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Something Wicked This Way Comes?

Something Wicked This Way Comes?

You may not have gone trick or treating for quite a few moons now, and the thought of eating your way through a bag full of candy may make your teeth and stomach scream… Still, if you’re anything like me, there’s just something about this time of year that makes you inwardly excited. But what? That anticipation brewing in the air may have something to do with the way Hallowe’en all began… 

Let’s go back more than 2,000 years, to the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in). Ancient Celts, who lived mostly in what is now Ireland, other parts of the UK and Northern France, divided their year into two. Beltane was a celebration of summer, around May 1st, and Samhain, around November 1st, marked the end of the summer harvest and the start of the New Year.

The Druids, or Celtic priests, led the sacred Samhain ceremony, which involved a grand final feast before the harsh winter to come. They lit massive bonfires where the villagers burned crops and sacrificed animals as gifts to the Celtic deities they worshipped. They wore costumes, mostly animal heads and skins, and danced and chanted all night. They told each other’s fortunes, and shared praise for their dead. Some historians say they dressed up as evil spirits to confuse demons. 

In fact, the Celts believed that on October 31st, the veil between the Otherworld and our world thins and becomes invisible. This makes it easier for the spirits of the dead to make an appearance, to come and cause trouble on earth like damaging crops and creating tensions in the household. 

Luckily, the mystical Samhain festivities helped prevent evil spirits from entering the realm of the living... 

Rekindling the hearth

Once the Samhain celebrations were over, each household re-kindled the fire in their hearth with a flame from the sacred bonfire — a sign of renewal and remembrance for their lost ones. This ceremony was believed to protect the home and keep unwelcome spirits at bay. 

By 43 AD, the Romans had conquered most of the Celts’ land and ruled the area for some 400 years. During that time, along with the local Samhain, the Romans celebrated two of their own traditions: Feralia, which commemorated the dead, and a tribute to Goddess Pomona, the Roman guardian of agriculture, fruit and orchards. Pomona was an abundant, nurturing figure whose symbol was an apple. (Pomme, in fact, is the French word for apple.) Some believe Goddess Pomona is the reason that bobbing for apples has become such a popular Hallowe’en activity.

Over the centuries, the celebrations went from being pagan to Christian, and melded into one. Christians took to commemorating All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows’ Day, on November 1st, and launched the festivities at sunset the day before. They dressed up as saints and went around to their neighbors’ homes, begging for food (mostly cakes), in exchange for a prayer for their departed. 

Soon, November 2nd became All Souls’ Day, which was similar to All Saints’ Day but instead honored the ‘regular’ folks who had passed. By the 1500s, the two events were combined to become All Hallows’ Time. (Hallow is an old English word that means ‘to give something great importance and respect; to make holy’.) Most of the festivities still took place the night before All Hallows’ Time, on All Hallows’ Eve… 

And as with everything, the name slowly evolved, and in 1785, Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote a poem entitled Halloween. Here’s an excerpt of it — my sweet, special treat to you...

Wee Jennie to her grannie says,
"Will ye go wi' me, grannie?
I'll eat the apple at the glass
I gat frae Uncle Johnnie:"
She fuff't her pipe wi' sic a lunt,
In wrath she was sae vap'rin',
She notice't na, an aizle brunt
Her braw new worset apron
Out through that night.

"Ye little skelpie-limmer's face!
I daur you try sic sportin',
As seek the foul thief ony place,
For him to spae your fortune.
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For mony a ane has gotten a fright,
And lived and died deleeret
On sic a night.

"Ae hairst afore the Sherramoor, --
I mind't as weel's yestreen,
I was a gilpey then, I'm sure
I wasna past fifteen;
The simmer had been cauld and wat,
And stuff was unco green;
And aye a rantin' kirn we gat,
And just on Halloween
It fell that night.

comment 3 comments

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Where’s my 2 masks that I ordered awhile ago?

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How absolutely awesome and interesting. I love Celtish lore although many things leave me shaking my head.
This is a great article and a great read!

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