Many people fear Halloween and hide from small visitors demanding treats.
There are good reasons for such fears. Halloween is the eve of All Saints Day, a Christian holy day commemorating saints and martyrs.
All Hallows Eve (Halloween), All Saints Day, and All Souls Day follow one after another with Halloween on October 31, All Saints on November 1, and All Souls on November 2. All Souls Day is often called, “The Day of the Dead.”
These days get particular attention in Mexico where they’re collectively called, Los dias de los Muertos (The Days of the Dead). Mexicans pray for deceased family members at this time and hold parades where skeletons, spectres, the walking dead, ghosts, etc., are portrayed. Always in their minds is the fear that the dead really will return and, when they do, they may very well be demons.
This fear echoes All Hallows’ earliest beginnings as the Celtic festival of Samhain — Festival of the Dead, and is why fear of Halloween is known as “samhainophobia.”
Before Christianity, Celts celebrated two annual fire festivals — Beltane (Eve of May 1) and Samhain (Eve of November 1). Samhain marked winter’s beginning and the start of the New Year.
This was when souls of the dead supposedly rose from their graves and visited their old homes to warm themselves at the fireside and find comfort in their families. There were bonfires on the hillsides because fire and light have traditionally scared away creatures of the night, and also because the risen dead were cold from the grave and wanted to get warm.
Since the dead were known to stalk the countryside at Samhain, appeasement offerings were left outside the homes. Dressing in grotesque outfits and donning horrible masks was another way of scaring away ghosts.
The Christian holy day, All Saints, was instituted in the seventh century and observed on May 13. Some 100 years later, it was moved to November 1, probably to Christianize the pagan festival of the dead, Samhain. This meld of beliefs, both pagan and Judeo/Christian, can be seen in prayers for warding off demons, prayers that go back to ancient times.
The following prayer, usually considered Scottish, is also found in Cornwall: “From ghoulies and ghosties/And long-leggity beasties/And things that go bump in the night/ Good Lord deliver us.”
Here’s a Jewish prayer: “With the consent of God and with the consent of the Torah and of Israel who guard it, may it be forbidden to any demon, male or female, to invade this place from this time forth and forever.”
This one’s a traditional Christian prayer: “In the shadows, evils hide/ Ready to draw me to their side/ But with God’s help I shall be strong/ And banish all that do me wrong.”
The verb, to hallow, means to make holy. Hallow is Old English, a form of halig (holy) — heilig in German.
Samhain (pronounced sow-in) comes from the Gaelic, samhuinn (summer’s end). It’s rooted in the Old Irish word with the same meaning — samain. Some etymologists believe samhain evolved from the Proto-Celtic samani (assembly).
So beware! Take care!
Halloween is coming.