A brief history of All Hallows’ Eve
As legend has it, every year around this time, witches, ghosts and ghouls escape from the underworld to haunt mere mortals.
For some, Halloween is thought to ignite an evil presence of the devil himself.
Though the history of Halloween is foggy, satanic tendencies are presumably not the origin of this celebrated day.
Instead, Halloween has evolved through much more complex and historical events, with origins in pagan traditions revolving not so much about haunting and ghost-stories.
In the beginning
Halloween’s roots are ancient, beginning with traditions celebrated by the Celts who once inhabited the British Isles.
Instead of the four-season calendar in use today, the ancient Celts divided the year into two parts: Beltane, the growing season; and Samhain, which is translated as “summer’s end.”
Samhain was a time for celebration, a final feast in defiance of the hardships winter would bring.
Back then, Samhain primarily involved feasting, house-cleaning and extinguishing hearth fires and restarting them in a gesture of renewal. At this time of year, the Celts would also commemorate and honour those who passed away during the year.
According to Wendy Brinker from The Garden Universe, “The Celts believed that all laws of time and space were suspended during this time, allowing spirits to roam the earth and intermingle with the living.”
The Celts would build “raging fires and made offerings to appease these restless spirits.”
Witches and warlocks
As per tradition, many Wiccan groups still practice similar sorts of celebratory rituals today during their Samhain festivals.
Wiccans, who commonly refer to themselves as witches and warlocks, are not satanic and do not worship evil deities, as some mistakenly believe.
The majority of Wiccan practices are characterized by expressing goodwill and happiness through deeds that were derived from other ancient religions.
Many Wiccans follow a code known as the Wiccan Rede, which is a saying that was formulated to sum up the ethics of the neo-pagan religion. Though there are many variations of the Rede, the most common one is, “An’ it harm none, do what ye will.”
This can be interpreted in many ways, but it essentially means taking responsibility for one’s actions and minimizing harm on yourself and others.
Many other religions have phrases that suggest sentiments similar to that Rede expression, such as the Christian idiom, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
With the expressed existence of witches and warlocks, the possibility of ghosts doesn’t seem that far-fetched.
“Every religion professes the existence of an afterlife,” writes Brinker.
Since Halloween came to be as a result of spiritual and religious festivals, as will be further explored, it makes sense that an element of the afterlife is present.
“There are many theories dealing with the existence of ghosts,” continues Brinker.
“Some people believe that ghosts are the residual energy left behind by an emotionally strong person or event.”
According to Sigmund Freud, ghosts are a projection of our subconscious mind in relation to our fear of death and the unknown.
Westernizing these celebrations
Halloween as we know it today stems from a Christian holiday. Presumably, as Christianity has traditionally been the main religion in Western cultures, this is why Halloween is still so popular and celebrated in the Americas.
The Christian holiday that transitioned into Halloween began in the 800s when the Catholic Church merged two existing Roman festivals, Feralia and Pomona’s Day, with the Celt’s Samhain.
Merging these festivals was an attempt to replace all three by creating one day for celebration.
Pomona’s Day was originally a harvest festival in honour of the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, which may explain the tradition of bobbing for apples. Feralia, on the other hand, was a day for mourning and remembering the dead, which may explain Halloween’s connection with death.
Why we trick-or-treat
Christians began celebrating All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1, with observances beginning at sunset the night before. Among other things, people dressed in costumes as Christian saints to scare away evil spirits and then went door-to-door, begging for food.
Later on, All Souls’ Day, a holiday commemorating the dead who were not saints, was added to the mix on Nov. 2. Celebrants began going from house to house asking for little soul cakes (currant buns) in exchange for praying for the souls of a household’s dead.
From there, Halloween has evolved into young children trick-or-treating for candy and individuals of all ages dressing up in costumes of a variety of themes.
As mentioned, Nov. 2 is All Souls Day, Nov. 1 is All Saints Day, and Oct. 31 is Halloween. Working backwards from this point, it is worth noting that Oct. 30 is Devil’s Night.
Devil’s Night is primarily associated with the extreme arson and vandalism that occurred the day before Halloween in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s in Detroit, Michigan. Residents in Detroit reacted to these offenses by implementing “Angel’s Night”, where thousands of volunteers aim to keep the pre-Halloween crime to a minimum.
In other parts of the world, Devil’s Night takes on the moniker “Mischief Night” and is known in England as “Miggy Night.”
Closer to home, Devil’s Night characterizes itself with pumpkin smashing and houses being toilet-papered.
Halloween for hunger
If you’re looking to celebrate this Halloween and the destruction (not to mention illegality) of Devil’s Night activities doesn’t strike your fancy, embrace your nostalgic and altruistic side by participating in Halloween for Hunger.
Halloween for Hunger is an event put on by Laurier’s Student Food Bank where students dress up in costume and trick-or-treat for canned food. All food collected is donated to the food bank.
Top five scariest places
- Catacombs, France
To make room for the population growth in Paris, the city was built over ancient catacombs. Every year, tours take place where people have been said to disappear in the underground graves.
- Greyfiar Grave, Scotland
Widely considered the scariest cemetery on Earth, locals talk of hearing shouting in the cemetery and experiencing extreme cold in the air when passing by. Houses built nearby have become “haunted” as well. Every year, tourists flock to the graveyard to experience the fear for themselves. They must go on guided tours and are not allowed to take photos.
- Magh Sleacht, Ireland
In the past, the local people of Magh Sleacht had to sacrifice their children to the god Crom Cruach in exchange for milk, meat and other necessities. It is said to still smell of flesh and blood near the plain where the sacrifices took place and a shadowy figure can be seen circling the area around sunset.
- Poenari Castle, Romania
This is one of the famous castles linked to Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) upon whom the fictional character Dracula is loosely based. His wife committed suicide in the castle and he and his son were tortured and murdered. To reach the castle, said to be one of the most haunted places on earth, visitors need to climb 1,500 steps.
- Whitechapel, East London
With one of the highest concentrations of crime in the world, continuing back to medieval times, serial killer Jack the Ripper committed the bulk of the crimes in this region. Local bars are known to be haunted by the victims. Most locals will avoid the area, believing that the spirits of the victims still linger there.