The veil between two worlds has been stretched so thin that at any time from sundown on 31st October to sundown on 1st November, it may be pierced either way by either the living or the dead. It is at this time when the followers of the old ways and the ancient paths know that the spirit world is within the easiest reach it will be all year. Old traditions die hard and the believers in the old Gods and the way of nature celebrate and understand the importance of Halloween.
But what of the word – Halloween? By all accounts it is not as old as you may think. The first use of the word Halloween seems to originate from 1745, being of a Christian origin. It signifies the eve of All Hallow’s Day; the ‘hallow’ being another word for saint. Christians would honour the dead, especially martyrs and saints at this time of year. But prior to that we have the ancient Celtic festival on this date known as Samhain, pronounced ‘sow-een’. This precedes the Christian festival by thousands of years and may have been a form of a Pagan Harvest festival.
In the far North the Vikings and Norsemen, along with their ancestors and other peoples of the lands of ice and snow, celebrated the Alfablot at this time. This is translated as ‘sacrifice to the elves’. But we are not talking about the Elves of Disney and Tolkien. These were the spirits of nature and the souls of departed men. This was a time of communication with the dead on burial mounds, as well as appeasing the spirits. These were considered to be the dark spirits of winter ‘living’ below ground. In a very long winter it’s best to have these spirits on your side so you can survive though till spring.
In the Celtic traditions bonfires would be lit to help light the way home for any lost souls roaming the countryside as well as to ward off any evil spirits and entities. Followers of the ‘old ways’ would be covered or in disguise as not to let any evil spirits know their identity and this may have led to the fanciful costumes of the modern day ‘Halloweeners’. ‘Guising’, as it is known has become an integral part of Halloween and Samhain as both these traditions became intertwined over the centuries. As well as the fire festivals, which were also used to ‘cleanse’ the area with smoke and flame, divinations would take place using apples and nuts, as well as scrying with mirrors or black bowls filled with water and various other occult practices.
And then there are the the pumpkins…..
Well not really. Traditionally turnips and mangold wurzels were hollowed out and a candle placed inside. Grotesque faces were carved into the turnips to either represent the spirits or to frighten any evil entity back to wherever it came from. This may have originated in ancient times from Celtic ‘head’ cults where vegetables are now used instead of the sacrificial skulls taken from human victims!
Considering how popular Halloween is in America it might surprise you that it was hardly known in the USA until the early 19th century and only then became popular following a huge immigration of Scots and Irish, who took the festivities with them. But the popularity of Halloween is proven by the size of the New York Halloween Parade which started in 1974. This celebration attracts over two million spectators along with the 60,000 costumed participants and a television audience of over 100 million viewers.
To some of the practitioners of the ‘old pagan ways’ this sort of celebration is distasteful and they will distance themselves from these sort displays, claiming that this is not in the true spirit and tradition of Samhain. But over the years things change, not always for the better, and the fact that people are celebrating Halloween in their own way doesn’t alter the fact that they are celebrating a tradition that is as old as time. The true spirit of Samhain still flourishes and is kept alive, without the glitz, glamour and gaudiness, by the people who are truly in touch with nature, spirits and the otherworld keeping the old traditions alive; traditions which should never be lost. And these old rituals may be keeping the earth balanced, keeping nature, spirits and energies attuned and in perfect equilibrium for the good of all mankind…..have a Happy Halloween, Samhain or Alfablot.