All Hallows History
And 5 Ancient Halloween Traditions We Need to Bring Back
Halloween dates back over 2,000 years to the Celtic New Year festival of Samhain (pronounced ‘Sow-in’) celebrated on November 1st.
The end of the summer and harvest seasons and beginning of winter were associated with withering crops and human death. It was a time believed to be synonymous with change and mysticism and a blurring between the world of the dead and the realm of the living. That blurring of realms made it easier for seers to predict the coming seasons which, for a people entirely dependent on the volatile nature of the seasons for survival, held incredible weight and shaped their lives and actions for the year to come. Portions of these beliefs would be transferred into Christianity in the form of ‘All Souls Day’ and later carried through to the celebration of ‘The Day of the Dead’.
To celebrate the night, all other fires were extinguished as huge sacred bonfires would be light where people gathered to celebrate the harvest and make tributes to the gods for favorable seasons to come. Alters were built to those lost and in honor of times to come while people dressed in costumes of animal hide to ward off malignant spirits and communicate more easily with the benign spirits. At the end of the night, all the hearths were re-lit from the dying flames of the bonfire, carrying all the goodwill and fortune gathered in that night into their homes for the seasons to come.
Many of the ancient traditions have long since been forgotten, but it might be about time to bring a few of them back…
Five Traditions to Revive
There are few days of the year in which I am likely to refuse a good bonfire. It is a wild and joyous expression of life which, I believe, is vastly underrated.
And keep in mind, I say this living in South Florida, where temperatures rarely dip below eighty degrees. But hey, who can say no to a bonfire?
While I am about as likely to have my future told as I am to win my two dollars back in the lottery, there is something about the magical night of the autumn equinox, when the veils between life and death are so precariously balanced, that makes the idea of asking what the cards hold for us so much more intriguing… I might buy a lotto ticket too while I am at it – you never know.
In western culture we too often regard death with sadness and mourning, missing out on time we’ve lost with loved ones. But in other cultures it isn’t always the same. Building alters to the dead isn’t about spooky skeletons and morbid rituals, but remembering the LIFE that was lived and the time shared together.
Build alters, tiny and tucked into your balcony or enormous and reaching for the starry sky’s, to honor the dead, to honor the living, and to honor LIFE and everything that encompasses.
The New Year
Let’s face it, how many of us, by the time we get to October, has more or less given into the idea of being goal-oriented in favor of getting through the next day. Whatever goals we set last January (statistically speaking usually weight-related) have been abandoned and all thoughts of trying again are set aside until January.
But Why? Every day should count, regardless of where it falls on the calendar. But if you do need a deadline to help keep you on track, why not this one? Samhain was the ancient New Year and, more than that, it was a magical night of remembrance, focus, and intention setting.
In the pre-dusk hours of the late afternoon reflect on all that had happened in the year before. In the setting of twilight, focus on who you are, where you are and what you want to accomplish. And as the darkness settles around you, enveloping you in the new year, set your intentions for the days and nights to come, channeling that focus into sheer willpower and using it to move forward with confidence.
As a general rule of thumb, I am pro any celebration at all that involves a good feast! Now I’m not talking your vaguely awkward hour of forced familial contact at thanksgiving dinner. I am talking a 6 to 12-hour non-stop boisterous endless PARTY with food and drinks and music carrying on long into the night! Think ‘Thor’s party in Valhalla’ and you might have an idea. All the better if said feast takes place around a royally burning bonfire.
These are five of the ancient traditions that I would love to bring into the modern century. But there are so many more. We are talking about celebrations dating back thousands of years. What would you bring back?
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