Well, it’s that time of year – The celebration of the spooky festival my Celtic ancestors called Samhuinn or Samhain (literally “Summer’s End”, and pronounced Sow-een, Sow-in, or Soun). It’s also known as the Day of the Dead. The Catholic church, trying to assimilate the pagans in the first millenium AD, turned the first night of the festival into All Hallows Eve, now known as Hallowe’en.
November first (what the Catholic church calls All Saints Day) falls midway between the Winter Solstice and the Autumn Equinox, and over time became the Celtic New Year. On the eve of that date in ancient Ireland and Scotland, the Celts, led by their priests (the Druids), brought in the harvest, retrieved their cattle from the fields (slaughtering some), performed cleansing rituals, and celebrated one of their four great seasonal festivals – Samhain.
This is also one of the Celtic seasonal celebrations when recently departed souls supposedly traveled on to the “otherlife” (so ghosts were about), and faeries and other mythical beings made appearances. Animal and vegetable sacrifices were made to help the dead on their way, and bonfires were lit, partly for purification and partly to keep their souls away from the living. This also tracked with Roman pagan festivals of the dead and celebrations of the harvest in late October.
Early in the 7th century, Pope Gregory I ordered priests and missionaries to find ways to merge pagan holiday festivals into Christian celebrations, rather than trying to abolish them. Eventually, the mid-winter festival was chosen for the celebration of Christmas (which probably really occurred in the Spring), and November 1st was selected as All Saints Day – making All Hallows Eve coincide with the Day of the Dead.
So now we celebrate Hallowe’en by carving or decorating fall harvest vegetables, sometimes burning fires inside them. Our children dress as various lively spirits to keep less desirable spirits at bay. We reward them with treats (no longer in return for tricks), and decorate our homes with symbols of the Fall or end of Summer. All this happens in the season when the moon is visible on clear cool nights beyond spooky nearly leafless branches.
But the scariest image this year, for those of us on the eastern seaboard of the US, is the storm tracking of the path of Hurricane Sandy – headed straight for us in the days before Hallowe’en. We are all knee deep in preparation for 50 mile per hour winds, pouring rains, and likely power outages. If that’s not a horrible spectre, I don’t know what is!
This post was written in response to a Travel Theme challenge from Ailsa at wheresmybackpack. This week’s theme is Spooky. To learn more about the challenge and to see the scary posts from other bloggers, click here.
Hurricane Tracking Image from https://www.facebook.com/WFSB3