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The Lore of Halloween

by Cate Cavanagh

As a student of history I have always found the origins of traditions very interesting.  The origins of Halloween is among the most interesting as it finds its origin in the old Celtic belief system known today as Wicca.  Halloween falls on the Wiccan New Year called Samhaim (called So-wen) which in essence observes the end of summer  and observes oncoming winter as integral to life regeneration in the spring.  Since the old Celtic religions, like other earth based belief systems, focused on nature and its cycles for survival Samhaim is both an ending and beginning, similar to death and rebirth most religions today preach.  As a celebration of nature’s never ending renewal of the life that feeds and supports people and the earth, Samhaim celebrated impending darkness after the light and harvest of summer after which life would reemerge again in the spring.  With this in mind, Samhaim was a religious time of fasting, reflection, meditation and prayer as well as a time for casting spells to end hardship, pain, illness and hunger.  It was believed the worlds of the living and the dead merged on this day and it was in order to maintain peace between the two worlds that most of our Halloween traditions evolved such as trick or treat.

Fear of the roaming dead brought about many Halloween practices but first note this interesting fact.  The Catholic Church changed All Saints Day, which was in May to October 31(All Hallow’s Eve) in order to appease a still pagan oriented congregation.  It is purported that the Halloween customs we follow today is a result of the massive Irish famine immigration.

Many of our traditions stem from Irish or other Celtic countries.  Take the Jack o’ Lantern.  In Ireland, it was said “Jack” was a mean drunkard who used to beat his wife.  He played too many tricks on the devil to save his soul.  Well, when Jack died, he was too bad to get into Heaven and the devil was too annoyed at him to let him into Hell either.  The devil gave Jack a burning coal which Jack placed inside a partially eaten turnip, called a bogie.  From that day forward, Jack wanders the earth with this lantern looking for a place to rest his soul.  Since ancient times, the pumpkin has replaced the turnip.

Costumes and masks were used for protection against spirits and despite conversion to Christianity, people remained afraid of All Hallows Eve, the one day it was believed spirits were allowed to freely walk the earth.  In order to not be recognized by these spirits, people would leave their homes at night incognito in masks and misleading regalia.

In ancient Ireland the Druid priests of Muck Olla would go to farms begging for food and money for their houses of worship.  If farmers did not pay, barns would be burned or animals would disappear.  These incidents were believed to have been caused by the god, “Muck” from which the word muck has come to mean trouble and chaos.  Acts such as these evolved into the threat of ‘tricks’ (or pranks) if treats were not given.  Spain also had its tradition.  On All Hallows Eve, people would place cakes and nuts on graves to bribe the devil.  In Belgium kids begged for money to buy cakes to eat.  Each eaten cake was believed to relieve the suffering of a soul.  In Ireland, food were specially prepared for the dead.  Often a large amount of food was set aside not to be touched by anyone until the ritual period was over.  In Wales, the wealthy in a community would put together a communal feast while the poor, representing the community’s dead, would ask for food in the name of dead ancestors.

Favorite fall foods that begin with October 31 include apples and nuts.  In ancient times, apples were considered a symbol of love and fertility.  The Norse ate them for youth and what we call bobbing for apples was originally called ‘snapping for apples”.  If a man got an apple then it mean the woman he loved, loved him back.  In Scotland, nuts were used to determine whether lovers would be happy together.  They would take two nuts and name them after each other.  They would then toss them into a fire.  If the nuts burned to ashes, they would enjoy a happy life.  If they popped apart or crackled, their lives would have hardship and quarrel.

Are you going or throwing a Halloween party?  Did you ever think of how far back this celebration goes or why you give treats to avoid a trick, or how wearing masks and costumes got started? Enjoy your party and festivities safely and remember no party should go without a cake magic recipe.

Make any kind of cake.  Put a ring, thimble, a very tiny figurine and a coin inside the cooked cake in different locations.  Some people will get one of these items in their slice.

The ring means they will be married within a year, the thimble means you will never marry.  The doll means lots of children and the coin means prosperity.

While you are at it, you might want to try this popular ‘spell’ for money that is best done around Halloween.  You need a gold coin and a pair of old shoes.  Holding up the coin in daylight and say “what I see, may it increase, so I may have financial peace.”  Place the gold coin in the old left shoe, then put both shoes on.  Walk clockwise in a circle three times.  Take the shoes off and place them in a T shape where they can’t be disturbed.  Do the same thing for three two days.  On the third day take out the gold coin from the left shoe and tape the coin in the most worn pair of shoes.  Do not spend the coin as it will bring you luck!!  ONLY DO THIS SPELL IF MONEY IS NEEDED NOT OUT OF GREED!

If you are single, put a glass of water by your bed.  It said the person you dream of on All Hallow’s Eve is the person you will marry. 

Warning:  since the dead roam this night, you might want to consider  sleeping with a mask on!

Great Halloween Ghost Stories Here

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