Halloween is truly unique among holidays. It seems to connect us if only for one night to something deep and mysterious. The days are short, the earth is fragrant with fallen leaves, and winter is beckoning. In many neighbourhoods throughout the world, costumed characters walk the night, like spirits who have temporarily crossed over from the other side.
Where did this mysterious feeling come from? Surely there`s more to it than clever marketing by candy companies and party supply chains. Halloween has deep, ancient roots and if we follow them down, we may be able to find its psychic origins.
On the surface, Halloween is a Christian holiday. Also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows` Eve or All Saints` Eve, it precedes the Christian feast of All Hallows Day on November 1st, and the celebration of All Souls` Day on November 2nd. These three days together; Halloween, All Hallows Day, and All Souls` Day form the Christian observance of Allhallowtide, which commemorates the faithful departed. But all Saints` Day was originally celebrated in May and was moved to November 1st in 835 AD at the request of the Pope.
Why? This is where the roots of Halloween go deeper. The dates of October 31st and November 1st have long been celebrated with the Gaelic festival of Samhain. While nobody knows when this festival started, it seems to reach much further into history than All Hallows Eve. Samhain also feels more like the Halloween we know today. It was a harvest festival, an observance of the changing season, and a time when the world of the living and the world of the dead overlapped. The power of death, as a necessity for new life, was recognized. There were roaring bonfires and harvest foods, and since spirits were thought to walk the streets of the villages, gifts were left outside to appease them. Spirits who weren`t appeased would visit misfortune upon the next year`s harvest!
Does that remind you of anything in the modern tradition of Halloween? The mysterious, psychic feeling we experience on Halloween isn`t just smoke and mirrors. The ancient Celtic-speaking peoples knew that feeling too, as did the Christians who moved their festival of the dead to coincide with Samhain. There`s just something about October 31st that connects us to the world of spirit. Being festive is the name of the game, but it never hurts to go within for a moment or two, and reflect on our deep spiritual connection with those who have gone before us.