For others it is a celebration of the coming New Year.
The earliest traces of this holiday are based in the Celtic festival called Samhain (SOW-win, SAM-hayne, and SAH-vin) meaning ‘summers end’, the third and final harvest, and is also the start of the Celtic New Year. The one night of the year where the veil between the worlds is thinnest and the souls of the ancestors that have gone before us are available to contact.
Some cultures leave food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the ‘wandering dead’. Some will light candles placing them in windows to help the souls of family members find their way home and some will place extra chairs at the table for the visiting ancestors. Any items that had not yet been pulled in through harvesting were left in the fields as offerings for the wandering spirits. It is also thought to be the time for slaughtering livestock to get it stored for the coming winter.
It was through European immigrants that brought their varied ‘Halloween’ customs with them. In the second half of the 19th century many of the new immigrants were of Irish decent because they were fleeing the potato famine of Ireland in 1846. By combining the Irish and the English traditions the Americans began their own ‘trick-or-treat’ tradition. In the late 1800’s the holiday became more focused on community and in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s it became a ‘secular but community centered holiday’. Those in power during the 1950’s changed it yet again to Halloween being a holiday aimed more at young children in hopes of limiting vandalism. All of this has led to what we know of Halloween today.
Some believe devils and demons have always been involved in this holiday. However, the Celts do not have these beings in their belief system. Fairies on the other hand are a whole other story. Some are considered to be hostile even dangerous to humans because they believe humans took over their lands. This was a night thought to be when fairies would lure humans into their fairy mounds and trap them forever. After the coming of Christianity to the Celtic lands so came the thought of devils and demons.
Since the fairies are out roaming the night one never knew just who or what the being was that would come to their door. To appease the spirits an offering of food would be given to help bring blessings to the house and those that lived there. Failure to provide these offerings could result in practical jokes and/or ill will to be visited upon the house. The folks would go abroad on this night would often carry turnips that were carved to look like faces thus resulting in what we now have as our modern Jack-o-lanterns.
While animals were sacrificed at this time of the year for food as well as to ‘cull the herd’ so that the healthiest would make it through the harsh winter months. It depends upon whose research you believe as to whether or not there was actual human sacrifice; this is a debate that has scholars very divided.
Despite what Hollywood brings to their movies the practice of blood sacrifice is NOT something that Pagans, Druids, Wiccans or any of the other Earth-based religions participate in. Nor do they believe in let alone worship devils or demons. These are NOT something that is within their religious beliefs. Those that combine any form of Paganism with blood sacrifice, devils or demons have not done their research on the religion.
There are many that thing those who practice Earth-based religions are either Atheists or Satanists. Again they need to enlighten themselves as to what each religion as they are not one and the same. For many it is just easier to paint everything with one brush instead of educating oneself.
An important thing to remember this time of the year, your beliefs may not be the same as your neighbors, co-workers or anyone else. That does not make them or you wrong. Everyone has their own path to walk in this life. As long as you walk the path that makes sense to you and you honour it properly WITHOUT causing harm to others, then you are on the correct path for you. Honouring others in their beliefs instead of judging and disparaging them is a wonderful way to honour your own beliefs.
Blessed Be everyone and have a wonderful New Year.