Halloween – Betting The Dead Come Back For Dinner

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Many believe the modern Halloween began as the Irish Celtic festival of Samhain and so we take a look at the history of feasting, tale telling and human sacrifice.

All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween as we are more apt to call it these days, occurs just as the autumn begins to twist into winter, as the nights grow longer and low sun casts long eerie shadows across the dusk of evening. It is said that upon this night an entire ensemble cast of supernatural entities stalk the land, haunt the world and even take to the air, as a reminder to us all of those who have gone before us and departed for places we trust are better, and not too distinctly warmer.

The Pagan Roots Of Halloween

• Irish Celts celebrated Samhain on the same date

• Christians disagree this is origin of Halloween

• Witches may also play online poker in the US

Observed around the world under various guises the traditions that are followed today all have their roots in several places, an issue that has led to a distinct disagreement between academics as to its true origins. Arguing the origins of Halloween is a good career move for any academic since it pretty much guarantees a bit of TV work once a year, and it is very unlikely, regardless of what you say, anyone will be able to definitively prove you wrong.

The basic argument they’ve constructed consists mainly of a difference in opinion as to the influence and role of Christianity in Halloween. There are those that insist Halloween is a Christian creation, that it has purely Christian roots, whilst the other side say that Halloween arose out of the pagan harvest festivals, particularly the Gaelic incarnation, Samhain, and that Christianity came along afterward and hijac… er… had a pronounced cultural impact upon it.

Whichever the case, the rituals surrounding Halloween have their roots and origins at least a thousand years in the past, and that they’ve carried over till today at all, in whatever form, demonstrates that we have an enthusiasm for a date and celebration that on the face of it should be anything but. We might have turned it into a holiday of sugar-overdose for kids, gambling news reports of poisoned candy are just urban myths, but that can’t be how it started out.

Stories Told At Tribal Gatherings

The Gaelic connection via Samhain is recorded as far back as the 10th century. Samhain is one of the four major Gaelic seasonal festivals, the others being Imbolic, Beltane, and Lughnasadh, which marked the end of the trading year amongst the Celtish people of Ireland and was typically denoted by tribal gatherings. These gatherings had different characters deriving from the season in which they were held, so the Beltane summer festival was one of life and the living, Samhain the opposite.

Of course once one has a bunch of Celts together celebrating the dead, and factor in that any great feast would involve quite a large quantity of drinking, it isn’t entirely surprising that some of the tales and legends of their mythology tend to swirl around this date. If you’re going to tell people old stories they’ve heard before it’s always good to have a topical link, and there is none finer than “On this very day many years ago…”

As with much mythology there’s a great many kings, wars, lovers, and gods with, in this particular case, a side order of possible human sacrifice. The god Crom Cruach is said to have been associated with Samhain and his propitiation of choice was the death of one’s first born in exchange for which he’d grant good grain and milk production quotas, of course this was all said by Christian monks, but whom amongst us could question their objectivity?

Samhain, literally “Summer’s End” in old Irish, was known to be the time when the “Aos Si”, the Irish fairies, found it far simpler to enter our world and were thus more likely to be seen at that time of year, so offerings were left for them, and due to the porous nature of the inter-world border at this time, it was said the souls of the dead would revisit their homes. The celebration then was a welcome to these departed and now returned relatives.

Bonfires Ward Off Witches

The witches, perhaps staying mobile betting that anti-aircraft guns wouldn’t be invented for another few centuries would be warned of the fate that awaited them in hell by the lighting of bonfires, or, if that doesn’t sit well with you, the bonfires were a representation of the sun being used in a form of imitative magic. That the witches are still with us and the imitative magic really isn’t, probably says much for which of these is right.

Even the dressing up we so enjoy today has its roots some five hundred years ago with young people going from house to house in costume issuing forth with pagan, perhaps even bawdy verse, in return for small gifts of food. Those that gave were said to be granted the food luck of the “Muck Olla” and that to not give something would bring misfortune… possibly almost instantly. It is of course from this that trick or treating arose.

Like a troll on an online gambling site in the US, the concept of impersonating these spirits that roam abroad on that night, is a hugely childish one, and thus much loved by all concerned. Pranks and tricks played by those impersonating ghosts etc. are recorded back into the early part of the 18th century, and indeed it was these costumed Celtish clowns that first took to hollowing out turnips or similar, creating lanterns with weirdly illuminated horrifying faces.

The modern Halloween we celebrate today has its feet firmly fixed in the Irish and Celtic traditions of Samhain, it may also have heavy Christian connotations and connections, but with the dead souls returning home being a less than Christian motif (coming back from the dead is frowned upon in Christianity, one guy did it a couple of thousand years ago and they haven’t stopped talking about it since) I find it implausible to ignore these pagan roots.

~ Read more about Halloween ~

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