Most people think of Halloween as a holiday for trick or treating, dressing up in costumes, a time for ghouls, ghosts and monsters to roam, a celebration of the harvest, or an excuse to have a really scary party.
In reality Halloween has its roots in four religious holidays, three that deal with death:
- The celebration of the Celtic Druidic holiday Samhain
- The celebration of the pre-Christian Roman goddess Pomona
- The Roman festival of Feralai
- And Christianity’s All Hallow’s Eve, also called All Saints’ Eve
Samhain, celebrated on October 31st, marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter
for the Celts. Druid priests performed ceremonies in honor of their sun god Baal, whom they thanked for the harvest and asked for support to battle the coming winter. They also believed that the veil between the world of the living and the dead was opened during the celebration of Samhain, and the souls of the dead roamed the earth. The ghosts were believed to play tricks on the living and cause supernatural events to happen, the origins of today’s belief that ghosts and ghouls roam freely on Halloween evening.
The Roman celebrations honoring the goddess Pomora and the festival of Feriala were also held in late October. Pomora was the goddess of fruits and trees. The use of these fruits for fortune-telling stems back to her celebration. The feast of Feriala honored the dead, much like the Celts’ Samhain festival.
The Christian festival of All Hallow’s Eve is a celebration honoring the dead saints and martyrs of the church.
When the Romans conquered the Celts their autumn festivals and the Celts autumn festivals were combined until the Roman’s decided too many of their Roman citizens were adopting the Celtic religion. Rome’s answer to this problem was to ban the Druidic religion and kill its priests. But the Romans could not wipe out the old Celtic beliefs and many people continued to keep the traditions alive.
When the Christians came into power they, too, wanted to do away with the very popular, old pagan rites. So, the church moved their feast of the saints (which was held in May) to November 1st , and later to October 31st, in an attempt to absorb the ingrained Samhain traditions and rites into a Christian holiday. By doing so they hoped to hold onto their new followers by allowing them to celebrate a festival on a date they had long held sacred. Once they had established the new Christian festival the church tried to discourage the old practices in favor of more Christian ones, but, like the Romans, they were not successful.
Using Christian holidays to absorb pagan ones was a tactic the church used often. Elements of pagan celebrations can be found in Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas celebrations. Over the years, most of the pagan holiday traditions in these celebrations were christianized. Not so with Halloween. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Puritan founding fathers of America, who banned the celebration in the New World, could not christianize this pagan holiday.
It’s no wonder that Christianity hasn’t been able to overcome the pagan elements of Halloween. Celebrating all that death seems to be a perfect transition into one scary holiday. Ghosts, ghouls, and all things magical keep Halloween’s roots firmly planted in the other world that many people are drawn to… and you have to admit, they are perfect elements for stirring up for a wild paranormal tale.
While not normally thought of as a romantic holiday, Halloween has its share of divination traditions for finding true love. Since this is a website of a romance author, we would be remiss not to include some of this holiday’s romantic folklore in this article.
- Insert a plain ring, a coin, and other charms in a fruitcake, known as a barmbrack( báirín breac), before baking. The one who gets the ring in their slice of cake will find true love in the following year.
- You can divine your future spouse by peeling an apple in one long strip. Toss the peel over your shoulder. The peel will land in the shape of the first letter of your future spouse’s name.
- Unmarried women should sit in a darkened room and gaze into a mirror on Halloween night and the face of their future husband will appear in the mirror. But beware. If you are destined to die before marriage a skull will appear instead of the face of your intended.
- Name nutshells after prospective love interests and place them near a fire. If they burn steady it indicates true love. If they crack or pop or fly off the hearth your prospective love interests are only a passing fancy. Another version of this divination involved throwing two hazelnuts, named for two different suitors, into the fire. The nut that burns steadily is the suitor who will be true. The nut that bursts will be the one who will be unfaithful.
- Bobbing for apples is a traditional game used for fortune-telling on Halloween. (Bet you didn’t know that when you had your head in the barrel with some boy or girl.) The first person to pluck an apple from the water without using their hands will be the first to marry. If a bobber catches an apple on the first try it means he or she will experience true love. If it takes many tries they will be fickle in their romantic endeavors.
- Water was often used for divination. To determine someone’s romantic fate, fill four bowls with water. Place soap in one, pebbles in another, clear water in the third, and leave the fourth bowl empty. Ask blindfolded guests to stick a hand in one of the bowls. If they choose the bowl with the clear water they will have a happy marriage. Soapy water foretells widowhood, the pebbles predict a life of hard work, and the empty bowl represents a single, happy life.
- Another popular, and dangerous, activity– practiced when young women wore long dresses– was jumping over lit candles. If a woman made it over all the lit candles without extinguishing them she would be married before the year passed. Every candle her long skirt blew out meant another year without a husband.
Do you have a romantic divination you’ve practiced on Halloween or another time?