Everywhere seems to be bursting with pumpkins, pumpkin spice lattes, skeletons, witches, and ghosts. Halloween is approaching. It’s easy to get caught up in the fun and commotion of a holiday. After all, that is what a holiday is all about right? I like to look a little deeper to find out about where the traditions come from and what is at the core that our ancestors created the traditions to remind us of. Let’s take a look at the historic traditions and origins of Halloween.
Samhain origins of Halloween
Halloween is a modern version of a day of the dead celebration with is roots in the Samhain tradition from the old world. Samahain is opposite on the year wheel from Belatne (May 1). The two days mark the “hinge” points of the year. This is most easily understood if we imagine the year to be a single day where Beltane is the dawn and Samhain is sunset.
During these times of the year, the ancient Northern Europeans believed that the veil between the material plane and the beyond becomes thin allowing the energies to flow from one side to the other. This is why both holidays are thought to be important for spiritual work and rituals.
While Beltane is primarily focussed on new growth and the bounty of spring, Samhain leads the world (in the Northern Hemisphere) into the darkness of winter. Because of this, it is a day for the dead. This does not mean that the ancients were morbid. Rather, the ancients understood the cyclical nature of all things which includes death as a part of living.
One of the main beliefs which sets the stage for all of the modern Halloween practices is that the dead are released from the underworld to wander amongst the living. It was believed that those ghosts could seek revenge on anyone who had wronged them during life. This is the reason for costumes and masks which were intended to hide the living from such repercussions.
Trick or Treat
The tradition of trick or treat seems to go back a long way. It’s roots are most likely to be found in the ancient world. Offering were often placed outside of villages in order to placate angry or malevolent spirits unleashed during Samhain. Over time, it is theorized, people began to dress up like the evil spirits to claim such offerings for themselves. Depending on your point of view, this may not have been such a great idea but that is the theory none the less.
Traditions have obviously evolved over time and children set out in costumes going door to door. Perhaps to this day, we continue to anger the underworld by stealing their treats and gobbling them up ourselves…
Although we live in a modern world, it is good to remember where our traditions originate. Rather than simply dressing up our kids just to claim free treats, it may benefit us all to remember the natural cycles that the holidays represent. This time of year is significant in marking the decent into darkness that make life possible.
Have fun and enjoy your Halloween!