Halloween is a festival in which children and adults alike dress up in costumes of monsters, witches, ghosts and other worldly creatures on the 31st of October each year. People will go door to door trick or treating in the hope of sweets, chocolate, money or perhaps to cause a bit of mischief or play pranks. Families may light up a carved face in a large hollowed out pumpkin and put it on the window or door step. They may visit haunted places, hold fancy dress parties, where a bonfire is lit and ghost stories are shared; or they may conduct a game of apple bobbing and a feast is put on for guests. Generally it is a bit of fun in the crisp autumn air and an excuse to dress up, get people together, celebrate, and have some food, drinks and fun. Doesn’t sound too bad really!?
But where does this tradition originate from? Let’s be honest, it is a little unusual really… What is to follow is the origins of Halloween where you will discover a sinister and occultist foundation.
The traditions are tangled in a mush of different cultures, religions and superstition over a span of thousands of years. Each have contributed to the modern day Halloween but many have pin-pointed the origins to the ancient Celts. Based on this it is important to know some back ground on the Celts. So who are they?
The Celts; lived for thousands of years predominately in central and mid Europe. They are particularly known to have populated the British Isles, Ireland, Northern France and into Germany. Their golden period was from around 750BC until the Romans Conquered them in the 1st century AD. They did not centralise their power to a few epicentres (like Rome) and instead lived in organised tribes. As a result they often lived in rural settings such as hill forts in thatched roofed round houses, worked the land and raised livestock. Consequently they were very connected to the land and the workings of nature; allowing them to build a spiritual belief system that centred on this. Like the Ancient Greeks they believed in multiple gods and goddesses but it was the Druids that held the power in Celtic society.
The Druids; these were the intellectual elite and held positions of power and privilege in Celtic society and religion. They are often viewed as priest but were really the directors of rituals and ceremonies. This position appears to also include the roles of teacher, inventor, scientist, magician, philosopher and judge. It is believed that they would train for up to 20 years and as a result they have developed the image of old wise men. It is important to note that it is believed that many of these acquired esoteric knowledge and secrets of the sciences such as gunpowder that they would use to amaze audiences.
Samhain; The Celts calendar was divided into four festivals Imbolic (start of February), Beltane (April into May), Lammas (start of August) and Samhain (October/November). Samhain is perhaps the most important, held on the 31st October. It marks the last harvest and beginning of winter in a northern temperate zone and was a time to take stock of the herds and food supplies for the coming season. For a culture connected and reliant upon the land this was vitally important for their ongoing survival. As a result it was viewed as a time where the veil between life and death was at its thinnest, possibly because a good food stock was a matter of life and death for many. It is a time where everything around them was dying (Autumn) and because of the impending cold weather and long nights it was said that on this day the doorway was open for the spirits to walk this Earth. Some may be evil and sinister spirits that the Celts needed to appease.
Trick or Treat; It was believed that the God of the Dead, Ankov, would die at this time (possible connection with autumn) and as a result this created great fear amongst the people. For Ankov to be re-born (possible connection to spring) it was believed that blood must be shed to appease the God which would encourage healthy crops the following year. Druids would go into villages knocking door to door and demanding human sacrifices, often in the form of the youngest daughter. If the house hold complied then they would be protected from these roaming spirits, but if they did not then the Druids would paint a hexagram symbol on the front door in human blood that would attract evil spirits, curse the family and bring bad things. Hence the trick being the curse and the treat being protection!
Pumpkins; traditionally a pumpkin or a turnip would have been hollowed out, often with a grinning face carved into it. They would be filled with human or animal fat and burned much like a candle in our modern pumpkins. These were believed to act as a talisman to ward off the demonic spirits that were present on this evening. They are a sign that a certain house hold was fine and they had also made a food offering that appeases the evil spirits.
Bonfires; Fires were deemed protective and to have cleansing powers, particularly the smoke and are symbolic of the Sun. Because of the coming darkness (winter), prayers were made for it to return to give life once again, but the main reason for a bonfire was to thank mother Earth for giving up her bounty and to show gratitude. In return, sacrifices were to be made to offer something back. Ceremonies would be run by the druids and both human and animal sacrifices would be made. These appear to be conducted in different way; sometimes the sacrifices were literally thrown on, usually innocent beings such as young children, babies and animals or a more organised event would see them using giant man shaped figurines made out of wicker, hay and straw. This have become known as a ‘Wicker Man’ (see below). As a result of these sacrifices many human and animal remains would be left over, hence the original name; Bone -fire, which was later watered down to our modern ‘Bonfire.’
Wicker Man; This is a giant man shaped structure that was made out of wicker, twigs, branches, hay and straw like material. It had multiple cage like compartments where the sacrifices would be placed. The whole structure would then be set on fire and burnt, thus killing everyone trapped inside and fulfilling their sacrifice.
Apple Bobbing; before the ceremony begun the human sacrifices were given the chance to live if they could get an apple out of a cauldron of boiling liquid on their first attempt without using their hands. If they were successful then they would be freed, although they would receive severe burns to the face and neck which would likely have a life-long affect. If they were unsuccessful then they would be killed on the spot.
Fancy dress; otherwise known as guising, it appears to have a few origins. Firstly, Druids would dress up in hideous masks and costumes believed to help control the demonic spirits during ceremonies but these were likely to also instil fear into the people and thus holding up their reputation and control. But it is told that everyday people would also dress up and disguise themselves to confuse the evil spirits that were present on this day and help protect them from their tricks and curses. Fancy dress now sees anything connected to the supernatural such as monsters, Ghosts (evil spirits) and witches.
Witches; these were the natural healers (such as shaman) of the time that were in touch with the true power of the universe and its hidden secrets. It was likely that they would use herbs, spices, plants and various other ingredients to bring about altered states and insights (much in the way that certain Amazonian hallucinogens work today). They would have been everyday people and thus the symbols such as a cauldron, broom stick and cats that are connected with witches are everyday items in a Celtic round house. Later these people would have been burnt at the stake for their contradiction of certain religious beliefs.
Ghost stories; It was also believed that this day was the best of all to predict the future. Druids would conduct a ceremonies involving certain stones, circles and fire. These ceremonies and insights would predict who would die and prosper, what the coming harvest season would be like and weather it was time to move or not. Important questions that a culture reliant upon the processes of nature would find useful. The results of these would be communicated to messengers who would move from village to village passing the message along. This was said to go on late into the night and you can imagine how the stories altered when people interpreted them for themselves, much like a big game of Chinese whispers!
As you can see, Halloween has its origins based on an occultist tradition surrounded by blood, death and evil spirits. The Celts lived in a time where things that we take for granted today was not common knowledge. Things such as the movement of the planet, the Earth’s rotation and thus the seasons. They lived in a time of great uncertainty, superstition and fear was thrust upon the average person. As a result they built a culture based on the unknown in an attempt the explain things, but they also appear to be in touch with a world that we know very little about. At the heart of the Celtic/ Druid belief was and still is the love of the land, sea and sky; the love of the Earth. They had a strong belief in balance and harmony of the earth that we today could learn a few things from.
As far as I’m concerned people can believe in whatever they wish. I don’t think that anyone has a right to tell you what to believe so long as it does not cause harm. The problem comes from the fact that the vast majority are celebrating Halloween in pure ignorance. Inadvertently they are feeding energy into this occultist tradition and demonic spirits.
For those looking for enlightenment of our true selves or to get more in touch with your spirit then we do not need an event to celebrate the dead, an event surrounded by blood, death and evil spirits. We can create whatever we wish, perhaps a celebration of life, love, the changing seasons and giving back to mother earth in a way that matches the times we live in. A celebration that is updated and where we can still have a bit of fun in the crisp autumn air and an excuse to dress up, get people together, celebrate, have some food, drinks and fun. Let’s be honest, this is really what it is all about for many modern people. So let’s put our energy where we intend to.