Winter hit in hard this week. On Monday it got to minus one and I was scraping the ice from the car windscreen. This winter feeling and the cold got me thinking about the coming ‘All Hallows’ eve or what we now term Halloween. For something to be Hallowed it was made sacred though also has the tinge of respect and reverence.
Halloween originates from Druidic Celtic pagan festival that was, at that time, the New Year. So, October 31st was New Years Eve and November 1st New Years Day. It was the end of the summer and the beginning of winter. The harvest had been gathered in and, hopefully, the barns were full. It was the end of the year, a time to look back at all that had been and then embrace the new year and what was to come.
The belief was that at this time between the year ending and the new year beginning the veil between the two worlds of the living and the dead became very thin. At this time the spirits of the dead could pass over back into the physical world.
This was both good and bad as it became a time to remember those that had died enabling them to live on in the hearts of the living. The sense of ancestor worship and belonging to ancient lineage came to the for. People visited the hallowed places to welcome those that had gone before. The festival that took people to visit the hallowed places became Halloween and eventually All Hallows Day.
It was also believed that evil or mischievous spirits could also pass into our world of the living. To keep the evils spirits at bay people would light wills, or bundles of reeds, to use as torches to lighten the darkness. The wills dancing over the fields and marshes became known as ‘Willo the wisp’. This was often seen as a negative symbol because wherever and whenever the wills were seen in the darkness evil must be present. Later Willo the wisps was thought to be evil spirits attempting to trick people into fall into bogs and rivers.
Another form of Will was the Jack o Lantern, were turnips that had been hollowed out and lit. The Irish Celts took this idea to the USA where the Turnip was swapped for a pumpkin which, in turn came back over the UK and Ireland.
The origins of giving gifts, as in Trick or Treat, in the form of foods or sweets, was to pacify the spirits and avoid any harm that they might do.
This Pagan festival was hijacked by the Christian church and the Hallows festival became All Saints Day and All Souls’ Day. This was to honour or Hallow, all those people gone before who were saintly and also all those who had died fully baptised and shriven.
In some traditions it also became a time when prays were offered for those who had died unbaptised and not shriven to give them a chance to rest at peace.
In the Pagan system the proceedings would have been overseen by a witch. In Old English the word ‘Witch’ simply meant ‘wise woman’. Many of these wise women where the healers, doctors and midwives of their time. It was the Christian church that turned the herb law of Witches into an evil and demonic thing. In pagan times wise women where revered and hallowed. In Christian times they were burned at the stake. I notice that even J. K. Rowling referred the ‘Deathly Hallows’ in the Harry Potter Series.
So, how about in the midst of this festival of Hallows we all take some time to stop for a minute and acknowledge our loved ones who have died. So that between the drinks, snacks, tricks and treats we connect once again with the original idea around Halloween.