coming of the Church's festival of All Saint's Day by performing unholy acts.
Halloween became known as the Night of the Witch. Sickness, bad luck, fires,
storms, and ruined crops were all blamed on witch's spells.
The custom of children Trick or Treating from house to house comes from
Celtic (KEL-tick) boys asking people for sticks or logs for the Druid's
bonfires. Later, children went from house to house asking for money to buy
Soul Cakes. Eating the cakes was supposed to ease the sufferings of the souls
of those who had died. Poor farmers in Ireland went to rich homes to ask for
food. If the rich would not give them any food, the farmers played tricks on
them. People thought ghosts had played the tricks. They decided to be nicer
so the ghosts would leave them alone. They gave food to the farmers and the
ghosts stayed away!
As people learned more about science and nature, they were no longer afraid
of the unknown. The customs of Halloween became merrier. Now when you use the
black and orange colors of Halloween, you will be reminded of the holiday's
mixed origins, with black as the color of the night and orange representing
the harvest crops.
Autumn Festivals by M. Rosen;
Celebrating Nature by E. Heffman;
Halloween by J. Kessel;
Halloween by L. Patterson;
Halloween by C. Sandak;
Light the Candles! Beat the Drums by J. Sarnoff & R. Ruffins;
Red Letter Days by E. Sechrist;
Weird by P. Limburg; and
Witches, Pumpkins and Grinning Ghosts by E. Barth.
American Atheist Press
PO Box 140195
Austin TX 78714-0195
Telephone orders: 1-512-467-9525, 24 hour order line.
their catalog contains many hard to find publications and a full range of
gifts and cards as well as stickers and bumper stickers.
hope this helps you in your search for Halloween info. [grin]
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank