Halloween, or the eve of All Hallows (All Saints Day), would appear to be something to do with the Christian religion but nothing could be further from the truth. It is, in fact, a vestige of the old Irish pagan religion and celebrates the feast of Samhain. Samhain is ancient and, with Beltane, was one of the most important festivals in the Celtic year.
At Samhain, people would celebrate the harvest and they would feast and light fires to acknowledge the coming of winter. They also believed that it was a very special time when this world and the spirit world could touch each other. Spirits and fairies known the Aos Si could pass freely into this world and roam around. They also believed that their ancestors could rise from the dead and they would even lay places at their tables for the dead.
When the Irish tribes called the Scoti settled in the west of Scotland, they brought their religion with them and so, the Autumn fire festival became a major event in the Gaelic world. However, the Catholic Church were fairly good at renaming pagan festivals and subsuming them into their religion and so they created All Saints Day. The Anglo-Saxons had something similar as their November was called Blodmonath and was a time to slaughter livestock and feast. In England, on November 5th, they celebrate the execution of Guy Fawkes who failed to blow up Parliament with King James I in it. So, just like the Anglo-Saxons, in November they celebrate with bonfires. I’d guess that, if they had tried to blow up Parliament in May or July, then I very much doubt if the commemoration would have lasted so long.
It seems that every culture has their fire festivals and I remember when I lived in Birmingham being surprised to see fireworks being set off a week or two before November 5th. However, this had nothing to do with Guy Fawkes but was the local Hindu community celebrating their ‘Festival of Light’ known as Diwali.
However, Halloween seems to have trumped the lot. As far as I can gather, Halloween made it to America along with Irish and Scottish immigrants and it took off from there. Like everything these days, it has become commercialised and packaged up for consumption by the public.
And yet it is worth remembering what Samhain was all about. It was celebrated by people who were dominated by the natural world around them. A bad winter could kill both them and their livestock yet, at the start of this trying time, people would eat, make merry and fill the nights with light in defiance of the fact that the next spring might not find them all alive.
We are once again living in trying times and the forces of darkness are all around us. Anti-democratic forces, dark lies, cynicism and those who care more about money than people surround us, threatening our very survival. We can either bow to the darkness or do something. Light a light. Be kind, be truthful and don’t hate. And remember…
“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
St. Francis Of Assisi