Hallowe'en All Hallows Eve
Samhain. All Hallows. All Hallow's Eve. Hallow E'en. Halloween. The most magical night of
The year. Exactly opposite Beltane on the wheel of the year, Halloween is Beltane's dark twin. A night of glowing jack-o-lanterns, bobbing for apples, tricks or treats, and dressing in costume. A night of ghost stories and seances, tarot card readings and scrying with mirrors. A night of power, when the veil that separates our world from the Otherworld is at its thinnest. A 'spirit night', as they say in Wales.
All Hallow's Eve is the eve of All Hallow's Day (November 1st). And for once, even popular tradition remembers that the Eve is more important than the Day itself, the traditional celebration focusing on October 31st, beginning at sundown. And this seems only fitting for the great Celtic New Year's festival. Not that the holiday was Celtic only. In fact, it is startling how many ancient and unconnected cultures (the Egyptians and pre-Spanish Mexicans, for example) celebrated this as a festival of the dead. But the majority of our modern traditions can be traced to the British Isles.
The Celts called it Samhain, which means 'summer's end', according to their ancient two-fold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltane to Samhain and winter ran from Samhain to Beltane. (Some modern Covens echo this structure by letting the High Priest 'rule' the Coven beginning on Samhain, with rulership returned to the High Priestess at Beltane.) According to the later four-fold division of the year, Samhain is seen as 'autumn's end' and the beginning of winter. Samhain is pronounced (depending on where you're from) as 'sow-in' (in Ireland), or 'sow-een' (in Wales), or 'sav-en' (in Scotland), or (inevitably) 'sam-hane' (in the U.S., where we don't speak Gaelic).
Not only is Samhain the end of autumn; it is also, more importantly, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Celtic New Year's Eve, when the new year begins with the onset of the dark phase of the year, just as the new day begins at sundown. There are many representations of Celtic gods with two faces, and it surely must have been one of them who held sway over Samhain. Like his Greek counterpart Janus, he would straddle the theshold, one face turned toward the past in commemoration of those who died during the last year, and one face gazing hopefully toward the future, mystic eyes attempting to pierce the veil and divine what the coming year holds. These two themes, celebrating the dead and divining the future, are inexorably intertwined in Samhain, as they are likely to be in any New Year's celebration.
As a feast of the dead, it was believed the dead could, if they wished, return to the land of the living for this one night, to celebrate with their family, tribe, or clan. And so the great burial mounds of Ireland (sidh mounds) were opened up, with lighted torches lining the walls, so the dead could find their way. Extra places were set at the table and food set out for any who had died that year. And there are many stories that tell of Irish heroes making raids on the Underworld while the gates of faery stood open, though all must return to their appointed places by cock-crow.
As a feast of divination, this was the night par excellance for peering into the future. The reason for this has to do with the Celtic view of time. In a culture that uses a linear concept of time, like our modern one, New Year's Eve is simply a milestone on a very long road that stretches in a straight line from birth to death. Thus, the New Year's festival is a part of time. The ancient Celtic view of time, however, is cyclical. And in this framework, New Year's Eve represents a point outside of time, when the the natural order of the universe disolves back into primordial chaos, preparatory to re-establishing itself in a new order. Thus, Samhain is a night that exists outside of time and hence it may be used to view any other point in time. At no other holiday is a tarot card reading, crystal reading, or tea-leaf reading so likely to succeed.
The Christian religion, with its emphasis on the 'historical' Christ and his act of redemption 2000 years ago, is forced into a linear view of time, where 'seeing the future' is an illogical proposition. In fact, from the Christian perspective, any attempt to do so is seen as inherently evil. This did not keep the medieval Church from co-opting Samhain's other motif, commemoration of the dead. To the Church, however, it could never be a feast for all the dead, but only the blessed dead, all those hallowed (made holy) by obedience to God - thus, All Hallow's, or Hallowmas, later All Saints and All Souls.
There are so many types of divination that are traditional to Hallowstide, it is possible to mention only a few. Girls were told to place hazel nuts along the front of the firegrate, each one to symbolize one of her suiters. She could then divine her future husband by chanting, 'If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.' Several methods used the apple, that most popular of Halloween fruits. You should slice an apple through the equator (to reveal the five-pointed star within) and then eat it by candlelight before a mirror.
Your future spouse will then appear over your shoulder. Or, peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand, reciting, 'I pare this apple round and round again; / My sweetheart's name to flourish on the plain: / I fling the unbroken paring o'er my head, / My sweetheart's letter on the ground to read.' Or, you might set a snail to crawl through the ashes of your hearth. The considerate little creature will then spell out the initial letter as it moves.
Perhaps the most famous icon of the holiday is the jack-o-lantern. Various authorities attribute it to either Scottish or Irish origin. However, it seems clear that it was used as a lantern by people who traveled the road this night, the scary face to frighten away spirits or faeries who might otherwise lead one astray. Set on porches and in windows, they cast the same spell of protection over the household. (The American pumpkin seems to have forever superseded the European gourd as the jack-o-lantern of choice.) Bobbing for apples may well represent the remnants of a Pagan 'baptism' rite called a 'seining', according to some writers. The water-filled tub is a latter-day Cauldron of Regeneration, into which the novice's head is immersed. The fact that the participant in this folk game was usually blindfolded with hands tied behind the back also puts one in mind of a traditional Craft initiation ceremony.
The custom of dressing in costume and 'trick-or-treating' is of Celtic origin with survivals particularly strong in Scotland. However, there are some important differences from the modern version. In the first place, the custom was not relegated to children, but was actively indulged in by adults as well. Also, the 'treat' which was required was often one of spirits (the liquid variety). This has recently been revived by college students who go 'trick-or-drinking'. And in ancient times, the roving bands would sing seasonal carols from house to house, making the tradition very similar to Yuletide wassailing. In fact, the custom known as 'caroling', now connected exclusively with mid-winter, was once practiced at all the major holidays. Finally, in Scotland at least, the tradition of dressing in costume consisted almost exclusively of cross-dressing (i.e., men dressing as women, and women as men). It seems as though ancient societies provided an oportunity for people to 'try on' the role of the opposite gender for one night of the year. (Although in Scotland, this is admittedly less dramatic - but more confusing - since men were in the habit of wearing skirt-like kilts anyway. Oh well...)
To Witches, Halloween is one of the four High Holidays, or Greater Sabbats, or cross-quarter days. Because it is the most important holiday of the year, it is sometimes called 'THE Great Sabbat.' It is an ironic fact that the newer, self-created Covens tend to use the older name of the holiday, Samhain, which they have discovered through modern research. While the older hereditary and traditional Covens often use the newer name, Halloween, which has been handed down through oral tradition within their Coven. (This is often holds true for the names of the other holidays, as well. One may often get an indication of a Coven's antiquity by noting what names it uses for the holidays.)
With such an important holiday, Witches often hold two distinct celebrations. First, a large Halloween party for non-Craft friends, often held on the previous weekend. And second, a Coven ritual held on Halloween night itself, late enough so as not to be interrupted by trick-or-treaters. If the rituals are performed properly, there is often the feeling of invisible friends taking part in the rites. Another date which may be utilized in planning celebrations is the actual cross-quarter day, or Old Halloween, or Halloween O.S. (Old Style). This occurs when the sun has reached 15 degrees Scorpio, an astrological 'power point' symbolized by the Eagle. The celebration would begin at sunset. Interestingly, this date (Old Halloween) was also appropriated by the Church as the holiday of Martinmas.
Of all the Witchcraft holidays, Halloween is the only one that still boasts anything near to popular celebration. Even though it is typically relegated to children (and the young-at-heart) and observed as an evening affair only, many of its traditions are firmly rooted in Paganism. Incidentally, some schools have recently attempted to abolish Halloween parties on the grounds that it violates the separation of state and religion. Speaking as a Pagan, I would be saddened by the success of this move, but as a supporter of the concept of religion-free public education, I fear I must concede the point. Nonetheless, it seems only right that there should be one night of the year when our minds are turned toward thoughts of the supernatural. A night when both Pagans and non-Pagans may ponder the mysteries of the Otherworld and its inhabitants. And if you are one of them, may all your jack-o'lanterns burn bright on this All Hallow's Eve.
) The correct spelling of "Halloween" is "Hallow E'en" as they call it in Ireland, meaning 'All Hallows Eve', or the night before the 'All Hallows', observed on November 1.
2) Halloween (also known as Samhain, Summer's End, All Hallow's Eve, Witches Night, Lamswool, and Snap-Apple, All Hallowtide, The feast of the Dead, Haloween, El Dia de los Muertos)
3) Jack O'Lanterns originated in Ireland as hollowed out turnips with lumps of coal or candles placed in them to keep away evil spirits on the Samhain holiday.
4) Orange and Black are the traditional Halloween colour – Orange represents the autumn harvest, and Black represents the darkness and death.
5) About 99% of all pumpkins sold are used as Jack O'Lanterns for Halloween
6) On Samhuin and New Years Eve, groups of guisers performed plays in homes they visited. They were rewarded with treats of food. Adults performed traditional plays while children were only expected to recite a short rhyme.
7) Black cats were once believed to aid witches and were believed to carry the powers of the witch for casting spells.
8) Chocolate makes up more than 75% of the trick or treaters loot!
9) If you see a spider on Halloween a dead loved one is watching over you.
10) The next Halloween full moon will be on October 31, 2020.
In 1950, Philadelphia-based trick-or-treaters traded in a sweet tooth for a sweet action. In lieu of candy, residents collected change for children overseas and sent it to UNICEF. Subsequently, the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF program was born.
Begging at the door grew from an ancient English custom of knocking at doors to beg for a "soul cake" in return for which the beggars promised to pray for the dead of the household. Soul cakes, a form of shortbread — and sometimes quite fancy, with currants for eyes — became more important for the beggars than prayers for the dead, it is said. Florence Berger tells in her Cooking for Christ a legend of a zealous cook who vowed she would invent soul cakes to remind them of eternity at every bite. So she cut a hole in the middle and dropped it in hot fat, and lo — a doughnut. Circle that it is, it suggests the never-ending of eternity. Truth or legend, it serves a good purpose at Halloween.
The refrains sung at the door varied from "a soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake," to the later:
Soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven't an apple, a pear will do,
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the Man Who made us all.
Here they had either run out of soul cakes or plain didn't care. Charades, pantomimes, and little dramas, popular remnants of the miracle and morality plays of the Middle Ages, commonly rehearsed the folk in the reality of life after death and the means to attain it. It is probably from these that the custom of masquerading on Halloween had its beginning. The folly of a life of selfishness would be the message pantomimed by the damned; the torment of waiting, the message of the souls from Purgatory; the delights of the beatific vision, the message of the Heaven-sent. Together they warned the living to heed the means of salvation before it was too late. Doubtless the presence of goblins and witches with cats (ancient symbols of the devil) were remnants of pagan times bespeaking to Christians of spirits loosed from hell to keep track of their own and herd them back at cockcrow. Saint- Saens' Danse Macabre with death fiddling his eerie spell over the graveyard fascinated us all the years of growing up. Waiting for the sound of cockcrow, which would send the souls scuttling back to their graves, was almost too much suspense to bear. Little did we know that it was inspired by old French customs and superstitions on All Hallows' Eve.
31 October and 1 and 2 November are called, colloquially (not officially), "Hallowtide" or the "Days of the Dead" because on these days we pray for or remember those who've left this world.
The days of the dead center around All Saints' Day (also known as All Hallows') on November 1, when we celebrate all the Saints in Heaven. On the day after All Hallows', we remember the saved souls who are in Purgatory being cleansed of the temporal effects of their sins before they can enter Heaven. The day that comes before All Hallows', though, is one on which we unofficially remember the damned and the reality of Hell. The schema, then, for the Days of the Dead looks like this:
31 October: Hallowe'en: unofficially recalls the souls of the damned. Practices center around the reality of Hell and how to avoid it.
1 November: All Saints': set aside to officially honor the Church Triumphant. Practices center around recalling our great Saints, including those whose names are unknown to us and, so, are not canonized
2 November: All Souls': set aside officially to pray for the Church Suffering (the souls in Purgatory). Practices center around praying for the souls in Purgatory, especially our loved ones
The earliest form of All Saints' (or "All Hallows'") was first celebrated in the 300s, but originally took place on 13 May, as it still does in some Eastern Churches. The Feast first commemorated only the martyrs, but came to include all of the Saints by 741. It was transferred to 1 November in 844 when Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in St. Peter's Basilica to All Saints (so much for the theory that the day was fixed on 1 November because of a bunch of Irish pagans had harvest festivals at that time).
All Souls' has its origins in A.D. 1048 when the Bishop of Cluny decreed that the Benedictines of Cluny pray for the souls in Purgatory on this day. The practice spread until Pope Sylvester II recommended it for the entire Latin Church.
The Vigil of, or evening before, All Hallows' ("Hallows' Eve," or "Hallowe'en") came, in Irish popular piety, to be a day of remembering the dead who are neither in Purgatory or Heaven, but are damned, and these customs spread to many parts of the world. Thus we have the popular focus of Hallowe'en as the reality of Hell, hence its scary character and focus on evil and how to avoid it, the sad fate of the souls of the damned, etc. 1
How, or even whether, to celebrate Hallowe'en is a controversial topic in traditional circles. One hears too often that "Hallowe'en is a pagan holiday" -- an impossibility because "Hallowe'en," as said, means "All Hallows' Evening" which is as Catholic a holiday as one can get. Some say that the holiday actually stems from Samhain, a pagan Celtic celebration, or is Satanic, but this isn't true, either, any more than Christmas "stems from" the Druids' Yule, though popular customs that predated the Church may be involved in our celebrations (it is rather amusing that October 31 is also "Reformation Day" in Protestant circles -- the day to recall Luther's having nailed his 95 Theses to Wittenberg's cathedral door -- but Protestants who reject "Hallowe'en" because pagans used to do things on October 31 don't object to commemorating that event on this day).
Some traditional Catholics, objecting to the definite secularization of the holiday and to the myth that the entire thing is "pagan" to begin with, refuse to celebrate it in any way at all, etc. Other traditional Catholics celebrate it without qualm, though keeping it Catholic and staying far away from some of the ugliness that surrounds the day in the secular world. However one decides to spend the day, it is hoped that the facts are kept straight, and that Catholics refrain from judging other Catholics who decide to celebrate differently.
For those who do want to celebrate Hallowe'en, customs of this day are a mixture of Catholic popular devotions, and French, Irish, and English customs all mixed together. From the French we get the custom of dressing up, which originated during the time of the Black Death when artistic renderings of the dead known as the "Danse Macabre," were popular. These "Dances of Death" were also acted out by people who dressed as the dead. Later, these practices were moved to Hallowe'en when the Irish and French began to intermarry in America.
From the Irish come the carved Jack-o-lanterns, which were originally carved turnips. The legend surrounding the Jack-o-Lantern is this:
There once was an old drunken trickster named Jack, a man known so much for his miserly ways that he was known as "Stingy Jack," He loved making mischief on everyone -- even his own family, even the Devil himself! One day, he tricked Satan into climbing up an apple tree -- but then carved Crosses on the trunk so the Devil couldn't get back down. He bargained with the Evil One, saying he would remove the Crosses only if the Devil would promise not to take his soul to Hell; to this, the Devil agreed.
After Jack died, after many years filled with vice, he went up to the Pearly Gates -- but was told by St. Peter that he was too miserable a creature to see the Face of Almighty God. But when he went to the Gates of Hell, he was reminded that he couldn't enter there, either! So, he was doomed to spend his eternity roaming the earth. The only good thing that happened to him was that the Devil threw him an ember from the burning pits to light his way, an ember he carried inside a hollowed-out, carved turnip.
And when you carve up your pumpkin, keep the seeds to roast! Here's a recipe:
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
2 cups pumpkin seeds (approx.)
2 TSP melted butter or oil (approx.)
Salt to taste
Optional: garlic powder; cayenne pepper; seasoned salt; Worcestershire Sauce; Cajun seasoning; or Hot Spice Mix (1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce, 1 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1/2 tsp. cumin, 2 tsp. chili powder)
Preheat oven to 300° F. Toss pumpkin seeds in a bowl with the melted butter or oil and any optional ingredients of your choice. Spread pumpkin seeds in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crispy. Store airtight.
Option: If you roast them without any of the above optional flavorings, you can now flavor them Spicy-Sweet by doing this:
Heat a TBSP of peanut oil in a skillet, add 2 TBSP sugar, and the seeds. Cook the pumpkin seeds over medium high heat for about 1 minute or until the sugar melts and starts to caramelize. Place pumpkin seeds in a large bowl and sprinkle with this mixture: 3 TBSP sugar, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. ginger, and a pinch of ground cayenne pepper.
From the English Catholics we get begging from door to door, the earlier and more pure form of "trick-or-treating." Children would go about begging their neighbors for a "Soul Cake," for which they would say a prayer for those neighbors' dead. Instead of knocking on a door and saying the threatening, "Trick-or-treat" (or the ugly "Trick-or-treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat"), children would say either:
A Soul Cake, a Soul Cake,
have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake!
Soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven't an apple, a pear will do,
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the Man Who made us all.
While Soul Cakes were originally a type of shortbread, it is said that a clever medieval cook wanted to make Soul Cakes designed to remind people of eternity, so she cut a hole in the middle of round cakes before frying them, thereby inventing donuts! Fresh plain cake donuts would be a nice food to eat on this day.
Cake Doughnuts (makes 20)
2 quarts canola oil
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 packet active dry yeast or 0.6 ounces cake yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons nonfat buttermilk
1 extra-large whole egg
2 extra-large egg yolks
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups nonmelting or confectioners' sugar
1. Heat oil in a low-sided six-quart saucepan over medium-high heat until a deep-frying thermometer registers 375°. Lightly dust a baking pan with all-purpose flour, and line a second one with paper towels; set both aside.
2. Meanwhile, place sour cream in a heat-proof bowl or top of a double boiler; set over a pan of simmering water. Heat until warm to the touch. Remove from heat; set aside.
3. In a large bowl, sift together all-purpose flour, cake flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Make a large well; place yeast in center. Pour warm sour cream over yeast, and let sit 1 minute.
4. Place buttermilk, whole egg, egg yolks, and vanilla in a medium bowl; whisk to combine. Pour egg mixture over sour cream. Using a wooden spoon, gradually draw flour mixture into egg mixture, stirring until smooth before drawing in more flour. Continue until all flour mixture has been incorporated; dough will be very sticky.
5. Sift a heavy coat of flour onto a clean work surface. Turn out dough. Sift another heavy layer of flour over dough. Using your hands, pat dough until it is 1/2 inch thick. Using a 2 3/4-inch doughnut cutter, cut out doughnuts as close together as possible, dipping the cutter in flour before each cut. Transfer doughnuts to floured pan, and let rest 10 minutes, but not more.
6. Carefully transfer four doughnuts to hot oil. Cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Turn over; continue cooking until evenly browned on both sides, about 2 minutes more. Using a slotted spoon, transfer doughnuts to lined pan. Repeat with remaining doughnuts.
7. Gather remaining dough scraps into a ball. Let rest 10 minutes; pat into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle. Cut, let rest 10 minutes, and cook.
8. When cool enough to handle, sift nonmelting sugar over tops; serve immediately. (Recipe from Martha Stewart).
Other customary foods for All Hallows' Eve include cider, nuts, popcorn, and apples -- best eaten around a bonfire or fireplace
Dame Hime Themis