All Saint’s Day and Samhain

With Halloween coming up in just another week, I’m getting in the mood for getting scared. I know that I’m not the only one, but also a lot of people don’t like getting scared; it makes sense, I don’t like watching horror movies (one with the same body twerking like in the Grudge or whatever) and then not being able to sleep at night. Just spending the entire time under the covers, eyes darting around the room, while at the same time wanting to close them, but then seeing the worst images in my mind forcing me to open them again, hoping that I won’t see anything when I do. … it gets old, real fast. Terror is a weird thing, because I still do it, sometimes, when I’m in the mood, when the timing’s right, like around Halloween.But, today, while watching horror shorts originally from YouTube found via the Buzzfeed article ‘16 Terrifying Horror Movies You Can Watch In 20 Minutes Or Less’ [] I wondered about the real origins of Halloween. Well, more the origins

But, today, while watching horror shorts originally from YouTube found via the Buzzfeed article ‘16 Terrifying Horror Movies You Can Watch In 20 Minutes Or Less’ I wondered about the real origins of Halloween. Well, more the origins from before the origins of All Hallows’ Eve. I already heard where trick or treating came from, why people dress in costumes, and why various countries have a Day of the Dead “celebration” (Mexico, Spain, France, etc.), but those are all a Catholic/Christian thing dating back to various leaders: in the East, Byzantine Emperor Leo VI “the Wise” in the late 9th century that first celebrated all saints in late Spring and then it was (for some reason) later moved to November 1; a similar story is told about combining all the feast celebrations for saints and martyrs on May 13 in 609 or 610 by Pope Boniface IV (maybe because at the time the east was already doing it then), but it was later also moved to November 1st and 2nd supposedly by Pope Gregory III who then suppressed the old tradition.

I don’t know why All Saints’ Day was originally shifted to November, some people think it was meant to combine/steal the date of the pagan holiday Samhain, originally from Ireland, even though the 13th of May is another pagan festival called Feast of the Lemures or the Lemuria festival… so, why would you move it to another?

Another feast day sprung up in some of the Slavic countries (Belarus, Poland, and a similar feast in Lithuania) called Dziady (or Ilgés in Lithuania), translated as “Grandfathers”, commemorating the dead. It may also have roots in the pagan traditions that took place twice a year, in spring and fall. This again is mainly after Christianity spread, so to me, that may tie it all together. Also, in countries including Spain, Argentina, Belgium, Hungary, Brazil, etc. they celebrate the feast of All Soul’s Day, or Defuncts’ Day, on November 2nd rather than, or in addition to All Saints’ Day the day before.

If we look at pagan holidays, they are tied to nature and are often shared with solstices, changing of seasons, and harvests. But why would that correlate to bringing the dead back into our world?

Samhain itself was a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season in Celtic areas. According to History Stuff, 2000 years ago the ancient Celts set bonfires on hilltops to ward off the evil spirits before the start of the winter season which was their new year beginning on November 1. Since it was often known as a time of year often associated with death, people gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables to thank the gods for the harvest and hopefully keep them happy for winter. Druids or celtic preiests thought that with help of spirits they could tell the future. People wore costumes, typically made of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

Also from History Stuff around 43 A.D., the Romans had conquered a vast majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two Roman festivals were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.

Later in time, the bonfires were reduced to candles inside of turnips, squash, and later, pumpkins to create the Jack-o-lantern, a motif of an Irish Christian named Jack who, in folklore, was denied entrance to both heaven and hell. If you want to hear the whole story listen to Episode 45 entitled Rumplestiltskin: Let’s Make a Deal (second story) of The Myths and Legends Podcast.

But again, this was altered by Christianity when it came around, most likely to more easily convert pagans, just like with Christmas from Saturnaila. Supposedly even before Christianity came to this area the stories share that the veil between the world of the living and of the dead is at its thinnest. I feel like that is more engrained because of all the death around us at the time, but on the other side of the world (the southern hemisphere) it’s becoming spring; everything is coming back to life. And around the equator there isn’t really much change of seasons, other than wet to dry, so when and how would any of the cultures there celebrate?

In Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc. the people who celebrate, are more following the commercialized Halloween, rather than the old traditions of Samhain (due to the fact the seasons down there are opposite), so they really are celebrating the spring with Beltane instead. For most of these places, though, the simple answer is that they don’t. That leads me to wonder where the ingrained idea of “Halloween” and spirits haunting us really came from. That will be posted next week on Halloween.


Background Info:

Crossing the Veil: The Pre-Christian Origins of Halloween and Samhain

Australia info

and Wikipedia (cause I’m lazy)

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