What are the origins and the spiritual meaning of Halloween? The history of this scariest holiday goes back to the Celtic tribes of the British. Halloween has a mix of Christian, Roman, and pagan origins. What not many people know is that Christianity inadvertently led to Halloween being associated with all things that were spooky. The trick-or-tree element combined with begging for candy comes from Guy Fawkes Night, which takes place in the UK on November 5th.
Halloween meaning content
Pagan origins From Halloween
So let’s explore the origins of this darkest of all holidays. We already looked at the autumn equinox (Mabon) in my Libra post. It is one of the most important pagan holidays of the year on the wheel of the year. The astrological point of cross-quarter festivals is always 15º of the sign occupied by the sun. So Samhain would be 15º Scorpio. (Naturally!)
Halloween then begins with Samhain, which is celebrated on November 1st. The association with death comes from the fact that the night hours in the northern hemisphere are longer than the daylight hours at this time of year.
The sun is lower in the sky day by day. The nights are drawing in. There will be a harvest festival that will take us through the long, cold winter months. But if the harvest was bad, you could starve to death. So this time of year was all about life and death.
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The Celts & Samhain
The Celts believed that during this transition from light to dark, time and space became permeable. So much so that ghosts of the dead and the past could merge with our reality. At the same time, we were able to travel through time ourselves. You are traveling to other dimensions, could be on purpose or, if you have a weak grip on reality, you could accidentally wander into the otherworld.
The root of all Halloween celebrations lies in the stories of people on Samhain nite trapped in the underworld. And those of the dead who appear among the living. Of course, this reflects very strongly what is happening to nature.
The plants shrink and die, the leaves dry up and fall to the adults. The autumn colors are intense red, orange, rust, gold and rich yellow tones.
The glow of the campfire reflects these warm colors. Of course, the characteristic orange pumpkins harvested at the end of October eventually became the hallmark of this holiday in modern times.
Roman Lemuria and exorcism of the spirits
The connection between Christianity and paganism is fascinating. Just as Greek myths evolved into Roman myths, so does our Halloween story. In Roman times there was a scary festival called Lemuria. (Interesting name, as there are other associations with this word that I don’t have time for here, but look for Lemuria.)
Lemuria was celebrated on May 9th, 11th and 13th. The Romans performed rites to drive ghosts and malevolent demons from their homes. The people offered beans to appease them. It was customary for the landlord to go barefoot at night and toss black beans over his shoulder.
Witch-like designs for Halloween
The rest of the family clashed together and shouted, “Ghosts of my fathers and ancestors, be gone!” As a result of the evacuation of evil spirits, the month of May was considered very unhappy for the marriage.
“Mense Maio Malae Nebunt” (translated means “bad girls get married in May!) The feast day later became“ All Saints ”around 610 in honor of the holiest of all Christians
Halloween, All Saints’ Day & Christianity
The holiday became so successful that the church leaders decided to postpone this date to November 1st. The motivation behind the move was to take the heat away from the very popular Samhain festival that fell on the same day.
We can see very close connections between Samhain and All Saints’ Day on the Mexican Day of the Dead, which is celebrated on the same days as Halloween and comes from the Spanish colonization of South America.
“During the multi-day holiday, family and friends gather to pray for and remember deceased friends and family members. It is generally presented as a day of solemnity and not a day of mourning…. The celebration has always been family-oriented, and the idea of having a city-wide parade of people in Halloween-like costumes didn’t start until 2016, a year after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer invented a Mexico City Day of the Dead parade for the James -Bond Film Specter. “~ Wikipedia
What happened at the Samhain festival?
After the last summer harvest, the villages teamed up with their druid priests to light a giant fire with a wheel to light the flames. The wheel signified the turn of the year and the sun’s journey through the sky. Cattle were sacrificed and the celebrants took a flame home from the campfire to light their home hearth.
Some documents mention drinking copious amounts of alcohol, indulgent feasting and partying. You can see why after the hard harvest work people would look forward to this huge party. This pleasure is reflected in modern Halloween, when children stuff each other with candy in their faces.
The monstrous side of Halloween also originated in Samhain. The Celts believed that the barriers between the empires were porous at that time. The Celts made offerings to the fairies and disguised themselves as animals to prevent them from being abducted by these interdimensional beings. In the Middle Ages, the fire festivals became a tradition and were intended to protect the family home from cheeky fairies and witches. We think fairies are cute, benign creatures, but apparently the Celts believed otherwise!
Jack o ‘lantern Myth & Pumpkins
The pumpkin tradition began with the humble turnip. Children carved turnips into faces, hung them on a string and filled them with charcoal. The lantern was of Irish origin and was called the Jack O Lantern, named after a man named ‘Stingy Jack’. According to legend, Jack took the devil out for a drink but refused to pay.
Jack convinced the devil to turn into coin form to pay for their drinks. Stingy Jack wanted to keep the money, however, so he put the demonic coin in his pocket next to a silver crucifix. The cross prevented the devil from returning to his body shape. Eventually Jack freed the devil with a promise that he would not bother him for a year and that he would not claim his soul when he died.
Deals with the devil
Years went by with stingy Jack who got the devil to steal for him and then keep him in check with a cross. But when Jack died, God wasn’t impressed with the tricks, so he banished Jack from heaven. Of course, Jack was banished from hell too, so he only wandered through the earth with a burning coal lantern to light his path.
England and Scotland made their own versions of the creepy face carvings to ward off “Stingy Jack” and other lost demons. The English used beetroot, but when they came to the US they found that the giant American pumpkins were more than an ideal substitute for their tiny British root vegetables.
Origin of the name Halloween
The transition from Samhain to what we know as Halloween comes from the merging of pagan traditions with Christian ones. Pagan Samhain fell on the night before Christian All Saints Day. In England this day was known as “All Hallows Day” so of course the night before was called “All Hallows Evening”. This sentence was shortened to ‘All Hallows Even’, which in turn was shortened for Halloween!
The Church took another step to cement its claim to Halloween by adding on 2. So this is where the creepy come in, as the common people tend to be more corrupt than the heavenly saints! Average dead tend to sin more.
We then return to the Celtic notion of the thinning of the veil and the dark portal between life and death. So priests urged Christians to pray for the souls trapped between heaven and hell in this lowest region called purgatory. If enough people prayed for these poor, unhappy, stuck souls, they would be lifted up to heaven and saved.
Halloween can be cathartic as it lets us play out our dark side, and it’s exciting too. Halloween inspires the naughty kid in all of us. At the same time, you can see that Halloween has brought to the surface all the fears and dark sides of humanity over the centuries. On Halloween we learn to live and tame our evil twin and to accept the ghosts of our past. It is an exercise of transmutation in which we face our demons and make fun of them. Laughter kills parasites!