The origins of Halloween have a dark side, even though we prefer to think of it as all the things we love, like trick-or-treating, ghost stories told around an open fire while roasting marshmallows, dressing up in costumes we’d never wear at any other time of the year and carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns. But Halloween didn’t start out that way.
All Hallows Eve and Hollowmas involve celebrating the spirits of the dead. At the end of the harvest and with the dormancy of coming winter, people thousands of years ago believed the veil between the living and the dead world is very thin and spirits could enter our world. Candy was put out to appease the spirits when they came to call. Makes you feel differently about going from house-to-house to gather candy now, doesn’t it?
In olden times, trick-or-treating was a form of begging. In
the begging tradition was known as souling.
Peasants would dress up and go door-to-door and beg for food in exchange
for offering prayers for dead loved ones.
Trick-or-treating is mild today in comparison to two hundred years ago when the tricks were violent and a lot of vandalism took place.
The common Halloween game of bobbing for apples started out a bit more sinister. Young eligible girls wanted to take advantage of the spirits roaming the earth and the quest was always on to find a husband, hence the first girl to get an apple out of the pail without using her hands would be the next one to marry. To add to this, if you could peel the apple in one long continuous strand and throw the peel over your shoulder at midnight, it would land in the initial of your husband-to-be. Interesting, huh? Do any of you remember doing this as kids?
Halloween has never been about evil or the devil. Samhain (or Halloween) was a pagan holiday and the pagans and Celts had no concept of the devil. Fairies, witches and warlocks were always associated with ancient holidays and they weren’t evil. Evil only came to
America after the migration of the
Irish who, with their belief in the devil, became concerned with the Halloween
holiday. Conservative and religious
people have always worried that Halloween had demonic influences.
There’s a long dark, tale to explain how carving jack-o-lanterns came into being. To tell a brief version, there was a stingy old Irishman named Jack who tricked the devil into turning himself into a coin to pay for drinks they were sharing together. Jack pocketed the Satan-coin, but also in his pocket was a silver cross, which prevented the devil from changing back.
Jack promised to free Satan on two conditions, that he wouldn’t bother him for at least a year and that when he died, Satan wouldn’t claim his soul. The devil agreed. Years later when Jack died, God turned him a way for his trickster ways so he was forced to wander the earth forever with an ever-burning coal from hell for light, which he eventually put into a turnip he carved that he could carry around without burning his hands. The Irish would always carve scary faces into turnips, beets and potatoes to scare away Stingy Jack and other evil spirits.
The pumpkin is a recent form of the jack-o-lantern. Years ago they carved the turnips, beets and potatoes, as described above, but the Irish potato famine of 1846 devastated most of the crops and the Irish immigrants were forced to come to
food where the pumpkin was plentiful.
Halloween wasn’t the original name of this holiday. Neither was Samhain. Various versions of this same holiday have been called All Hollow’s Eve, Lamswool, Witches Night, Samhain, Summer’s End and Snap-Apple Night.
Many animal shelters won’t let you adopt a black cat before Halloween. Legends say that druids and pagan leaders would sacrifice black cats to the fire in a divination ritual to see into the future. This may be medieval Christian propaganda. We don’t know that anything like that ever happened.
Halloween has an evil real world consequence. A lot of children wonder the streets unattended going from door-to-door for treats. The statistics say that many are hit by cars, more so on Halloween than other days of the year. I think parents are more diligent these days, especially since razor blades and other items began showing up in candy. I know parents walk with their children now and wait for them while they ring the doorbells. This is probably a good idea in light of the fact we have so many pedophiles living among us as well.
When I was going up, we never had any worries about all these things that are prevalent today. We always went to my grandmother’s house anyway (up the road from our house) where she had homemade goodies for us. I can only remember going to an actual neighborhood to trick-or-treat maybe once or twice my entire childhood. And those days were a lot safer than times today.