Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
From earliest recorded history in Ireland, Halloween or Oíche Shamhna was considered a turning point in the calendar. Samhain (November 1st), meant the start of winter, when cattle were brought down from summer pastures, tributes and rents paid, and other business contracted. Samhain, marks the close of the season of light and the beginning of the dark half of the year, and was therefore perceived as a liminal moment in time when movement between the otherworld and this world was possible.

The Britons celebrated in honor of their sun-god with bonfires, a tribute to the light that brought them abundant harvest. The Druids originated the holiday, which was a celebration of Saman Lord of the Dead who was the God of Evil Spirits,". He was thought to gather together at last the souls of the year's dead which had been consigned to the bodies of animals in punishment for their sins. The custom of Halloween ‘guising’remains strong, and in recent times has been boosted by the popularity of the horror movie genre in the USA. Irish children now go out to ‘trick or treat’, where previously the refrain ‘help the Hallowe’en party’ was most usual. In 1846 America was welcoming a new group of immigrants, the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland's potato famine. This new cultural influence brought with it a melding of Irish and English traditions, and a new Americans culture was born. People began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today's "trick-or-treat" tradition.

All Hallows Eve

The name Hallowe’en is a shortening of All Hallows’ Even, or All Hallows’ Evening. All Hallows is an old term for All Saints’ Day (Hallow, from the Old English “halig”, or holy, compared with Saint, from the Latin “sanctus”, also meaning holy, or consecrated - it took a decree at the insistence of Pope Gregory IV to all the bishops, that the celebration be confirmed on November 1st. These early similar celebrations come together around 835AD. The Roman pagan festival is over taken by the early Church, the Irish Church conforms it's celebrations with Rome, and everyone seems to move their day of the dead to coincide with early Irish pagans and their celebration of Samhain on November 1st. So, by Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV attempt to end the pagan Samhain festivals, they achieved quite the opposite.

It is said that the souls in Purgatory are released to visit their still mortal friends. Long ago the country folk before they retired to bed on this night always prepared a blazing fire and a well swept hearth to welcome their unearthly visitors. The first was to honor the dead who were allowed to rise from the Otherworld. The Celts believed that souls were set free from the land of the dead during the eve of Samhain. Young women believed that, on Halloween, they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings, or mirrors. Psychic readings would be conducted with a variety of divination tools. Such as throwing bones, or casting the Celtic Ogham. There is some historical evidence that additional tools of divination were also used. Most of this comes from writings recorded by Roman invaders, but there are stories of reading tea leaves, rocks and twigs, and even simple spiritual communications that today we'd call Channeling. They get three saucers and they put a ring in one saucer, clay in the other and water in the third. Then they put a cloth on some person’s eyes. If he puts his hand into the saucer with the ring in it he will be the first to be married. If he puts his hand into the saucer with the clay in it he will die soon. If he puts his hands into the saucer with the water in it he will cross the water to a foreign land.

A favorite form of activity for young people at this critical moment in time was to attempt to predict future events in a variety of different ways: would they become rich (or destitute), would they marry soon, and so on. They get three saucers and they put a ring in one saucer, clay in the other and water in the third. Then they put a cloth on some person’s eyes. If he puts his hand into the saucer with the ring in it he will be the first to be married. If he puts his hand into the saucer with the clay in it he will die soon. If he puts his hands into the saucer with the water in it he will cross the water to a foreign land

In his book Irish Folk Lore (1870), the writer ‘Lageniensis’ noted: ‘It is considered that, on All Hallows’ Eve, hobgoblins, evil spirits, and fairies, hold high revel, and that they are travelling abroad in great numbers.
The dark and sullen Phooka [Púca] is then particularly mischievousness and many mortals are abducted to fairy land. Those persons taken away to the raths are often seen at this time by their living friends, and usually accompanying a fairy cavalcade.’ The fairies be out that night and they would take you away with them if you were out at that evil time. It is also said that the devil shakes his budges [fur] on the haws and turns them black and according to the old people if you eat a haw after Hallow Eve night you will have no luck.

November-Coming-Fire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dressing in grotesque costumes 

The custom of dressing up in costumes and making house visits to request small presents – fruit, sweets, and money – is traditionally dominant in the eastern half of Ireland. Begging at the door grew from an ancient English custom of knocking at doors to beg for a "soul cake" in return for which the beggars promised to pray for the dead of the household. On Hallowe’en night the boys dress up like old men. Some of them dress up like old hags. They put on long trousers, women’s hats and soot on their faces and more of them have false faces. They go around from house to house and they are invited in and given something and the ringleader sings songs and plays tunes on the mouth organ and melodion. Then they get apples and nuts and sometimes money.

Those that had been trapped in the bodies of animals were released by the Lord of the Dead and sent to their new incarnations. The wearing of these costumes signified the release of these souls into the physical world. Tales and legends of the returning dead, and the intrusion of supernatural beings into this world, were once plentiful.

‘Snap apple’, one of many Hallowe’en amusements.
In popular tradition Hallowe’en is
a time for feasting and merrymaking. For rural communities especially, the tasks of housing the livestock, harvesting and storing produce, picking and preserving fruits etc. should be completed by this time. Feasting on fruits and rich foods represented an appropriate climax to the season. Festive foods included colcannon, also known as stampy or pandy, sweet cake, fruits and nuts. A variety of games were played, such as ‘dipping’ in a tub of water for coins, ‘snapping’ for apples and other amusements. We get a big basin of water and start to duck for apples. We get nuts and roast them in the fire. Then a knock comes to the door and the púca boys come in. They dance around
the floor and sing songs - Clongorey, Kildare

English: Wheel of the Year with Fire Festivals...
English: Wheel of the Year with Fire Festivals and Quarter Festivals, Neopagan holidays: Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lughnasadh, Mabon, Samhain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
To pagans the world over, November 1st, still marks the beginning of the New Year. The Feast of the Dead forms a major part of most Pagan celebrations on this eve, and at Samhain voluntary communications are expected and hoped for. The departed are not harassed, and their presence is never commanded. The spirits of the dead are, however, ritually invited to attend the Sabbat and to be present within the Circle. To Witches and Pagans, Samhain is the Festival of the Dead, and for many, it is the most important Sabbat (Holiday) of the year. The colors of this Sabbat are black and orange. Black to represent the time of darkness after the death of the god (who is represented by fire and the sun) during an earlier Sabbat known as Lughnasadh, and the waning of light during the day. Orange represents the awaiting of the dawn during Yule (Dec. 21st to Jan. 1st) when the god is reborn.

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