A joyful overture of the fall’s symphony is coming to an end. Mellifluous birds that were singing during summer and warm autumn days have migrated to sunnier destinations. Only the raven’s note is piercing the somnolent world where even ardent hearts tend to whisper. What is the reason for this sullen transformation? Samhain will open its otherworldly door in a short while.
Some would say, “Samhain? Have you misspoken? It’s supposed to be Halloween!” No, dear friend, it’s strictly accurate if you delve into the origins of this fascinating autumn holiday. Halloween was inspired by an ancient Gaelic holiday Samhain that had been celebrated long before Christianity came into our world. I’d like to invite you to travel back in time and comprehend the quintessence of the mystic festival that marked the end of the harvest season.
If you meticulously study old Irish literature and inquire into the mythology of the British Isles, you’ll easily trace the holiday’s Celtic pagan origins. The majority of significant events for Celts happened during Samhain, which was commonly celebrated throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. People believed that the verge between the living world and the spirit world was the thinnest in the early hours of November 1. So, they began preparing for the visit of their ancestors’ souls at the end of October in order to meet the dead decently: they lit enormous bonfires, created altars to honor the deceased, practiced divination, took part in various ceremonial dances, and baked ritual bread and leaved offerings to the spirits. Even if nowadays communication with otherworldly apparitions and all kinds of sortilege seem to be sheer fairy-tales, the magic of the holiday hasn’t disappeared. Moreover, even modern people, who consider themselves Neo-Pagans, continue observing Samhain’s unique traditions (without human offerings, of course). Many scholars have agreed that this festival was the Celtic New Year. Indeed, it’s logical to celebrate the connection between the two worlds at the end of the harvest season, at the same time marking a new beginning: the cycle of life and death is perpetual.
Since the religious focus significantly changed and paganism was endowed with a negative connotation, such olden festivals as Samhain has to be replaced. In reality, it was just slightly changed according to the Christian beliefs, while the core meaning of the holiday remained the same. By 1000 A.D., November 2 was observed as All Souls’ Day, which was also aimed to pray for the ancestors. Later on, All Saints’ Day or Feast of All Saints was determined, which is still observed on November 1. So it was reasonable to make October 31 All Hallows Eve, which is now best known as Halloween.
What is interesting, some people in Great Britain and Ireland have continued to observe Samhain, even not belonging to Neo-Pagans. They still create original gifts and cook traditional dishes to gratify the spirits. What is also typical of Halloween, they dress in creepy costumes, which were thought to frighten evil spirits.
In the middle of the 19th century, Irish immigrants, who adored the traditions of their native land started to popularize the spirit festival all over America. Awkward superstitions and enchanting customs compelled the Americans, who eagerly narrated ghost stories and decorated their homes with jack-o’-lanterns. Gradually, Celtic origins have been almost forgotten and Halloween turned into a gleeful masquerade inspired by witchcraft, demonology, and horror stories.
If you want to perceive this holiday esoterically, remember that Samhain is a timeless period, a continuous cycle, and a sacred period of the year, which can last for all night long, for a year or forever. Samhain connects two parts of the year – light one and dark one, human world and spirit realm.
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