Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Modern Vs Tradition on Samhain

Samhain is the traditional name for Halloween. It origionated from the Celts, but the Celts by no means had license on days celebrating and honoring the dead.

The Encyclopedia of Religion says, "Halloween, or Allhallows Eve, is a festival celebrated on 31 October, the evening prior to the Christian Feast of All Saints (All Saints' Day). Halloween is the name for the eve of Samhain, a celebration marking the beginning of winter as well as the first day of the New Year within the ancient Celtic culture of the British Isles. The time of Samhain consisted of the eve of the feast and the day itself (31 October and 1 November)" (1987, p. 176, "Halloween").

Concerning Halloween The Encyclopedia of Religion continues:

"On this occasion, it was believed that a gathering of supernatural forces occurred as during no other period of the year. The eve and day of Samhain were characterized as a time when the barriers between the human and supernatural worlds were broken. Otherworldly entities, such as the souls of the dead, were able to visit earthly inhabitants, and humans could take the opportunity to penetrate the domains of the gods and supernatural creatures.

"Fiery tributes and sacrifices of animals, crops, and possibly human beings were made to appease supernatural powers who controlled the fertility of the land . . . Samhain acknowledged the entire spectrum of nonhuman forces that roamed the earth during the period" (pp. 176-177).

On this holiday "huge bonfires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits . . . The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day, and the autumnal festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats, fairies, and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about. It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature. In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favourable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and death. It was the only day on which the help of the devil was invoked for such purposes" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia, Vol. IV, p. 862, "Halloween").

In most regions, once Christianity moved into town they assimilated many of the traditions so as to not alienate the common folk. This is true for almost every Celtic Holiday: Besides Halloween, the Celts observed the winter solstice or Yule which was later transformed into Christmas; the spring fertility rites of Ostara which became Easter; Feb. 2 as Candlemas, was assimilated into the supposed day of Jesus' presentation in the temple and the purification of Mary - In the United States Candlemas persists in Groundhog Day; and others.

In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First made it so that we have no written records of our ancestors celebrations and traditions. Only in abstract can we extrapolate what was done and why. Pope Gregory, wrote is now famous edict - telling his Christian missionaries to try to assimilate as much of the 'common' beliefs as possible. The Celtic Underwords became the Catholic Hell. Our male deities, who are often represented with animal extensions - we transformed into demons. The Druids who worshipped nature were condemed as Devil or Satan worshippers...which in a way is true....since the Christian vision of Satan came from our Herne the Hunter. The common people were given a choice - follow the slightly modified new traditions and forget the old, or die. "Samhain remained a popular festival among the Celtic people throughout the christianization of Great Britain. The British church attempted to divert this interest in pagan customs by adding a Christian celebration to the calendar on the same date as Samhain. The Christian festival, the Feast of All Saints, commemorates the known and unknown saints of the Christian religion just as Samhain had acknowledged and paid tribute to the Celtic deities" (The Encyclopedia of Religion, p. 177, "Halloween")

Many of the traditional celebrations for Samhain are still carried on today -

The bobbing of apples was a form of divination, for example. The first person to bite the apple would be the next to marry (like catching the bouquet). The peeling of the apple was a way of measuring lifespan - the longer the single strand of peel the longer the life.

Origionally the Celts would carve turnips and place candles in them to guide family spirits to them and guard against negative spirits. When Irish Immegtrants came to America and discovered the bog orange turnip - the Pumpkin - they started using these for their carvings. ********

Jack The Turnip - The origin of the term Jack O'Lantern

Trick Or Treating:
Since the spirits roamed the countryside on Samhain or All Hallows Eve. The people left cakes and treats for the spirits of their loved ones. If a spirit came to your home though, and was not one of your dearly departed....would you really send them off hungry? Of course not. And neither did the ancients. Of couse how are you to know if the beast at your door is a boy from a nearby town or if it is a dark spirit? Better to give them a treat than to suffer the consequences. It is debated whether this is the source of trick-or-treating. It could also be attributed to beggers going to the homes of the rich and threatening with evil spirits if they were not fed.

The Witch:
Not surprisingly, Witches were associated with this Sabbat. Of course ancient practitioners and Druids would perform seasonal rites on this High Holy Day, but when Christianity transformed the Celtic Wheel of the Year (holidays) they vilified the practices of magick as well. Many went into hiding but could be seen on the Sabbats performing the ancient rites. So, the Church convinced the huddled masses, who were already forgetting their own Pagan roots, that the evil spirits they remembered being taught about on Samhain were in the control ofthese evil witches.

The Black Cat & The Full Moon:
As with above, the black cat and the full moon are both utilized by many Pagans when performing rites as they associated with strong links to the Goddess. Therefore in the advent of Christianity, what had once been viewed as a supreme blessing became evil incarnat. The black cat working as the witch's familiar - sort of true, but any cat or animal can be a familiar. But the color black is asociated with the banishment of negativity, so it can be surmised these ancient praticiioners performed banishments on Samhain to help protect the masses, and this was the sourse of the rumors.
Witch Flying on The Broom:
Witches have utilized straw brooms for centuries, as a means of banishing negativity. Somehow over the ages, this association was confused with the Norse myths on Hallowe'en. "Historically, beliefs about mythic Norse spirits and deities who flew through the air to gather souls and reward heroes influenced the Celtic fairy lore and witch lore that became a part of Halloween, and they also contributed to the development of the flying Father Christmas figure we know as Santa Claus, with his furs and his northern European reindeer" (Jack Santino, All Around the Year: Holidays & Celebrations in American Life, 1994, p. 26).

Costumes, Masks, Oh My...The Celtic Mardi Gras?
There were many reasons the ancient Celts were believed to have worn costumes. One of which was to celebrate life. Dress-up and have a huge party. The harvest is finally, fully complete with food stored for Winter. The nights are growing longer and the days already getting much cooler. Shortly the masses would be huddled in their homes just trying to srvive. So, why not one last hurahh - wear bright colors and be merry? This span of several days (From Oct 31 - Nov 2 the Celtic New Year) made all the hum-drum of ancient life tolerable. Just imagine - working from dawn to dusk only to be so exhausted you immediately pass out, only to repeat the process every day. On Samhain, the people cast off their ordinary live and kicked-up their heels. Celebrating life, making wishes for the new year, honoring their fallen bretheren, etc.

Another reason for wearing masks and costumes, goes toward honoring the Deities, Guardians and the Dead. As the veil between the realms is believed to be thinned only a couple of times a year - there is no better time to show one and all your deep affection for someone not of this realm. Some owuld dress up as their Patron - thus honoring them by enacting feats of bravery. Others would make a face and call it by the name of a past loved one - hoping all the love in their heart woudl call out to their spirit for a visit. People would also wear costumes of the animals slain that Sabbat as a form of thanks. The animals gave their lives so the villagers might live, what greater honor than to have the villigers dress as them and honor their life.

The most bizarre costumes and masks are also based on tradition. Remember, with the veil thin, not only the good spirits roam the countryside. It was believed one could not be bespelled by dark forces if their texture was unexpected. Think of it this way - when casting a spell, its strength comes from our belief in the outcome. If you're unsure of any piece of the ritual it has lost its strength. This was the basis for wearing the bizarre. Dark forces could not entrap your spirit if they could not first make a spell guaranteeing what they would encounter. If they expected a young woman and instead encountered a strange beast, the spell for the young woman would not touch her. Its a bit convoluted but in its essense it is correct. This same basis was used during the plagues. Many people would wear hideous masks in the hopes of scaring off the cause of the disease.

Sooo, when you go to celebrate with your family. Think about the origins of the traditions you are celebrating. Are you honoring your heritage or insulting it? Don't be afraid to create your own traditions.

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