(182) Sat 26 Sep 92 17:24
By: Christopher Baker
To: Dan Eastman
Re: 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
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
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 head.
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
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
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]
--- DB 1.38/001027
* Origin: Rights On! - Religion Free Always! - Titusville_FL_USA (1:374/14)