There are a lot of crazy stories that circulate this time of year about what Samhain/ Halloween is and what it is not. Just recently, I had an individual tell me about how they overheard a group of people discussing Halloween and the kids that come to their door trick or treating. They said they didn’t believe in it. That they turn their lights off and sit is the dark praying to make it appear that no one is home. This conversation slightly offended me on a couple different levels. Not from the point of the one telling me about it, but from the ideas that others have in general about what this Sabbat is all about. Their story makes it sound like they are hiding from children who may come to prey on them….innocent children looking for candy and fun.
Samhain/ Halloween being viewed as a pagans Satan ritual is the most disturbing accusation. In general, pagans do not believe in Satan. He is a concept of a totally different religion. I read an article recently where an opposing religion admitted they were never comfortable with their children dressing up as a witch or as a devil for Halloween and I am perplexed. The witch, as visually recognized today, is a Hollywood version. Look at any costume in the store and you’ll surely get some version of the Wizard of Oz’s bad witch with a green old wrinkly face, evil smile, pointed nose, etc. Do they really think this is what all the witches in the Salem Witch Trials looked like? Uhhhh NO! This is Hollywood. So when a child dresses as a witch for Halloween they are more recognizable as the “Bad Witch” of Wizard of Oz or a Hocus Pocus witch then that of the accused and murdered pagans from a few hundred years ago.
SO what and why trick or treat? Well, we know that Samhain is a day to honor the dead. We also know that honoring our lost loved ones on this night and our belief that they can cross a veil to our world would mean that dark entities could do the same. So, I have heard stories that Celts would dress in disguise, such as animal skins, so that to hide from dark entities or possibly to scare them away. Bonfires were a form of purification and they would keep them away as well. The big feasts were set to welcome good entities who came. Some thought the feasts were actually a sort of peace offering to get evil to leave them alone. Over the years and over different countries this became a tradition where people would dress up, sometimes even commit crimes in disguise as an evil entity, and play pranks or do tricks for food/ale and sometimes money.
Other stories (mumming) told were those of people who thought it was wise to set food outside their doors as offering to these dark entities so that they were spared and their house passed by. However, poor people or beggars began dressing up as the dead so that they could steal this free food for themselves. Souling soon become popular in this period. This is where parades and festivals were held as offerings and prayers were made ALL in the name of saving our souls from evil. See back in these days the festival activities were primarily performed by adults. It wasn’t until later that children took over the activities.
As different traditions made its way here to the United States, we took on a combined form of the celebrations. Fire, treats, and costumes stuck in the American tradition. People started to worry about the inconvenience of handing out slices of pie and also about the possibility of people tampering with items that were handmade and not sealed. This made candy much more popular of a choice and I am sure the kids loved it. Fire contained in jack-o-lanterns also became a more practical modern choice.
Commercialization and the recognition of the money to be made in this were discovered about 80 years ago. In addition to this, the need to regulate and provide structure to the activities became necessity. Teens and kids were beginning to get into lots of trouble and cause damage without have structured activities available for those who wished to celebrate. Because of this we now have what we have today. We have opportunities for children and adults to have parties, trick or treat, and celebrate in a way that is legal and safe. However, we have also mostly lost the meaning of the true Samhain. Ask someone on the street what Halloween is (because most wouldn’t even recognize the word Samhain) and they are likely to tell you “the day of the dead”, if they know at all. They say it like it’s a bad thing, a thing to fear and yet they forget that it’s also a day of recognition to those who came before us. It’s a day to make offerings and honor our ancestors who came before us. It has nothing to do with Satan or the Devil, for from one pagan to another, “who is that?” AND….if I decide to put my pointy hat on, on Samhain night it’s not to come out of the closet, because that closet has already been opened and raided. It is to poke fun and add a Hollywood flare to what I am on a daily basis.