When the veil is thin and spirits draw near
Two days to Halloween and I am contemplating how to spend my time on this Holiday.
My native country Sweden's Halloween or Alla Helgons Dag (All Saints Day) as we call it, is a solemn day of remembrance when lighted candles are placed in cemeteries to remember friends and loved ones who have passed away. My father shared with me that his mother was obliged, by tradition, to wear black on Halloween. The radio played only mellow classical music all day and night.
The custom of lighting candles to place on graves was brought to Sweden from Catholic countries. Many Swedes celebrate this way still while newer generations copy the American festivities.
Because ceremony and ritual are important to me, I decided to look into the history and traditions surrounding Halloween.
Halloween is a sacred time to many indigenous people, as Ancestors and loved ones are thought to visit the living at this time. The veil is understood to be thin for a few days.
To find the origin of Halloween, you have to look to the festival of Samhain in Ireland's Celtic past. The pagan holiday of Samhain (a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year) is on November 1st. However, their celebrations did and still do start at sunset on October 31st, on Samhain Eve.
During the day on October 31st, families would engage in an extensive "fall" cleaning to clear out the old and make way for the new. At sunset on October 31, clans or local villages began the formal ceremonies of Samhain by lighting a giant bonfire. The people would gather around the fire to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. It was a method of giving the Gods and Goddesses their share of the previous years herd or crops. In addition these sacred fires were a big part of the cleansing of the old year and a method to prepare for the coming new year. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, and danced around the bonfire.
Many of these dances told stories or played out the cycles of life and death. These costumes were adorned 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. 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.
Not all of these souls were honored and respected. Some were also feared as they would return to the physical world and destroy crops, hide livestock or 'haunt' the living who may have done them wrong.
In order to prevent unwelcome spirits entering their homes, the Celts created menacing faces out of turnips and left them on their doorsteps. Adding a lit candle to the hollowed out face gave added protection.
In modern times, pumpkins are used. They are easier to carve, and a lot bigger, too, but they are not native to Ireland.
With the coming of Christianity in the 800s AD, the early Church in England tried to Christianize the old Celtic festivals. Pope Boniface IV designated the 1st of November as All Saints day, honoring saints and martyrs, while 2 November later became All Soul's Day. He also declared October 31 as "All Hallows Eve, that eventually became the modern Halloween.
Finding this out, it becomes clear to me that the costume parties and lit pumpkins are modern variations of an old theme.
This weekend I am especially thinking of my friends and loved ones who have passed away and will join my fellow Swedes in lighting a candle or perhaps a fire for them. Dave and I are doing some "fall" cleaning as well.