I find this subject fascinating in my quest of the History of Halloween. Samhain is one of the Sabbats (holiday) celebrated by the pagans and witches of today and yesterday. As the sun sets on the world October thirty-first, this most important of days, a new beginning comes forth.
Scholars haven’t come to a unified opinion if Samhain means the end or the beginning of summer, because when summer ends on this plane, it has just begun in the Underworld. But the word is thought to refer to the daylight portion of November first.
The Celts believed summer came to an end on Samhain and the New Year began on November first. They followed a lunar calendar, and the celebration began the night before.
The veil between the worlds is lowered at this time, weakened to allow the spirits passage from one realm to the next. It was the perfect opportunity to communicate with lost loved ones, to ask advice and receive solace from them.
As tradition, it’s a time to clean their homes and lives. The crops and cattle have been taken care of, and any loose ends left unfinished would be tied. They would shed everything to face the coming winter, to enter the start of the rebirth fresh from the past year.
The formal celebrations would include a large bon-fire that fit in with the cleansing of the past and looking forward to the future. In sacrifice, they would give crops and animals to their Gods and Goddesses. The Celts would adorn their bodies in costume to honour both the dead, and the Deities they asked favour from in the coming seasons.
Tying in a little with my last post, it was said that once the community celebration was over, each family would take a torch or a burning ember from the sacred fire to take home with them. These fires would be kept lit twenty-four hours a day throughout the dark, endless winter. It was said that if a home lost its fire during this time, misfortune would soon follow.
To appease the roaming spirits, food and drink would be placed outside their door. If not, the spirits would commit trickery for the slight.
Trick or Treating: It was said that fairies would dress as beggars, going door to door asking for food. Those who didn’t show them hospitality would be dealt with by trickery. As well, in later times when the holiday was christianized on All Souls Day, ‘soul cakes’ would be given to beggars in exchange for them praying for other’s dead loved ones. Food, ale and money were also given. In the UK, children would go door to door asking for pennies on ‘Guy Fawkes Day’.
Apple Bobbing: The Apple is the symbol of the Roman goddess Pomona. It was thought that Apple Bobbing and peeling might foretell the future on this night of Samhain.