First sign of autumn and the shops are full of it. Ghouls, ghosts, zombies and a whole array of devilish guises.
Even as I write, parents and grandparents are stocking up on candies to meet the young extortionists who’ll soon be knocking at the door. Pumpkins are carved for lanterns, apples prepared for ducking and treacle toffee is poured into trays.
Yes, it’s Halloween, a night of mischief and harmless fun for all the family. Or is it? Where does this feast originate and why is it so prevalent today?
According to The Encyclopedia Americana, “Elements of the customs connected with Halloween can be traced to a Druid ceremony in pre-Christian times. The Celts had festivals for two major gods – a sun god and a god of the dead (called Samhain), whose festival was held on November 1, the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The festival of the dead was gradually incorporated into the Christian ritual.”
“Halloween,” says The Encyclopedia of American Folklore, “is integrally related to the prospect of contact with spiritual force, many of which threaten or frighten.” Certainly, many of the customs involved have close links to ancestor worship and are meant to ward off or appease wicked spirits. The Celts, for instance, wore scary masks in the belief that evil spirits would think the wearers were spirits too - and leave them alone.
In the 7th century CE, Pope Boniface IV is thought to have adopted ‘Samhain’ as an annual event to honour martyrs, renaming it All Saints Day or All Hallows’ Day. (Hallow is an ancient word for ‘saint’). The evening before this celebration was called All Hallow Even, which later became Halloween, making some Christians throughout the world feel comfortable celebrating it.
But the real roots of Halloween are far more sinister, dating back to the Flood of Noah’s day. In his book, The Worship of the Dead, Colonel J Garnier explains: “The mythologies of all the ancient nations are interwoven with the events of the Deluge…..illustrated by the fact of the observance of a great festival of the dead in commemoration of the event, not only by nations more or less in communication with each other, but by others widely separated, both by the ocean and by centuries of time.
‘This festival is, moreover, held by all on or about the very day on which, according to the Mosaic account, the deluge took place, viz., the seventeenth day of the second month – the month nearly corresponding with our November.” In effect, Halloween began by honouring people whom God had destroyed due to their wickedness in Noah’s day. (Gen 6:5-7; 7:11)
Also destroyed by the Deluge were the Nephilim, sons of disobedient angels who left their heavenly positions and took human bodies for themselves in order to mate with women. These hybrids were known as ‘fellers’ due to their immense size and violent tendencies, and, along with their materialized sires, could well be the source of many legends of beings with superhuman powers, along with stars of various comics and computer games!
Halloween is celebrated on 31st October throughout the USA and Canada, and its continued spread across the world delights pagan adherents. Thousands of Wiccans, for example, following the old Celtic rituals, still refer to the event as ‘Samhain’, regarding it as the most sacred night of their calendar.
Will knowing the origins of Halloween stop millions making mischief on the last day of October? I doubt it. But before you don that ghoulish costume, spare a thought to what you’re actually celebrating.