Halloween is upon us, so it is only fitting to do a write-up about it.
Today, October 31 is commemorated by dressing up in assorted costumes, decorating with pumpkins and bats and other spooky themed objects. Kids go door to door for treats and adults get together for their own kinds of fun — partying and drinking.
But how did we get here?
The last of the harvests were brought in, consisting mostly of fruits and vegetables like apples, squash, tree nuts, and other various late season produce. As it was also the end of the grazing season, the weaker stock would be slaughtered and served up at a feast celebrating the transition from the Light half of the year to the Dark half.
Not only were the days getting shorter and the nights getting colder, but it was widely believed that the barrier between life and death became it’s thinnest on All Hallows’ Eve. As such, it made sense to honor the ancestors on that night as well.
Places would be set at the table for the recently deceased, while tombs and crypts would be opened and lit with torches. Candles would be placed in the west windows to guide the dead, as well.
However, if benevolent spirits could traverse the Living World, then so could the malevolent. Jack-o-lanterns made of turnips would be placed in the windows to protect against ill-will, and apples would be buried along the roadsides to sooth spirits who had no living family.
Despite the risks of rogue spirits, the villagers would go out and about caroling. They would dress up to help disguise themselves/blend in with the wandering spirits, and when they would knock on the doors they would be given treats to “pacify” these wandering spirits. These would consist of cakes, or alcohol for the adults.
All Hallows’ Eve was also time for cleansing and divination.
A pair of communal bonfires would be lit, and humans and livestock would walk between them. Wishes for self-improvement, like ridding bad habits, would be written down and tossed into the fire later into the evening. The bones of the slaughtered livestock would also be tossed into the fires as a blessing for the new year.
Divination would also be practiced, mostly by the unmarried girls. Hazelnuts would be used to find out what boys liked them, and which ones did not. They would toss apple peels over their shoulders to depict the first initial of their future husband. Likewise, egg whites would be suspended in water for the purpose of seeing how many children they could expect.
By the end of the night, the villagers would write their names on stones and toss them into the bonfires as they collected flame to light their own fires in the home. By the next day, when the bonfires had burned out, they would be gathered for the purpose of studying their condition. This would then tell them of their personal fortunes in the next year.
The traditions have changed a lot over the years. What has not been co-opted by the Catholic Church, or the candy companies, has been maligned as Satanic. With the Church’s views of Witchcraft and Divination, it is truly no wonder why.
In whichever manner you should view Halloween, I do sincerely wish you and yours a safe evening. May it be free from any and all tricks, malignant spooks and specters, and bad magic.