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Sunday, November 06, 2022

Celebrating Halloween

9:05 AM By Barry Smyth , , No comments

Halloween is a holiday celebrated each year on October 31, a pagan tradition that originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sou-when). In the eighth century Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honour all saints as the christian religion continued to try to eradicate the Pagan religion. But as with Yule (or Christmas as the christians refer to it) Samhain was too deeply ingrained in the populace and has survived to this day.

Samhain (also known as the festival of fire) marks the transition between the year's lighter and darker halves, the end of summer and the beginning of winter and for the ancient celts Samhain represented the end of one year and the beginning of the next. It was a time for remembering the dead and planning for the year ahead, and also for making winter preparations; crops were harvested, and animals were rounded up from the fields either to be sacrificed or lodged for the winter and used for breeding.

Samhain was considered an auspicious time for the druids to practice divination, since the connection to the spirit world was stronger than usual. The lifting of the veil between the Otherworld and the physical world meant that Samhain was also considered to be a perilous time for the ancient Celts.  Spirits, both kind and malevolent, could act on the human world, the reason why Halloween has the "scary" element behind it today.

After the harvest work was complete, celebrants joined with Druid priests to light a community bonfire using a wheel that would cause friction and spark flames. The wheel was considered a representation of the sun and used along with prayers. Cattle were sacrificed, and participants took a flame from the communal bonfire back to their home to relight the hearth.

Because the pagans believed that the barrier between worlds was breach-able during Samhain, they prepared offerings that were left outside villages and fields and would dress as animals and monsters so that the spirits were not tempted to kidnap them. And carved turnips (which would later become pumpkins) where left outside homes to ward off evil spirits.

Children would also put on costumes and go door-to-door singing songs to the dead with small cakes  given as payment, and tricks might be played on people that were usual attributed to the spirits (which would later evolve into the trick or treat of today).

Indeed, many of the traditions of Samhain have become part of what people now refer to as Halloween and just as with Yuletide, it remains as a legacy of our Pagan ancestors despite the attempts of the Christian religion  to reframe Samhain as a Christian celebration. 

Today many devout christians still follow all of these traditions, keeping the spirit of paganism alive, unaware of the rich history it has or the true meanings behind the symbols themselves.

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