THE ORIGINS OF SCARY FEST
“There is magic in the night when pumpkins glow by moonlight.”
It is nothing spectacular as much as Halloween, since this fest combines the elements of myth, cult and religion. At the end of the day or at the beginning of the scary night, we have a wonderful collage of fears, esoteric feelings, superstition, fashion and lunacy. Somehow, on Halloween, everything could be real or at least, it seems to be.
The growing popularity of Halloween around the world comes from the exploded movie industry with the fictional character of serial killer, Michael Myers who kills people always on Halloween night. The Halloween series of so-called slasher films is something like a pop culture of our times. When public in North America adopted the Halloween as the new celebration on the night of October 31, the rest of the globe has claimed that it is a demonic rite. Nevertheless, it took not so long and Halloween is accepted as the modern fest, interesting event and trend worldwide.
What is behind the Halloween and how this dark fest has crawled into the conservative religious societies and merged with the official believes? Very simply, the Halloween has colored the strict religion with occultism and such a mixture is attractive for majority of people.
Halloween has roots in ancient European traditions, back to the Celtic festival of Samhain:”… when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating and carving jack-o-lanterns. Around the world, as days grow shorter and nights get colder, people continue to usher in the season with gatherings, costumes and sweet treats.”
Celts who lived on the region of Ireland, United Kingdom and Northern France did celebrate the Samhain as their new year, on November 1. That was the end of summer and the autumn’s harvest was a right period to open a new book. The winter has been always liked with cold and dark as well as with human deaths. Since Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the doors between this and afterlife world are opened and that lost souls seek for a shelter, cause problems or endanger people. Druids as Celtic priests tried to please those ghosts and to use their presence to predict the future for community during the difficult and cold times. They built sacred bonfires, so the locals, dressed in costumes, can burn crops or sacrifice animals, playing with reading each other’s fortunes.
Later, with expansion of Christianity, the old Celtic beliefs have been replaced with the official Church celebration of All Souls Day and the worship of dead. The shaping of Halloween that we know today happened in the USA, through the colonization and vibrating of many different cults and urban myths, ancient religious traditions and new and puritan Christianity. It has been condemned and discussed, banned and cherished but never forgotten. Halloween has just changed the pulse and adjusted to the new challenges within the societies. Today, it is the second largest commercial holiday after Christmas and according to statistics, Americans spend $6 billion annually on Halloween.
How we can define Halloween nowadays? It is everything because it has traditional roots in ancient Celtic beliefs, religious origins in the Christian celebration of dead and the touch of modern world and urban myths. In America, people often wear costumes and shout always “TRICK OR TREAT” but many of them do not know really, why they are doing that:” The American Halloween tradition of ‘trick-or-treating’ probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called ‘soul cakes’ in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as ‘going a-souling’ was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food and money.”
The idea about dressing into the different costumes that represent evil forces comes directly from Celts who used to practice this in the period of wandering ghosts. It is stated that if we dress into the evil costume, the dangerous spirits will not attack us because they will think we share their sad destiny.
Halloween is more than TRICK OR TREAT and monstrous image on the evening of October 31. This deep philosophy cannot be simplified with Hollywood scary movies or aggressive subcultural trend of violating the society. Halloween is the proof that we are still having within us the Celtic spirit, the evolutionary piece of homo ludens and the appetite for dark, mystical and unknown things. We are oriented to the light but we are still obsessed with the darkness and we recognize it as it comes to us. We celebrate it and that is not wrong, that is just something we need sometimes, in the world full of risks and threatens.
In the Holy Bible, in Ephesians 5:11 it is written: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” In other words, it is not good to dance with the forces of evil. I would say it is not bad either because people need their chances to let adrenaline plays, to feel the fear and to defeat it. During the Halloween, it is not about the witches and zombies we are imitating, it is about the fear we have and the possibility to challenge it and to bring it to the light. Isn’t that what Holy Bible suggests too? Exposing the works of darkness is mission of all that celebrate Halloween and let the sinister pumpkin glows in the lonely Hallows night. Only then, in the middle of nowhere, the spirits of the both worlds find their peace.
3 thoughts on “HALLOWEEN – TRICK OR TREAT”
Awesome and informative. I knew some but learned a lot I did not know. Excellent article!!!
Sarah’s informative and interesting article reminded me of Obon (お盆); the Nipponese Buddhist custom to honour the spirits of one’s ancestors. This Buddhist-Confucian custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves, and when the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars. Fundamentally, it is a ‘festival of the dead’.
Bon Odori originates from the story of Maha Maudgalyayana; a disciple of the Buddha who used his supernatural powers to look upon his deceased mother. He discovered she had fallen into ‘The Realm of Hungry Ghosts’ and was suffering. Greatly disturbed, he went to Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from this realm. Buddha instructed him to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. The disciple did this and saw his mother’s release. He began to see the true nature of her past selflessness and the many sacrifices that she had made for him. Happy because of his mother’s release and grateful for his mother’s kindness, he danced with joy. From this dance of joy comes Bon Odori; a time in which ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered and appreciated.
Families sent their ancestor’s spirits back to their permanent dwelling place under the guidance of fire: this rite was known as sending fire (Okuribi). Fire marks the commencement as well as the closing of the festival.
The Ghost Festival ( Chinese, 盂 蘭 節 ) is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival held in Asian countries. In Chinese culture, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called ‘Ghost Day’ and the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits (including those of the deceased ancestors) come out from the lower realm. Distinct from both the Qingming Festival (in spring) and Double Ninth Festival (in autumn) in which living descendants pay homage to their deceased ancestors, during The Ghost Festival, the deceased are believed to visit the living.
On the fifteenth day, the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are open and both Taoists and Buddhists perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Activities during the month include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense and burning joss paper; a papier-mâché form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors. Elaborate meals (often vegetarian meals) are served with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family treating the deceased as if they were still living. Ancestor worship is what distinguishes The Qingming Festival from The Ghost Festival, because the latter includes paying respect to all the deceased; including the same and younger generations, while the former only includes older generations. Other festivities may include, buying and releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the lost ghosts and spirits of the ancestors and other deities.
What an amazing article, Sarah ! Just Beautiful !
There are two sides to Halloween: The more superficial side, which is all about dressing up, costumes, candy, and pumpkin carving, and the more profound side, which is about spirituality !
Regarding the former, I will always cherish celebrating Halloween and having fun in all the places I lived in, from Michigan to Massachusetts and California !
There’s nothing like a cold Halloween night in Michigan when the air has that bite to it, it’s dark, and the kids are walking around and trick-or-treating in their costumes !
Whereas regarding the latter side, i.e. the more profound side of Halloween, it is clear that mankind has been attempting for thousands of years to ward off the evil spirits in so many ways and so many forms such as exorcism and other ceremonial sessions.
Thank you so much, Sarah, for shedding light on this very intriguing holiday ! As always, your writing is beautiful and your illustrations are mesmerizing !