Monday, September 13, 2010

The Autumn Passage of Halloween

Halloween, one of the world's oldest holidays, (and one of our favorites) and is growing more popular throughout the world. 

This autumn passage is a tradition, All Souls' Day, the third day of the three-day Hallowmas observance, is the most important part of the celebration for many people.
Halloween," actually began its origins from within in the Catholic Church. It comes from a perversion of All Hallows Eve. November 1, "All Hollows Day" or "All Saints Day, is a Catholic day of observance in honor of saints. But, in the 5th century BC, in Celtic Ireland, summer officially ended on October 31. The holiday was called Samhain which means "end of summer, the Celtic New year.

  Let's look at some of the customs and how they may have started.

Trick for Treat

There are probably several origins to this. During Samhain, the Druids believed that the dead would play tricks and cause panic and destruction.  So, the local folks would give the Druids food as they visited their homes as an "protection offering" of sorts.
There's also an Irish peasant practice going door to door to collect money, breadcake, cheese, eggs, butter, apples, in preparation for the festival of St. Columb Kill.
Additionally, there is a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2nd, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes" made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The idea here was, the more soul cakes collected, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the "soul cake" givers. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and this prayer, even by strangers, could move things along for the soul's passage to heaven.

Halloween is also known for "barnbrack", something like a fruitcake that can be bought in stores or baked at home.  As the story goes, this cake, can foretell the eater's future. If a ring is found, it means that the person will soon be wed; a piece of straw means that you would have a prosperous year.

Bobbing for Apples

Some say the custom of bobbing for apples dates all the way back to pre-Christian Ireland and the festival of Samhain. It has also been associated with Pomona, the ancient Roman goddess of fruits, trees, and gardens, in whose honor a festival was supposedly held each year on November first, even though there seems to be  evidence to support any of this,  and it appears to stand on shaky historical ground.
We do know for certainty that the practice of bobbing for apples goes back at least a few hundred years, beginning in the British Isles and that it originally had something to do with fortune telling.
British author W. H. Davenport Adams, wrote about bobbing for apples  in his 1902 book, Curiosities of Superstition:
[The apples] are thrown into a tub of water, and you endeavor to catch one in your mouth as they bob round and round in provoking fashion. When you have caught one, you peel it carefully, and pass the long strip of peel thrice, sunwise, round your head; after which you throw it over your shoulder, and it falls to the ground in the shape of the initial letter of your true love's name

The Witch's Broomstick

The name comes from the Saxon wica, meaning wise one. When setting out for a Sabbath, witches rubbed a sacred ointment onto their skin. This gave them a feeling of flying, and if they had been fasting they felt even giddier. Some witches rode on horseback, but poor witches went on foot and carried a broom or a pole to aid in vaulting over streams. In England when new witches were initiated they were often blindfolded, smeared with flying ointment and placed on a broomstick. The ointment would confuse the mind, speed up the pulse and numb the feet.
The "insane root" which Shakespeare spoke of is a member of the Mandrake (yes, just like Harry Potter) and other plants of the nightshade family. They contain alkaloids that block nerve impulses, which may lead to hallucinations. There are those who think the witches ointment may have something to do with plant species.


Irish children used to carve out potatoes or turnips and light them for their Halloween gatherings. They celebrated Jack, a shifty Irish villain so wicked that neither God nor the Devil wanted him. Rejected by both the sacred and profane, he wandered the world endlessly looking for a place to rest, his only warmth a glittering candle in a rotten turnip.
During the  Irish Potato Famine (1845-50) many Irish immigrated to the Americas. These immigrants brought  their traditions of Halloween and Jack o'Lanterns, but turnips were not as readily available as back home. So they replaced the turnip with, you guessed it, the pumpkin.
Halloween  Mask

From the beginning people wore masks when natural disasters struck. They believed that the demons who had brought these disasters would be frightened away by the scary masks. Even after the festival of Samhain had merged with Halloween, Europeans felt uneasy during this time of the year. Food was stored preparing for the winter and their homes were warm and comfortable. The jealous, cold, envious ghosts were outside, in the neighborhoods and people who went out after dark often wore masks to keep from being recognized.

Black Cats

Here in the Voodoo Kitchen we are partial to black cats, we have five.
While the fall festival of Samhain which was celebrated by the ancient Celts of Ireland and is the ancestor of our present day Halloween, it did not however involve sorcery or devil worship.
Samhain did involve a belief that Oct 31st, which marked the changing of the season from summer to fall, and during a brief time the natural barrier between our world and the spirit world was temporarily lifted allowing spirits of the dead to return. Once back in the world many believed that the spirits of the dead would enter the bodies of people and animals and, for some reason, a myth became a belief  that returning spirits were attracted to black cats.
There really was no connection between black cats and witches until the Puritans came to America.
The deeply religious Puritans who settled in the New England colonies saw the devil and evil everywhere. Because of their association with witches, black cats were also looked upon as evil and therefore, were not to be tolerated. While the poor women accused of witchcraft in seventeenth century Salem, Massachusetts and neighboring colonies, were at least given a trial before being executed, the poor black cats didn't even get a trial.

We now have our countdown now at the top of the blog.
This will help you get prepared for this special day!