I■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
t seems like everybody has partial claim to the origins of Halloween. The name “Halloween” originated in 1745. Its roots lie within the Christian religion, meaning “hallowed evening” or “holy evening.” Prior to that, the Scottish dubbed it, “All Hallows Eve,” first recognized in Old English around 1556.
Confused? Let me take you deeper into the depths of discovery, so to speak.
Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of the event, notes that while some folklorists detected its origins in the Roman Feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is typically associated with the Gaelic festival of Samhain, inherited from the Celtic observance of “summer’s end.”
The Facts on Halloween
Along comes a trio of writers who chronicled, “The Facts on Halloween,” and who say it was observed on Oct. 21, at the end of summer. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day, and the festival acquired a sinister significance with ghosts, witches, goblins, black cats, fairies, and demons roaming the countryside. It was said to be the time of supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature. It also affected marriage, luck, health and death. It became the only day the devil was given free reign to do his will.
Western culture, especially in the United States, did not readily accept the symbolism due to a heavy Christian influence. The day gained popularity here during the early 20th century and was initially practiced only in small Irish Catholic settlements. It became popular during the Irish Potato Famine, brought to our shores by the enormous number of Irish who migrated to the United States. Carved pumpkins originated with witches and their collection of skulls containing candles within.
Jack-o-lantern comes from the legend of Irish Jack, a stingy drunk who tricked the devil into climbing an apple tree for an apple, then cut the sign of a cross into the tree’s trunk to prevent his “evilship” from coming down until he promised never to seek out Jack’s soul. When the devil finally agreed, Jack permitted him to the ground safely.
At his death, Jack was refused entry into heaven due to his earthly selfishness and alcoholism. Sent to hell, he was also rejected by Satin himself. With no place to rest, he was condemned to roam the earth eternally. Leaving hell, Jack was seen to be eating a turnip. The devil, being the rascal he is, got even with Jack. He tossed a live coal at Jack who put it to good use. He placed the coal inside the turnip and thus the first Jack-o-lantern was created.
Trick-or-treat comes from every direction. It is laid on the Druids, ghosts of the dead in pagan mythology, and even on the Catholics. Halloween was thought to be a night when the mischievous and evil roamed freely. Masks and costumes became the attire either to scare way the ghosts or to keep from being recognized by them. Witch doctors and pagan priests often disguised themselves so they wouldn’t be recognized by their everyday communities.
Thank you Druids!
Going door-to-door seeking treats also originated with the Druid practice of begging material for their great bonfires, as well as from the Catholic concept of purgatory and their custom of begging for a “soul cake.”
Ghost stories originated as a natural expression of telling ghost stories, when dead souls were believed to be all around us. Both good, mischievous, and evil spirits roamed about without restraint.
It became popular first in Ireland and Britain to use Halloween symbolism to tell fortunes, especially if they had to do with marriage or death. Nuts and fruits, especially apples, were used in games. They included apple bobbing, roasting nuts, mirror gazing, pouring molten lead or egg whites into water, and dream interpretation.
Cross-dressing was quite popular in Glamorgan and Orkney. From the 18th century, “imitating malignant spirits” turned into playing pranks in Ireland and on the Scottish Highlands. Costumes and pranks at Halloween found their way into England during the 20th century.
Halloween customs of today are thought to be influenced by Christian dogma. It is the eve of All Saints Day on Nov. 1. Current Halloween symbolism comes from numerous sources, such as Christian eschatology, national customs, Gothic works, and horror literature, i.e. Frankenstein and Count Dracula. References to Golgotha, serving as “a reminder of death and the transitory quality of human life.”
From the medieval period up to the 1930’s, folks practiced the Christian custom of souling on Halloween. Soulers were part of both Christian and Catholic faiths. It involved a more or less trick-or-treat system of begging for wealth for soul cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of the givers, their families, and friends.
Start your own legend
The story of Halloween has become pretty much whatever you want it to be, as long as it includes ghosts, witches, the dead, the devil, and mischief. The pages of definition could fill a book. Every year someone comes up with something new that becomes part of Halloween tradition. You, too, could be a part of the Halloween legend. Just sayin’