When witches go riding,
and black cats are seen,
the moon laughs and whispers,
‘tis near Halloween.
~ Author Unknown
More than any other holiday of the year, Halloween is a time of superstitions, mystery and folklore – witches, ghosts, goblins, spooks and black cats – just a few of the holiday’s scary characters. It’s a time of restless spirits when the veil between the spirit and physical worlds becomes almost transparent, allowing spirits to cross freely for a short visit – at least according to some cultures. Our Halloween holiday originated from the Celtic New Year’s Eve celebration on October 31, which was also a harvest festival marking summer’s end.
But the celebration also had a sense of foreboding of the dark, cold months to come. On this holiday called Samhain, the Celts believed souls of the dead could return to their earthly homes for one evening. As part of their festivities, the high priests built huge bonfires to honor the sun god, to frighten away evil spirits and to guide friendly ghosts to their previous homes where favorite foods were left out to tempt them to linger awhile.
When the Romans conquered the Celts, the two cultures combined the Roman harvest festivals and Samhain. About 800 A.D., the Catholic Church began to observe All Saints’ Day on November 1 so people could continue their pre-Christian celebrations with the blessings of the church. A special mass called Allhallowmas was held to honor the dead. The night before All Saints’ Day became All Hallow’s Eve or as we now call it Halloween.
In Mexico, “El día de los muertos” or the Day of the Dead combines Aztec beliefs and customs with the Catholic celebration of All Saints’ Day. Much like the Celts, some natives believe their ancestors return to earth for a visit to their favorite places and to enjoy their favorite food and drink. Families clean and prepare the cemeteries and create altars with flowers, especially marigolds, the sacred flower of the Aztecs. Candles light the way for the spirits to enjoy food and mementos from their previous life. Skeletons posed in a variety of lifelike pastimes are the focal points of their celebrations. Although it carries the moniker Day of the Dead, the holiday is actually a celebration of life.
Whether your beliefs and traditions include the scary and spooky, fun and festivities or the hallowed and holy, Halloween is a time of mystery and the unexplainable.
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beaties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
~ Scottish saying