Welcome to the Spiritual Side of Halloween!
Let's play a little word association. If I said costumes, pumpkins, and candy what do you think? Halloween? Absolutely! Seriously it's my favourite holiday! It's a fun, and beautiful time of the year. It's interesting though finding out how Halloween originated. It was nothing like how it is now. Heck it didn't even have the same name.
Here are 11 fabulous facts about Samhain!
What is it?
Samhain, was an ancient Celtic festival, meaning "summer's end" and it started thousands of years ago. It was located between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. After the full moon in October the Celts would let their hearth burn out on the first frost. They would prepare for the winter by completing the harvest and bringing in the animals.
Once their hearths had died out, they all gathered together to light the community sacred fire. The celebrations were mandatory and lasted 3 days. They would leave out offerings of food for the mystical (spirits and the faerie folk). Sacrifices were made, and then finally people would come home to relight their hearth with a torch lit from the sacred fire.
Who celebrated it?
Samhain can be celebrated by anyone, but it is widely celebrated by Pagans, Wiccans and Witches. Like Christianity, each of these breaks into many different segregations and each one celebrates Samhain just a little bit differently. Some pray to different gods, some connect more with nature and some focus on the fire aspect of the holiday.
Our World and the Spirit World
At the time of Samhain, known as the Festival of the Dead, it is said that the veil between us and the spiritual world is at it's thinnest. This is the perfect time for us to communicate with passed loved ones. People would (and still do) set up altars to honour the dead. They would light candles and leave out food for the spirits wandering through. Now people set up altars with pictures, personal items and anything else that made them feel closer to their ancestors.
Christianity has integrated some of the holiday’s rituals
Over the years, Christianity spread like wild fire, and began to take over the holiday. When realizing that they could not get rid of the holiday the church then decided to create an All Saint’s Day (Nov 1st) and All Soul’s Day (Nov 2nd). Both days Christians pray for the dead. If you can’t beat em join em! All Saint’s Day is for the spirits who have already made it to heaven, and All Soul’s Day is for those souls that are still doing penane in Purgatory.
What the heck is a dumb supper?
Since the veil between the two worlds are at it’s thinnest on Samhain night and that is when it is the ideal time to talk to the spirits, it was a common practice to hold a dumb supper. Other than inviting spirits to join you at the beginning and saying good bye at the end, the entire dinner is eaten in silence.
Each place is set for each person and there is a spot set for the spirits. Each person would bring a little personal note for the spirits. When you walking into the eating area, you would normally touch the seating area for the spirit and say a silent prayer for the dead.
Since it was during Harvest season, the dinner consisted of any game that was hunted in the season, apples and vegetables. After the dinner was eaten, each person would burn the note they brought and they would all hold hands and say a prayer.
After dinner the adults would talk about what happened during the year and the children would entertain the spirits by playing games.
When is it celebrated?
Depends on who you ask. Common answer is that it is from sunset on October 31 to sunset on November 1st. Traditionally though it was after the full moon in October. Some Pagans and Wiccans still celebrate it at that time, and some do both. Since a lot of people celebrate Halloween, they prefer to do their rituals ahead of time.
What’s also cool is that according to ancient Celtic tradition as well as the Wiccan practice Samhain is known as the ending of the year. So I guess Happy New Year to those who celebrate!
How did Halloween Begin? Are they the same holiday?
Think of Halloween and Samhain as two halves of a whole pie. Samhain is more of a serious holiday. Since it is about taking time to honour our past ancestors, it is more about taking the time to connect with the other side. Halloween still in a sense honours the dead, but in a fun and mischievous way.
When the Celts started to flow over into America, they brought along their traditions. Parties, games and parades intrigued the Americans, and they started to take part. It became a great source for young adults to get to know each other and to start courting. Costumes originally started out as sheepskin and ragged clothing. They would go as "hags". It wasn't until the Irish came to America that costumes became a lot more elaborate.
What came next was a lot of troublemakers deciding to make the night their own little personal play ground. They pranked, and vandalized much of the neighborhood. So instead a lot of the cities decided to start forms of trick or treating in order to distract them. In ancient times, Pagans did have a similar idea to trick or treating. The poor would go around door to door, and essentially sing for their supper. They offered songs and prayers for the dead. The family of the house in turn would give them "soul cakes", cookies with a cross on them.
By the 70s Halloween became the secular holiday it is seen today. Not only was there trick or treating, but adults took the opportunity to express themselves in ways they couldn't in their day to day lives. Costume parties and events became all the rage, and Halloween decorations became a popular sight to see. Watching horror movies and carving pumpkins became a tradition. It's fantastic!
Jack o Lanterns were not always pumpkins!
Pumpkins were not always the go to for a Jack o'Lantern. Actually they used to be turnips. The men in the village would carry them on a string, and they would carve them and place a glowing piece of coal inside. When they came over to America pumpkins were actually more common, so they switched over to them. Cool!
The Myth behind Jack o Lanterns
It is said that Jack o Lanterns are actually named after a guy. Apparently he was just so evil that neither heaven or hell wanted him. So being stuck in Purgatory, he is forced to wander the roads on Samhain night with only a turnip lantern to light his way. I love stories like that!
If you ate the dinner or any treats set for the spirits you were considered sacrilegious and destined to spend the afterlife as a hungry ghost.
The hearths were not to go out on Samhain night as that would be a sign that darker times await for the next year.
There was a practice called Tinley. When the sacred fires were lit everyone would put a stone around it. If in the morning it was moved, that meant you were not going to make it through the year.
Check out some of these activities you can try!
Create an Ancestor altar
Go to a cemetary. Leave flowers on graves that look abandoned.
Decorate your house with more traditional decorations rather than retail Halloween decorations- Corn stalks, gords, apples and pumpkins.
Host a Bonfire
Reflect on your past year
Practice divination through Tarot cards or Runes
So that is just the basics of Samhain and Halloween. It's a complicated, but great holiday. How do you like to celebrate Halloween? Do you celebrate Samhain? Maybe a bit of both? Let me know in the common section below!
Peace, love and creativity