Long before the modern Halloween the Ancient Irish and Europeans were celebrating Samhain a great druidic festival that marked the boundary between our world and the spirit world. In druidic times Samhain marked the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year. The Celtic New Year’s Eve was a mysterious moment which belonged neither to the past nor the present. Samhain was considered the third and last harvest of the growing year. Fruit and nuts were the last gifts of nature to be gathered and the apple in particular was the symbol of this harvest. Traditionally great bonfires were lit at Samhain upon which in druidic times may have been the site of human sacrifices to ensure that the winters reign was not unending.
Arts & Acts
Feile Na Marbh - the dead walk abroad
At Samhain the spirits of the dead sought the warmth of the fireside and communion with their living kin. This time was also known as Féile na Marbh (the Feast of the Dead). As the veil between worlds thinned, all manner of spirits walked abroad at Samhain, including those of loved ones passed on. An empty chair by the fire was often left free along with a candle in the window to guide the ghosts home for comfort and seek their blessing for the coming year. In time the candle was placed inside a turnip lantern upon which a demon’s face was carved to scare off unfriendly spirits.
The tradition of wearing of costumes and masks at Samhain developed to deceive these same unfriendly spirits lest they recognised you and called you to the Otherworld before your time. Nervous living folk would attempt to appease the wandering spirit with gifts of fruit and nuts, which may be the origin of the ubiquitous treat or treating.
A ring – marriage within the year
A silver coin – riches
A rag or pea – poverty
A stick – an unhappy marriage
In some areas Colcannon, a dish of mashed potatoes, cabbage with either ham or bacon, was cooked with similar tokens placed into the dish.
How Samhain Became Halloween
With the coming of Christianity to Ireland in the 7th century Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints Day, a time to honour saints and martyrs, to replace the pagan festival of the dead. It was originally celebrated on May 13th but in 834 Pope Gregory III moved All Saint’s Day to 1st November and it became the opportunity to remember all Saints who had died and all of the dead in the Christian community. October 31st became All Hallows Eve (or Hallow e’en).
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