Halloween, a night to laugh at death and the monsters of our deepest fears.
The spooky origins of Halloween lay in the Roman and Celtic festivals of the dead, as well as in Christianity's All Saints Day. In ancient Rome, the festival of Lemuria was held to ward off the vengeful spirits and Gods of the underworld. Lemuria was celebrated on the 13th of May, but as Rome became Christianized, in one of the early examples of syncretism, Pope Boniface IV made the 13th of May All Saints Day in 610 A.D.
By 740 A.D., the ancient Roman religions were all but extinct and the focus of the Church had turned to the British Isles. The Druids, the priestly class of the Celts, held their own harvest festival and festival of the dead, Samhain, on October 31. So it was that, in about 740 A.D., the Church moved All Saints Day to November 1.
It is to the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain that Halloween owes the most. Samhain, was not just a harvest festival, but it was also the the night that marked the change from the "light half" of the year to the "dark half." According to Celtic belief, Samhain was a night when the boundary between the living and the dead was at its weakest, with ghosts and demons able to cross into our realm, while some unlucky of us made the trip in the other direction, never to return. It was a night marked by bonfires and, evidence suggests, human sacrifice. So if a modern day Druid invites you to the ritual burning of a wicker man, make sure your invite is to be as an observer - not an occupant.
Samhain also gave us some other traditions. One is the wearing of a costume, which they did during Samhain to confuse the demons. A second was the carving of turnips and using them as lanterns to ward off the demons.
And lastly, trick or treating has its roots in All Saints Day. During medieval times, children would go "souling" on All Saints Day, asking for gifts of food and treats, in return for which they would pray for the souls caught in Purgatory.
All of those traditions have been combined in the melting pot of America to give us our modern Halloween.
Best & Spookiest Links:
At Hot Air, a hilarious video of Stephen Crowder using Halloween to teach young children about the evils of redistribution of wealth - with some sage commentary from Ed Morissey.
At PJM, a disturbing list of "The 7 Creepiest Serial Killers In American History." Freddy and Jason are fiction. Those listed at PJM are the real monsters, and far scarier.
Have a happy and safe Halloween.