The Halloween customs that the world observes on October 31st had their beginnings long ago. Their origins and traditions can be traced back thousands of years to the days of the ancient Celts and their priests, the Druids of ancient Gaul and Britain. We know little of the Druids, but it is certain that they had an elaborate religious and political organization. Some were soothsayers, magicians, sorcerers, and bards (composers and reciters of heroes and their deeds). Their religion worshipped numerous gods and natural objects, such as trees, wells, etc., in which magical practices were involved.
The Druids believed that witches, demons, and spirits of the dead roamed the earth on the eve of November 1st. Bonfires were lit to drive away the bad spirits. The great bonfires served another purpose as well - on this night, unspeakable sacrifices were offered by the Druid priests to the Lord of Death, Satan. The Druids would carefully watch the writhing of the victims in the fire (sometimes animals, sometimes humans). From their death agonies, they would foretell the future (divination) of the village. To protect themselves from the mean tricks of these spirits, the Druids offered them good things to eat. The Druids also disguised themselves in order that the spirits would think the Druids belonged to their own evil company, and therefore, not bring any harm to the Druids. They also carried jack-o-lantern; a turnip or potato with a fearful, demonic face carved into it, to intimidate the demons around them. And this is carried over today as Halloween is celebrated by dressing up in costumes, playing trickor treat, wearing masks, and carrying jack-o-lanterns.
According to T. G. E. POWELL (1959) Celts iii. 117, "At Samain, sacrifices were certainly offered although no material descriptions have survived."
Much later, the Roman Catholic Church set aside the first day of November to honor all the saints who had no special days of their own. This provided professing Christians an alternative to the aforementioned pagan ceremonies. This was known as All Saints' Day. Since "saint" = "holy" = "hallowed", the previous evening was called All Hallows' Eve. Eventually, the two festivals became one, and All Hallows' Eve was shortened to Halloween.
Despite half-hearted attempts by the Church to destroy the pagan religious practices associated with Halloween, they have survived. During the Middle Ages, such practices found an outletin the practice of witchcraft, which was and is devoted to communing with the spirits of the dead and to the worship of Satan himself. To this day, one of the special sabbaths for Satan-worship continues to be October 31st - HALLOWEEN!
Nevertheless, the Bible is very clear as to its position concerning the so-called celebrations connected with Halloween.
"Let no one be found among you who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire, who practices divination (fortune-telling) or sorcery (the use of power gained from the assistance or control of evil spirits, especially for divining), interprets omens, engages in witchcraft (the practice of dealing with evil spirits via the use of sorcery or magic), or casts spells, or who is a medium or a spiritist (a male witch skilled in sorcery) or a necromancer (consults with the spirits of the dead). Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord"; (Deut. 18:10- 12a).
"And, You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" (James 4:4-5).
Yet we still hear professing Christians claim that, "Letting the kids dress up in costumes, playing trick or treat, wearing masks, and carrying jack-o-lanterns doesn't mean anything pagan or occultic to me, so I'll exercise my Christian liberty and partake in all of it. Obviously, if one were to take such a cavalier approach to the physical world "I can drink rat poison because I choose not to regard it as poison", it would likely lead to a quick physical death. Why then, do Christians think they can avoid spiritual harm by ignoring God's spiritual warnings?
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from Primitive Beliefs in the North-East of Scotland by J.M. McPherson, pp. 9-13. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1929.
Samhain, the Celtic New Year festival, observed on November 1st, comes from the Gaelic (Irish) words meaning "Summer's end". But some etymologists suggest an earlier origin from the name of the ancient Moon god, "Sin", who ruled the darker part of the year. The evening of Samhain, i.e., the first part of the day since it starts at sunset, is Samhain Eve or Evening, now called Hallowe'en
Beltane was observed on May 1st. In each Celtic village, two fires were lit in honor of the God, Belenus. Cattle were driven between the fires to purify and protect them, before they went to their summer grazing. Authorities differ as to whether Belenus ("Bright One"?) was specifically a "Sun God". An earlier origin of the name may be the ancient Sun god "Baal" ("Lord" or "Master").
|"Christianity absorbed and incorporated these great festivals, some of the original spirit of which can be seen in the corresponding modern observances."
The Celtic year began with Halloweve, also called Samhain. The new day and the new year began at even [sunset]. All fires were extinguished in the home and on the farm. Then the Hallow fires were kindled, very similar to those of Beltane, but more important, as heralding the advent of a new year. From the consecrated pile, portions of fire were carried to the houses to renew the flames upon the domestic hearth.
In the North-East [of Scotland], the celebration took place on the 11th November, that is, Halloween O.S. [November 1st on the Old Style, pre-Gregorian Calendar].
At each farm in Buchan, a spot, as high as possible, and not too near the steading, was chosen for the fire. Every village, too, had its Hallow blaze. Straw, furze, peats, dry potato haulms, everything combustible was gathered, and the fire lit. The lads one after the other laid themselves down on the ground close to the fire so that the smoke might roll over them. The others ran through the smoke and jumped over the one recumbent. There seems to be here a suggestion of human sacrifice.
As at Beltane, there were parts of the country where processions around the field took place with blazing torches, doubtless kindled at the sacred fire. Down to about the middle of the nineteenth century, the Braemar highlanders made the circuit of the fields with lighted torches at Halloween, to ward off all evil spirits and to ensure fertility during the coming year. "Every member of the family was provided with a bundle of fir can'les with which to go round. The father and mother stood at the hearth and lit the splints at the peat fire. These they passed to the children and servants who trooped out, the one after the other, and proceeded to tread the bounds of their little property, going slowly round at equal distances apart and invariably with the sun . . . . When the fields had been thus circumambulated the remaining spills were thrown together in a heap and allowed to burn out." (Alex. Macdonald, Folk-Lore, XVIII (1907), 85.)
By this fire ritual, the fields were both purified and fertilized. In an earlier age, the brands had been kindled at the Hallow blaze. There are traces even in the nineteenth century of a domestic purification by the sacred fire. At Petty, it was customary for the young lads wearing masks to go from house to house "bundering" at the doors and puffing smoke into the dwelling houses. This ceremonial was known in Burghead in the eighties of last century [1880s] as "burning the reekie mehr" - a cabbage or kail stock, hollowed and filled with kindled tow, being the mehr. It was also known and practiced in Sutherlandshire. At Pennan, in Aberdeenshire, the last trace of the old custom in the closing years of the nineteenth century was the practice of boys making pipes out of a hollowed kail stock, filling them with tow and then proceeding to smoke.
The motive behind the Samhain fires was the same as inspired the Beltane festival. It was man's response to, and attack upon, the powers of darkness. At this season, the day was shortening, the sun's strength was diminishing, malevolent powers of every kind seemed to be abroad. In particular, the witches were holding high revelry, and their great conventions to work woe upon mankind were assembled on high hill and bleak moorland. Man resorted with cheerful confidence to the heaven-riven weapon of holy fire. By its divine power, he could vanquish the whole accursed brood.
That the witches, at least in the later period, were regarded as the hostile power, is seen from the form of request in East Aberdeenshire, when peats were asked to make the fire. There lads went from house to house, begging a peat, commonly with the words "Ge's a peat t' burn the witches."
West Aberdeenshire also provides definite evidence that the witches were conceived as the enemy against whom the fires were directed. At Balmoral, during Queen Victoria's residence, there was observed at Halloween the ancient practice of burning the witch. A huge bonfire [bon=good="bane"=holy fire] was kindled in front of the Castle, opposite the principal doorway. The clansmen were mustered, arrayed in Highland garb. At a signal, headed by a band, they marched towards the palace. The bonfire was kindled so as to be in full blaze when the procession reached it. "The interest of the promenade was centered in a trolley on which there sat the effigy of a hideous old woman or witch called the Shandy dann. Beside her couched one of the party holding her erect while the march went forward to the bagpipe's strain. As the building came in sight, the pace was quickened to a run, then a sudden halt was made a dozen yards or so from the blaze. Here, amid breathless silence, an indictment is read why this witch should be burned to ashes, and with no one to appear on her behalf, only this advocatus diaboli, paper in hand - she is condemned to the flames. With a rush and a shout and skirling of bagpipes, the sledge and its occupant are hurled topsy-turvy into the fire, while the mountaineer springs from the car at the latest safe instant. Then follow cheers and hoots of derisive laughter, as the inflammable wrappings of the Shandy dann crackle and sputter out. All the while the residents of the castle stand enjoying the curious rite, and no one there entered more heartily into it than the head of the Empire herself." (Alex. Macdonald, Scottish Notes and Queries, 2nd series, III, 90f. Rev. Ch. Leys, Whiteness, a native of Crathie, who has often witnessed the burning of the witch there, says the Shandy dann was not the name of the witch but the joiner's wagon or trolley. Mr. Leys is right.)
This is a remarkable relic. It is the action of the whole clan. They destroy the witch as the representative of the powers of darkness. "Burning the Witch" is a rite of great antiquity. It was practiced in Babylonia. As her image was consumed the witch was believed to suffer the tortures of the fire and be gradually annihilated.
The Hallow fires continued to be kindled till the end of the eighteenth century, and even later in some districts. Rev. Lachlan Shaw, writing about 1745, says: "As to the cairn fires on the eve of the 1st Nov. though I have not seen them practiced, yet I am well informed that in Buchan and other places they have their Hallow fires annually kept up to this day."
The minister of Monquhitter, writing in 1793, says: "The Halloween fire was kindled in Buchan. Various magic ceremonies were then celebrated to counteract the influences of the witches and demons and to prognosticate to the young their success and disappointment in the matrimonial lottery. These being devoutly finished the Hallow fire was kindled and guarded by the male part of the family ... but now the Hallow fire when kindled is attended by children only."
Here the ecclesiastic shuts his eyes to what he would regard as a reproach to his own influence and work. For the Rev. Dr. Pratt, a very trustworthy observer, writing in 1858, bears witness: "Hallow fires are still kindled on the Eve of All Saints by the inhabitants of Buchan and present a singular and animated spectacle - from sixty to eighty being frequently seen from one point."
These fires seem to have lingered longest in Buchan. When the flames had died down and the more boisterous spirits had dispersed, some were in the habit of gathering together the ashes and covering them up, "ristin' the halla fire." A reverence was paid to the ashes as all that was left of the holy fire. Then they placed on the ashes small stones to represent each member of the family. Next morning an anxious inspection was made of the ashes. If a stone were missing, the person represented would be removed by death before the next Hallow fire was kindled. An aged mother in Aberdeenshire, on searching the ashes, found one of the stones gone. She came home in sorrow and said again and again, without anyone paying much attention to her, "Annie's steenie's awa'." Before next Hallow fire, Annie had worn away to the Land o' the Leal. The same practice of divination by ashes and stone was observed in Callander. It is described by John Ramsay as practiced in his day. In North Wales at the Halloween bonfire, the white stone missing represented a person who, would die before another Halloween.
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