SAMHAIN, HALLOWEEN, and DAY OF THE DEAD

By LaVonne (LaVonne) on October 27, 2011

Last year I presented an article surrounding the celebration of Samhain (pronounced sow-een). I thought this year I would bring together celebrations of other societies that occur at this same time of year and we could see how they are very similar.

2011-10-22/LaVonne/8794c7

 

 

Last year I presented an article surrounding the celebration of Samhain (pronounced sow-een).  I thought this year I would bring together celebrations of other societies that occur at this same time of year and we could see how they are very similar.     

As we learned last year Samhain is a Celtic celebration.  This was the end of the Celtic year, the start of winter, a time for reflection. And part of a sometimes confusing tradition. 

One of the Celtic idiosyncrasies was the concept of beginning in darkness and working towards the light. As the year started with winter, the days started at sundown. Thus the night from October 31st to November 1st was part of samhain, known as oiche shamhna or "evening of samhain".

Samhain was one of the four "quarter days" of the Celtic calendar. Feasting seems to have taken the best part of a week, a few days either side of the actual samhain day.  The night from October 31st to November 1st was part of samhain, known as oiche shamhna or "evening of samhain".

It was the time of year that everyone prepared for winter.  The preparations concerned mainly cattle and other livestock - all members of the herd were caught, brought into enclosures or sheds near the homestead. And some were marked for death - those animals too weak to survive the winter were slaughtered. Not for any ritual reasons, this was down to purely practical considerations and filled the larder for winter.   At the same time all corn, fruits and berries had to be harvested and stored. There still is a widespread belief in Ireland that after November 1st all fruit is bewitched and thus inedible. The pooka was said to roam free at samhain - a black, ugly horse with red eyes and the ability to talk, and with a penchant for kidnappings and copious urination on berries. On the other hand a respectful contact with the pooka could show you the future.

Samhain was a day of reckoning.  A general armistice during this period made meetings between sworn enemies, diplomacy and social activities beyond tribal and political boundaries possible. All debts had to be settled and horse-racing as well as charioteering provided a peaceful contest.

Ritual sacrifices we also part of the festivities.  These rituals involved fire and were not so quaint but definitely easier to arrange - the "wicker men". Basically a cage made from wickerwork in a rough resemblance of the human form, was then stuffed with (living) sacrificial offerings, like animals, prisoners of war or unpopular neighbors which were then burned to death inside the "wicker man". Other rituals involved drowning.  But the human sacrifices should not be seen as the undisputed norm. Though sacrifices were undoubtedly made, they may only have involved milk and corn spilled into the earth. And there might even have been nocturnal human activities connected to fertility rituals. It was considered a good omen if a woman (wed or not) became pregnant at samhain! During the feast of Samhain, pasted on members were invited to attend the festivities. Special plates of foods were set out for these guests to partake of.  If in the morning the plates were empty then it was considered a good omen. 

Not everybody joining in the samhain celebrations was necessarily human ... or of our world. The night from October 31st to November 1st was a time "between years" to the Celts. And during this time the borders between our world and the otherworld(s) were flexible and open.  Not only the pooka was out and about but also the  bean sidhe (banshee) who could be killed by humans during the night, fairies were visible to human eyes, the underworld palaces of the "gentry" (an Irish title for fairies) were open to come and go. Humans could drink with mighty heroes and bed their beautiful female companions ... as long as you did not make any mistakes, broke any rules or violated even the most ridiculous taboo. The problem being that the chances to foul up far outweighed the chances of a good night out - so most people opted for a quiet night in. Doors securely locked.

Over time Samhain became the carnival – like celebration called Halloween.  We can thank the popes, the reformation and immigration.

Since around the middle of the 4th century Christians set aside a special day in honor of all saints. And Saint Chrysostom (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Chrysostom) fixed the date as the first Sunday after Whitsuntide. Pope Boniface IV in 609, however, converted this moveable feast into a fixed date, May 13th. But Pope Gregory III moved the feast again, this time to November 1st.

Why such a change? Historians point to simple economics - Rome was literally swamped by pilgrims on All Saints Day and the larders were running low in spring. So Gregory III sensible pushed the feast to the end of the harvest period.

Other theories point the finger firmly at the Irish. They were still feasting at samhain, so a Christian alternative had to be provided. Not unusual - the date of Christmas, after all, was replacing winter solstice celebrations. And in Ireland imbolc was replaced by Saint Brigid's Day. Early popes pushed such "syncretisms", the incorporation of pagan lore into Christianity.

So with the changes of time Britain’s began to celebrate October 31st as Halloween or All Hallows Eve.  It was celebrated with a procession ... with children dressed up as saints, angels and devils. And they were rewarded for their enthusiasm with "soul cakes".

Soul Cakes

Soul cakes are a special treat, mainly baked for and handed out at Halloween.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 100 g butter
  • 100 g fine white sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 pound plain white flour
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spices
  • 40 g raisins or sultanas
  • milk

Preparation:

Melt the butter in a microwave, then, stir in sugar until you have a smooth, creamy mixture. Stir in the egg yolk, again aiming for smoothness.

Add flour and spices, stir and mix well, then, add raisins. Add enough milk (slowly!) until you have soft but still formable dough.

Form this dough into round, flat cookies with around 4 inches diameter and slightly less than an inch of thickness, arranging those on a greased baking tray. Then "carve" decorations into the cookies with a blunt knife - try Celtic spiral designs for that extra effect.

Bake the cookies at 180 degrees Celsius (360 Fahrenheit) for ten to fifteen minutes until golden brown.

Soul cakes make an ideal trick-or-treat gift.

And in Brittany All Hallows was also connected to pranks, some of them quite macabre.

But the main new influence came with the reformation - even though the reformed churchmen did not encourage the belief in saints. All Hallows was basically replaced by "reformation day", a day of a new beginning, quite fitting in with the samhain tradition.

Then in 1605 Guy Fawkes made a spirited attempt at revolution, his plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament failed ... but "the 5th of November" shall be forever remembered with dressing up, bonfires and fireworks and begging children ("A penny for the Guy!"), mischievous pranks and the burning of the pope in effigy.

Then along came the migration for various reasons by citizens of Europe who desired to have freedoms forbidden to them by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church and other denominations that were springing up.

By the end of the 19th century "Halloween" was established as a uniquely North-American festivity. Complete with the main characteristics of

  • Trick or Treat - a combination of the British processions, the Irish lait bhain, "soul cakes" and the "penny for the Guy";
  • Pumpkin heads - derived from scurrilous Irish lanterns made from turnips to keep evil spirits away and
  • Parties everybody was celebrating something around the time anyway.

Today Halloween is the third most popular day to throw a party in the US - beaten only by New Year's Eve and Super Bowl Sunday! And the once typically "American" feast has slowly started to conquer the world ... with Halloween parties and parades far outweighing a traditional samhain celebration even in Ireland.

http://goireland.about.com/od/historyculture/qt/hallow_samhain.htm

While Americans from many religious denominations celebrate October 31st and November 1st there were others below our borders in Mexico who were also celebrating.

In Mexico the feast was called Día de los Muertos, (The Day of the Dead).  The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died.  The celebration takes place on November 1st and 2nd, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day (November 1) and All Souls' Day (November 2). Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts.

Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl.  Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2,500–3,000 years.[1] In the pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.

The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the god[2] known as the "Lady of the Dead", corresponding to the modern Catrina.

In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honors children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2. This is indicated by generally referring to November 1 mainly as Día de los Inocentes ("Day of the Innocents") but also as Día de los Angelitos ("Day of the Little Angels") and November 2 as Día de los Muertos or Día de los Difuntos ("Day of the Dead").[3]

Beliefs

People go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed and build private altars containing the favorite foods and beverages as well as photos and memorabilia of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.[3]

Plans for the day are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the three-day period, families usually clean and decorate graves;[2] most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas ("offerings"), which often include orange mexican marigolds (Tagetes erecta) called cempasúchitl (originally named cempoalxochitl, Nahuatl for "twenty flowers").

In modern Mexico, this name is sometimes replaced with the term Flor de Muerto ("Flower of the Dead"). These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or "the little angels"), and bottles of tequila, mezcal or pulque or jars of atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased's favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto ("bread of the dead"), and sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased.[2] Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the "spiritual essence" of the ofrendas food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivities, they believe it lacks nutritional value. Pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives. In many places, people have picnics at the grave site as well.

Some families build altars or small shrines in their homes;[2] these usually have the Christian cross, statues or pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pictures of deceased relatives and other persons, scores of candles and an ofrenda. Traditionally, families spend some time around the altar, praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. In some locations, celebrants wear shells on their clothing, so that when they dance, the noise will wake up the dead; some will also dress up as the deceased.

Public schools at all levels build altars with ofrendas, usually omitting the religious symbols. Government offices usually have at least a small altar, as this holiday is seen as important to the Mexican heritage.

Those with a distinctive talent for writing sometimes create short poems, called calaveras ("skulls"), mocking epitaphs of friends, describing interesting habits and attitudes or funny anecdotes. This custom originated in the 18th or 19th century, after a newspaper published a poem narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future, "and all of us were dead", proceeding to "read" the tombstones. Newspapers dedicate calaveras to public figures, with cartoons of skeletons in the style of the famous calaveras of José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican illustrator. Theatrical presentations of Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla (1817–1893) are also traditional on this day.

A common symbol of the holiday is the skull (colloquially called calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for "skeleton"), and foods such as sugar or chocolate skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls are gifts that can be given to both the living and the dead. Other holiday foods include pan de muerto, a sweet egg bread made in various shapes from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits, often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.

José Guadalupe Posada created a famous print of a figure that he called La Calavera de la Catrina ("calavera of the female dandy") as a parody of a Mexican upper-class female. Posada's striking image of a costumed female with a skeleton face has become associated with the Day of the Dead, and Catrina figures often are a prominent part of modern Day of the Dead observances.

The traditions and activities that take place in celebration of the Day of the Dead are not universal and often vary from town to town. For example, in the town of Pátzcuaro on the Lago de Pátzcuaro in Michoacán, the tradition is very different if the deceased is a child rather than an adult. On November 1 of the year after a child's death, the godparents set a table in the parents' home with sweets, fruits, pan de muerto, a cross, a rosary (used to ask the Virgin Mary to pray for them) and candles. This is meant to celebrate the child's life, in respect and appreciation for the parents. There is also dancing with colorful costumes, often with skull-shaped masks and devil masks in the plaza or garden of the town. At midnight on November 2, the people light candles and ride winged boats called mariposas (Spanish for "butterflies") to Janitzio, an island in the middle of the lake where there is a cemetery, to honor and celebrate the lives of the dead there.

 

2011-10-22/LaVonne/0ba7c7

In contrast, the town of Ocotepec, north of Cuernavaca in the State of Morelos, opens its doors to visitors in exchange for veladoras (small wax candles) to show respect for the recently deceased. In return, the visitors receive tamales and atole. This is only done by the owners of the house where somebody in the household has died in the previous year. Many people of the surrounding areas arrive early to eat for free and enjoy the elaborate altars set up to receive the visitors from Mictlán.

In some parts of the country (especially the cities, where in recent years there are displaced other customs), children in costumes roam the streets, knocking on people's doors for a calaverita, a small gift of candies or money; they also ask passersby for it. This custom is similar to that of Halloween's trick-or-treating and is relatively recent.

Some people believe that possessing Day of the Dead items can bring good luck. Many people get tattoos or have dolls of the dead to carry with them. They also clean their houses and prepare the favorite dishes of their deceased loved ones to place upon their altar or ofrenda.

Here is the United States many Mexican communities celebrate the Day of the Dead much in the same way it is in Mexico and are combined with those of pagan harvest festivals.  . People wearing masks carry signs honoring the dead and an urn in which people can place slips of paper with prayers on them to be burned.[6]

In other communities, interactions between Mexican traditions and American culture are resulting in celebrations in which Mexican traditions are being extended to make artistic or sometimes political statements. For example, in Los Angeles, California, the Self Help Graphics & Art Mexican-American cultural center presents an annual Day of the Dead celebration that includes both traditional and political elements, such as altars to honor the victims of the Iraq War highlighting the high casualty rate among Latino soldiers. An updated, inter-cultural version of the Day of the Dead is also evolving at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.[7] There, in a mixture of Mexican traditions and Hollywood hip, conventional altars are set up side-by-side with altars to Jayne Mansfield and Johnny Ramone. Colorful native dancers and music intermix with performance artists, while sly pranksters play on traditional themes.

People wearing masks carry signs honoring the dead and an urn in which people can place slips of paper with prayers on them to be burned.[6]

In other communities, interactions between Mexican traditions and American culture are resulting in celebrations in which Mexican traditions are being extended to make artistic or sometimes political statements. For example, in Los Angeles, California, the Self Help Graphics & Art Mexican-American cultural center presents an annual Day of the Dead celebration that includes both traditional and political elements, such as altars to honor the victims of the Iraq War highlighting the high casualty rate among Latino soldiers. An updated, inter-cultural version of the Day of the Dead is also evolving at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.[7] There, in a mixture of Mexican traditions and Hollywood hip, conventional altars are set up side-by-side with altars to Jayne Mansfield and Johnny Ramone. Colorful native dancers and music intermix with performance artists, while sly pranksters play on traditional themes.

Educational Trust and the folkloric performance group La Piñata, the Day of the Dead celebration celebrates the cycle of life and death. People bring offerings of flowers, photos, mementos, and food for their departed loved ones, which they place at an elaborately and colorfully decorated altar. A program of traditional music and dance also accompanies the community event.

So now we have seen the celebration of Samhain where it originated in Ireland and how it came to America and we have seen that these celebrations have a similarity with our Mexican residents and neighbors to the South.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_of_the_Dead

2011-10-22/LaVonne/cc0280

 

I had the extreme pleasure of attending a celebration of los Día de los Muertos in Santa Barbara several years ago. They had  procession down the main street filled with participants many dressed in authentic mexican costume and carrying masks on poles and effigies of the dead adorned with flowers and colorful ribbons.  There were Mariachi bands  and other musicians who played lively music to celebrate the “arrival” of the dead to the celebrations.  On the grounds of the 75 year old Courthouse.  There were pavillons set up serving mexican foods from various areas and cultures.  Mexican dancers performed on the stage from children to adults.  Their costumes were made to represent various areas of culture in Mexico and South America.  They were made from bright colored cotton, trimmed with satin ribbons and bows, and sashes that ranked the dancer as a profesional or having achieved a level of expertise from a school of dance.

My impression of the celebrations were that it was so beautiful, reverent and full of high energy.  I don’t think anyone could attend and not be moved by the celebrations.

If you ever have the chance to attend a celebration of los Dia de los Muertos, I encourage you to do so.  You will not regret it. 

Have A Blessed Samhain – decorate your homes in bright colors, flowers of the season and serve your favorite winter foods to all who visit your home.

 

 

Related articles:
Day of the Dead, Halloween, Samhain

About LaVonne
I am still learning who LaVonne/Dorothy is.

Statistically I am a 65 y/young mother of 3, grandmother of 9, and great-grandmother of 3. I am a High Priestess and founder of the College of the Boundless Truth, am an Ordained Minister and perform Handfastings, marriages during the Spring and Summer season. I am enjoying my Crone years.

« More articles

Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Another great article! Woodwife Jan 7, 2013 4:38 PM 2

The Cottage in the Thicket

This is a place for pagans of all paths and anyone else who wants to join in. Everyone is welcome here. Share your ideas or just share what you did today. C'mon in make yourself at home!

» Home
» Forums
» Articles
» FAQ

Cubit owner: Woodwife

Admin team:

» Contact the admins