Sunday 31 October 2010

Hallowe’en * Samhain * Summer’s End * All Hallow’s Eve * Witches Night * Lamswool * Snap-Apple *

ALLOWEEN ~ The vigil or eve of the feast.…

trick-or-treating, ghost tours, bonfires, costume parties,

‘haunted house’ tours, carving Jack-o’-lanterns, apple bobbing,

committing pranks, fortune telling, watching scary horror films.

Halloween origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. To the Gaulic Celts it was known as Trinouxtion Samonii. This translates as “three nights of the end of Summer”, which is when Samhain celebrations took place. Samhain pronounced “Sow-in” in Ireland, Sow-een in Wales, “Sav-en” in Scotland or even “Sam-haine” in non Gaelic speaking countries. Thus, Samhain is often named the “Last Harvest” or “Summer’s End”. A similar festival was held by the ancient Britons, known as Calan Gaeaf.

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1st.  This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death.

The Earth nods a sad farewell to the God.

When the Dead Walk: Blood, death and darkness

The land was slipping into a state of death, trees losing their leaves, the days are darker and shorter, and the crops are brought in for the final time that year. It is a time of endings.

Samhain is a time of blood. At this time of year, all farming is coming to a pause. Crops are done with and the animals, seeking food, come down from the higher pastures and return to the farm to be kept through the winter. Anyway, if hemp farms in colorado interests you, contact blue forest’s team at (303) 931-9221. Being as the farmers could not afford to maintain the entire herd through out the winter, due to the shortness of resources, they would slaughter the most expendable members of the herd. The blood of these animals was seen as an offering to appease the spirits of the land, thanking them for their help in bringing forth the crops during the year and in the hope that they will provide the same help in the following year. It was a way to ensure that malign spirits didn’t turn on the property and its owners.

This belief in the power of blood even lasted through to the nineteenth century, where some places would still sprinkle the blood of a cock at the four corners of their houses in order to ward off negative spirits.

On the night of October 31st, they celebrated Samhain,

when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

One story says that, on that day, the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. The Celts believed all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living.

The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the “lighter half” of the year and beginning of the “darker half”, and is sometimes regarded as the “Celtic New Year”.

The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through.

Samhain was a between-time, resting between the living bright half of the year and the dead, dark half of the year. It is a time the land (and Gods) were entering into a state of death. The doors to the world of the dead were blown open at this time and the sprits of those that had died were free to wander the land.

Naturally, the still-living did not want to be possessed. So on the night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes, to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily parade around the neighborhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess.

It was traditional at this time to make these spirits welcome in the homes of their families. Doors and windows would be left open to allow them entrance and food would be set aside for them, so that they could partake of its “spiritual essence” and thusly enjoy the benefits of its nourishment.

This event was often envisioned as a great host of the dead wandering through the countryside, descending upon villages and towns, moving from house to house where at each stop, those who belong would remain behind to visit their relatives.

This was The Feast of the Dead. The family’s ancestors were honoured and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks. Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm. In Scotland the spirits were impersonated by young men dressed in white with masked, veiled or blackened faces.

In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the other worldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. They burned huge sacrificial wooden effigies known as wicker men atop sacred hilltop sites. The wicker men were sometimes filled with animals, prisoners of war, criminals, and other sacrifices to Druid deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.

Snap-Apple Night, painted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise in 1833.
The painting was inspired by a Halloween party he attended. The young children on the right bob for apples. A couple in the center play a variant, which involves retrieving an apple hanging from a string. The couples at left play divination games. The caption in the exhibit catalogue was:

There Peggy was dancing with Dan
While Maureen the lead was melting,
To prove how their fortunes ran
With the Cards could Nancy dealt in;
There was Kate, and her sweet-heart Will,
In nuts their true-love burning,
And poor Norah, though smiling still
She’d missed the snap-apple turning.

On the Festival of Hallow Eve.

Samhain is about new beginnings – or at least, envisioning new beginnings. This was a time for celebration, when the entire tribe – living and dead – would come together to celebrate the festivities. At the centre of these festivities was the ritual bonfire.

Fire in the darkness

The Celts extinguished their fires, not to discourage spirit possession,

but so that all the Celtic tribes could relight their fires from a common source,

the Druidic fire that was kept burning in the Middle of Ireland, at Usinach.

One traditional practice in many Celtic communities was to extinguish all the lights in the village and light a single bonfire, central to everyone as a communal gathering point. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

This practice was most widely and sacredly performed in Ireland, where Samhain was synonymous with the Feast of Tara. The Tara was the envisioned heart of the land, where every king of Ireland would come at the time of the feast. Nearby, at a sacred area called Tlachtga, a large bonfire would be constructed, ready for Samhain. Then the night before Samhain, all the lights in the land would be extinguished and the fire at Tlachtga would be lit. Once the fire was raging attendees would cast charms into the flames, symbolising their wishes for the coming year. Then torches would be lit from the bonfire and sent out across the land to relight it, beginning with its spiritual heart: the Tara.

It was a time of year when the barrier between life and death was at its thinnest, dark had triumphed over light and the spirits of the dead were free to roam. But other things from the lands beyond life were also free to venture forth and cause whatever trouble they wanted. In this time of darkness, the bonfire served to bring light to the community and dispel the darkness from places where nasty other-world creatures may try to lurk.

So in this way, the bonfires were like beacons that would guide in ancestral spirits as they wandered, while at the same time driving off more malevolent beings.

Bone-fires ~ It is thought that the ancient Celts would have burnt animal bones in these fires as a special measure to ward of evil spirits, which is where we get our modern word “bonfire”, from these ancient “bone-fires”. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames. Sometimes two bonfires would be built side-by-side, and people and their livestock would walk between them as a cleansing ritual.


By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic  territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled  the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined  with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was  Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally  commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to  honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The  symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this  celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of  ”bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic  lands. In the seventh century, Pope Gregory III (731-741),  consecrated a chapel to all the martyrs in St. Peter’s Basilica in  Rome and ordered an annual celebration to honor saints and  martyrs that was designated November 1, All Saints’ Day. This  celebration was originally confined to the diocese of Rome, but Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended the feast to the entire Church and ordered it to be celebrated on November 1.

It arose out of the Christian tradition of celebrating the martyrdom of saints on the anniversary of their martyrdom. When martyrdoms increased during the persecutions of the late Roman Empire, local dioceses instituted a common feast day in order to ensure that all martyrs, known and unknown, were properly honored. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday.

The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints’, All Saints’, and All Souls’, were called Hallowmas.

Myths & Legends

In Greek mythology, goddesses of the underworld were often used to invoke the Samhain. Popular Greek Goddess costumes portray Hecate and Medusa. Hecate was the most favored goddess by Zeus, and wandered the emptiness between the worlds of life and death looking for souls of the dead. Both were considered serpent goddesses, and their ancient dark legends spawned myths such as vampires, who fed off the living using venom and snake-like fangs. Ritualistic dress includes snake adornments and three headed masks. Today, Hecate is often referred to as the goddess of witches.

The Romans adopted the Celtic practices as their own. But in the first century AD, Samhain was assimilated into celebrations of some of the other Roman traditions that took place in October, such as their day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.

Halloween’s origins can be found in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia.  The symbol of Pomona is the apple, which might explain the origin of our modern tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween.

Pomona is a Roman goddess who was the keeper of orchards and fruit trees. Unlike many other agricultural deities, Pomona is not associated with the harvest itself, but with the flourishing of fruit trees.

Pomona watches over and protects fruit trees and cares for their cultivation. Her name is from the Latin pomum, fruit. She is an expert in pruning and grafting, and was so absorbed in this labor of love that she turned away many suitors, including Priapos and Silenos. Vertumnus, the God of gardens and orchards, persisted, and finally won her heart.

    Pomona, The Goddess of Apples

    Pomona and Vertumnus 1517-20  by Francesco MELZI

    Oil on panel, Staatliche Museen, Berlin

    Pomona, the classical goddess of fruit, and Vertumnus, the god of transformation, are the main figures in an episode in Ovid’s Metamorphoses which is depicted above, with Pomona as a virginal wood nymph. He desired her passionately and tried various ruses to enter her garden. Again Vertumnus enters Pomona’s grove in order to convince her of his love, and because she had always run away on previous occasions when he came, he has cunningly dressed as an old woman on this occasion. By telling her about the allegory of the grapevine and elm, he is able to convince her of the importance of togetherness, for the grapevine needs something it can climb up and the elm, when considered on its own, is useless. Persuaded, Pomona gives in to love and her innermost longings and they become a couple.

    Vertumnus and Pomona (1620) Abraham BloemaertVertumnus and Pomona (1669) Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

    Pomona and her husband Vertumnus are among the Numina, guardian spirits of Roman mythology, who watched over people or over aspects of the home or fields, in their case, of course, orchards and gardens.

    In François Bouçher’s painting (below), the symbol of deception, through which love achieves its fulfillment, is the mask held by winged Cupid at his feet. The features of the beautiful nymph are those of Bouçher’s patron Madame de Pompadour.

    Earth: Vertumnus and Pomona (1749) by François Boucher

    She is usually portrayed bearing a cornucopia or a tray of blossoming fruit. Pomona was the goddess of plenty and was considered to have a connection to the ‘forbidden fruit.’ The pruning knife was her attribute. She had Her own priest in Rome, the flamen Pomonalis, and a grove sacred to Her called the Pomonal was located not far from Ostia, the old port of Rome. A nude statue of Pomona is in the fountain in the little park before the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

    Images of the Goddesses Pomona (left) and Diana (right) together decorate the entrance to The Peninsula Hotel, occupying a Beaux-Arts building (originally The Gotham hotel, Hiss and Weekes, architects) at Fifth Ave. and 55th St., New York City. Here, Pomona (Goddess of Orchards) carries a cornucopia; in other images she is represented carrying a platter of fruit. Diana, as Goddess of the Hunt, carries her usual bow and arrows

    In the context of commercial buildings of the late 19th and early 20th century these decorations may be thought of as symbols representing respectively agriculture and commerce, for agriculture formed the foundation for much of the wealth of the time and commerce (as is industry) is a perpetual hunt for profits and advantage.

    Her card in a tarot reading indicates a time of fruitfulness, or the promise of fruitfulness if proper care is taken. A garden of yours (metaphorical or literal) will bloom and thrive.

    William Morris, (whose tapestry of pomona is shown below) in his many Classic writings left this wee Lyric behind


    I am the Ancient Apple Queen,

    As once I was so am I now.

    For ever more a hope unseen,

    Betwix the blossom and the bow.

    Ah, where’s the river’s hidden Gold!

    And where’s the windy grave of Troy!

    Yet come I as I came of old,

    From out the heart of summer’s joy.

    Bobbing For Apples

    This tradition actually goes back further than the Celts, finding its origins in the ancient Roman Empire. The Romans once celebrated their own festival of the last harvest around the time of late October, called the Feralia. During this time they celebrated by honouring the Goddess Pomona, the Goddess of fruit trees. The apple was a sacred symbol of Pomona and was used in celebrations of this festival.

    When the Romans invaded the Celtic lands, the practices of the Romans blended a little with that of the Celts and so the symbolic reference to apples was passed across. Today we still celebrate this via the tradition of apple bobbing.

    The Earth Goddess

    At this time of year, nature has retreated and died, and this brings with it the image of the Goddess descending into the underworld as she also enters the state of death. The Goddess represents all of nature as the bringer of life and womb of creation.

    While the Goddess draws away from us and descends into the underworld, her consort sweeps across the land, taking part in the Wild Hunt. The theme of the Wild Hunt is perhaps best represented through the horned God Cernunnos, moving across the sky at the darkening of the year. This Wild Hunt of his signifies two things, firstly the culling of the herds that is being performed by the slaughter of livestock and secondly, the gathering of the souls of the deceased. We visualise him stalking animals as a hunter, bringing down those that are weakest so that the herd will be strengthened and the community better benefits, thusly the animal slaughters are depicted, but he is also king of the underworld and ready to join the Goddess in her sovereignty. So the Wild Hunt marks his return to the underworld, gathering the souls of the dead as they finish their time on Earth.

    As he descends in the underworld, he takes his place with the Goddess. There are many myths at Samhain that describe how the God takes his position with the Goddess, sometimes showing him dying in order to be with her, some showing him as a resident guardian to her in her time in the underworld, while others depict him in the guise of two Gods with one slaying another so that the first may go to the Goddess to reclaim her for the world. This act is a sacred sacrifice. The God has travelled the land gathering the spoils of the Wild Hunt and now for the good of the world, he himself dies so that he can return to the Underworld. As the Lord of the other worlds, the God shall stand as protector to the Goddess during her time in the underworld. For this in itself is a significant time, as it shows us that death and the sprit world is not merely the cessation of life, but instead a womb from which the Goddess will be born anew with the coming of Spring.

    Through the tale we understand how death is a step in life and how the dark months of winter show us the beginning of the New Year, for in these dark times life dwells in the womb of the Earth and spiritually in the other worlds. So the beginning of the New Year coincides with the beginning of the life of the land, here in the cosmic womb of the natural world.


    The Jack-O’lantern finds its origins in Ireland, where it was a practice to carve out root vegetables (primarily turnips) and place either a piece of coal or a candle within them, in the style of the modern Jack-O’lantern. This was done with a double meaning: firstly, the light from the candle acted as a guide for friendly spirits, so that they might be able to find their way and be guided in, while the scary face was a deterrent to malevolent spirits and drives them away.

    The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

    According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil.

    Jack wondered what he would do and where he would go, so the Devil mockingly made him a lantern with a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness, which he would endlessly wander the world seeking a place to rest.

    From this folk tale he became known as Jack of the Lantern or Jack O’Lantern.


    The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, 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 more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.

    {Images & text via Inspiraculum, Wikipedia}


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