Volume 94, Issue 34

Tuesday, October 31, 2000


Halloween the Original: The start of the new year

Halloween, the Sequel: the night for the young at heart

Halloween the Original: The start of the new year

By Leena Kamat and Jill Shaw
Gazette Staff

Ghouls, goblins, witches and warlocks. Every Halloween, millions of people dress up in North America and head out to collect treats on Oct. 31, but where did these traditions and customs come from?

James Schmeisser, a King's College professor of philosophy and religious studies, said Halloween goes back to pre-Christian times in the British Isles. In Celtic times, Oct. 31 was the end of the year and was considered the time when people who had died during the year were honoured.

"In the western world the feast became Christian around the fourth century," he said. "We celebrate All Souls Day the last day of October and All Saints Day Nov. 1."

Halloween means All Hallows Eve, Schmeisser explained. Halloween celebrates those who have died, those on a journey after they have died and those who are in heaven.

The Celts, including the Irish, Scottish and Welsh, called this holiday Samhain and celebrated it as the coming of winter, said Etaine Cerridwen, founder of The Enchanted Sage Grove in Oakville and a second-year journalism/print student at Sheridan College. Cerridwen's Grove, consisting of Wiccans and Witches, is a learning group, like a coven, but with a less formal structure.

Pagans, which include Celtics, Wiccans, Witches and many more religions which follow Earth-based theology, believe Samhain was a time to honour the dead, Cerridwen said.

Pagans believe in rebirth and the idea of death was not frightening but instead, a reason to celebrate the person's passing into another state. Cerridwen explained on this day, many believed the connection between the human world and the world of the dead was the strongest and that the dead, gods and immortals, could travel easily to the mortal world.

"There's a sense spirits are roaming," Schmeisser said. "Treats and food [are given] to please the good spirits. We wear masks so bad spirits won't recognize us."

Contacting the dead was a common part of Samhain. This was done through ouija boards, tarot cards, pendulums and many more. Ceremonies to honour ancestors were also common, she explained.

According to Reverend Susan Steers of the Huron College faculty of theology, Halloween originated in the second century B.C., lasting until as late as the fourth and fifth centuries A.D.. "This was actually their new year," Steers said. "It marked the end of the growing season."

She explained the Druids, an ancient Celtic religion who celebrated this holiday, felt the spirits of dead people could walk the earth at this time of the year. Christian missionaries surrounded by folk customs, encouraged the Druids not to be afraid of the saints and wanted to establish a day to remember all saints. Nov 1 then became designated as All Hallows Day, Steers said.

Jack-O-Lanterns were originally carved from turnips and were thought to chase away evil, Cerridwen said. Once the tradition was brought to North America, pumpkins were used because they were easier to obtain.

Steers said masks where probably cut into squash in order to scare off evil spirits. "Druids would also open up caves in hillsides, figuring spirits needed airing out."

The tradition of giving treats originated with the Druids, Steers explained. He also said apples and nuts were probably given as treats.

Each of these treats, when eaten, were believed to release a tortured soul from purgatory, Cerridwen explained.

Walter Schmidt, a New York based accountant and Halloween enthusiast who has written articles on the subject, explained Halloween has passed through four levels since its origins in pre-Christian times. "Originally, it was a pre-Judeo-Christian religion that honoured the day as it relates to change of cycle," Schmidt explained.

The second level was the Catholic Christianizing of the day, with the introduction of All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day, he added.

The third level, Schmidt said, took place in the early 19th century when Halloween became more of a social occasion, where more affluent members often held lavish Halloween parties.

The fourth level occurred after the post-war baby boom, according to Schmidt, with the beginning of the baby boom and is characterized by enjoying Halloween for its non-religious, non-historical side.

Graphics By Christopher Hodge

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