Vol. 1, Issue #20 Oct. 27th - Nov. 9th, 2006

Halloween's True History
By: Robert Cole
Artwork By: Josh Crain

Dis de le Meurte by Josh CrainTypically Halloween is celebrated by the children in America by dressing in strange costumes, causing mischief and knocking doors for treats or tricks. While the holiday brings back childhood memories nestled in fun and friendly get togethers, strong evangelicals would contest that the holiday is a pagan ritual to celebrate the devil and his power. The latter part is far from true and the honest history of this age old Celtic new year celebration often falls into misconception.

The Celts, roughly translated to ‘culture’, were a Germanic race that lived and thrived before 1500 B.C. to 50 A.D. The Celtics are where many modern Western cultures and languages stemmed from, including English, German and French peoples. The Celtics were a complex populace organized by a strict social hierarchy that worked over the generations. At the top were the druids, the political, intellectual and spiritual advisors that served these people for thousands of years. Their folklore and beliefs were predominantly carried on orally, spurring legendary traditional story telling found in many European cultures. Many common Halloween tales about Witches, Warewolves and Vampires originated from old Celtic stories. One of these oral teachings laid out a belief system based on a non-linear outlook on time, that is, a cyclic journey for the soul found in Buddhism and some Christian theology. Halloween was the Celtic new year and the druids believed at this time the boundaries between the living and the dead worlds could be breached, allowing the two realms to communicate openly with one another. Back then, our Halloween was called Samhain and was a whimsical festival to relieve social pressures among the people and give respects to the dearly departed. Originally, the holiday was celebrated on November, 1st but is widely appreciated the day before on October, 31st here in America.

Day of the Dead by Josh CrainSamhain is one of four annual celebrations that also include Oimelc, Beltane and Lughnasadh, dated respectively on February 1st, May 1st and August 1st. When each season started a large fire was ignited to commemorate beauty and divinity. Around these fires the Celtics would gather to begin their festivals. These holidays marked the seasonal pinnacles but theories still rattle around about how the ancient druids could have calculated these specific times. Some insist that monolithic formations in Europe like Stonehenge and the stone circle in Avebury served as precise celestial calendars.

Although all four seasonal festivals were spun off by huge fires, a symbol conveying beauty and warmth from departure or destruction, these festivals were far from bloody like modern civilization would lead us to believe. In a 1974 poem, The Wiccan Rede, Pagan beliefs were summarized with a strict quote found in different variations: “That it harm none, do as thou wilt.” Although the Celts were fierce warriors, they held by an ethical code that was far from heathen murder.

Samhain was an unusual celebration according to most historians. Any normal activities were stunted and Celtic life, from October 31st to November 2nd, was spurred into unconventional festivities. According to the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids:
“...men dressed as women, and women as men. Farmers’ gates were unhinged and left in ditches, peoples’ horses were moved to different fields, and children would knock on neighbors’ doors for food and treats in a way that we still find today...in the custom of trick-or-treating on Halloween”
The reason for silly behavior went hand and hand with leaving behind the ‘real’ world in order to pass into another one.

untitled by Josh CrainDeath, for the Celtics, was a part of daily life and seen in a different light than most commonly held by us today. During the celebration, weak and injured farm animals that would not make it through the winter were killed, either as sacrifice or for a feast. This is where most myths circulate about barbaric rituals with Pagan beliefs and when Christianity came to the Celtics during the 4th century Constantine empire, a whole slew of superstitions and fears came with their introductions. During this time medieval Christians developed a fear for black cats (a symbol associated with Pagan beliefs) and sanctioned feline deaths by the thousands, leaving hundreds of granaries and resource deposits open to mice, rats and other pests. During this time these rodents ran rampant, spreading a diabolical disease that killed millions of Europeans thereafter.

Since then, the authentic history behind Halloween has been largely forgotten or refused, especially here in the states. America’s interference with Halloween’s past is largely attributed to centuries of distrust between two clashing religious beliefs, but many places like Mexico- a largely Roman Catholic nation- celebrate death in their own way during Los dias de los Muertos, or the days of the dead. Halloween can be attributed to world wide festivities that give respect to the new year and lost ancestors. Despite some misunderstandings, Halloween remains a holiday for fun and mischief across America and will likely remain a holiday for kids to dress up, collect candy and leave their responsible world behind for many more generations. There are still traces of old Pagan beliefs still found in churches across the nation in candle lit vigils during congregations or trying times, proof that the Celtic fire still burns bright but largely unnoticed under our own long held traditions.

NONzine Articles Main Page

©2006 NONCO Media, L.L.C.