The Dark Origins of Halloween

There is no single Halloween. The name itself, Halloween, comes from Hallowtide, also sometimes called Hallowmass, encompassing the festivals of All Souls’ on the 31st of October and All Saints on the 1st of November.

The ancient Celts celebrated it for three days before and after the part of the year that is now November 1st, and the Elizabethans observed Hallowtide from October 31st to just after November 5th, eventually all but combining the whole thing with their celebrations of bonfire night. But even that isn’t the whole story.

You might have heard Halloween called Samhain, or Sowan.

The quaint idea leaps to mind of a dark Pagan festival, brought from prehistory and forced to hide in Christian clothes… and the festival was dark: this was the dying of the summer, when the leaves started falling and food would become more scarce.

Most importantly, the night would come gathering in.

Darkness was a frightening thing before the era of streetlights: a moonless night was effectively blackness.

Even walking abroad could be fatal with travellers being killed as they fell down embankments and into ditches, without the predation of wolves and bandits. Strange shapes and noises would haunt the darkness.

As the world ground to a halt the ancient Celts needed something to get it started again, a ritual act that would kick the world’s momentum back into gear.

This was the night of the 31st.

In Ireland, folklore insisted that all fires would be extinguished for the night. Ulstermen and women would gather together, clustering around the leaders and kin.

In their crowded fortresses of light they would drink and dance in defiance of the darkness.

Nature’s slowing momentum meant that the world of man was weaker than ever.

A fragment written at the time says, “Any Ulsterman who did not come Samhain night to Emain (a fortress of the Irish Kings) would lose his reason and his… tomb would be and stone would be erected the next morning.”

READ MORE ON THE SPOOKY ISLES

Leave a comment

Filed under From Spooky Isles, Strange History

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s