It's Spooky Season!
WE LOVE HALLOWEEN here at Wood Witch HQ. We will shout it from our skeleton covered rooftops - as soon as the air even hints at the change from summer to fall we are pulling costumes together and sending out party invites. We try to hold out before kicking off a marathon of scary movies, but there are so many favorites. . . . we've already started this year. AND I have already had a pumpkin spice coffee beverage or two, and no, I’m not ashamed. It was iced, because I started in August, so I feel like that justifies it. I know it’s not for everyone, but I just love everything about this time of year, and this holiday in particular. Costumes, cobwebbing and jack o’lanterning the heck out of the house, the nip that hints at the sweater weather to come while still clinging to sun warmed afternoons. . . . it’s spooky season gang, and your local Wood Witch Coven is HERE FOR IT.
Samhain (pronounced sah-wen) or “summer’s end” traces its origins back 2000 years or so, to the part of the world that is now Ireland, the UK and Northern France. Originally their new year celebration, it marked the end of summer and harvest season, and the start of winter. The ancient Celts believed the the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest on October 31st, and that spirits walked the earth, heading home for a bit of hospitality. Places were set at tables and near the hearth to welcome them.
Huge bonfires were built and crops and animals were burned in sacrifice to the gods. Costumes were worn - often animal heads and skins; and fortune telling was a popular activity.
When the celebration was over, the celebrants would bring some of the sacred fire home to relight their hearth fires to help protect through the winter; much as they did with the spring fires of Beltane.
Along came the Romans (womp womp), commingling their own autumnal celebrations - Feralia (a day to remember those that had passed) and Pomona (the Roman goddess of fruit and trees - who, honestly, I did not know even existed until now).
By the 9th century those conquering Romans had brought Christianity into the mix. The Pope didn’t love the idea of all these pagan gods stealing the spotlight from Jesus. He moved the springtime celebration known as All Martyrs Day (aka All Saints Day) to November 1. The church went on to make November 2 All Souls’ Day - a day to honor the dead, because you need to be THOROUGH when you are trying to replace pagan revelry with your newly founded religion.
In Middle English, Alholowmesse (All Saints’ Day) morphed into All-hallows. The night before was All-hallows Even(ing), which morphed a little further into Hallowe'en.
The English brought Hallowe’en with them to the new world, where it mixed with many other beliefs from all over Europe and America as we began our great big melting pot experiment. Early celebrations included events celebrating the harvest, sharing stories to honor the dead (which included “ghost stories” of the fiercer and more wicked deceased), and dancing and singing of course, because what’s a celebration without a bit of merriment?
It’s taken a while to spread its dark wings but Halloween is now celebrated in countries around the world. I recommend going back to its Irish roots with a little bit of turnip (or beet) carving. Anyone can carve a big ol’ fat pumpkin. Take it back to the early 1900s and carve a turnip to use as a lantern instead. It’s WAY more terrifying and harkens back to the story of Jack O’Lantern - barred from heaven AND from hell for being a general pain in the ass, Jack was doomed to roam the earth for eternity with a burning coal inside a hollowed turnip as the only thing to light his way.
For those that prefer to celebrate the brightness and joy of living, we can be grateful to our Mexican ancestors for the Dia de los Muertos celebrations which begin November 1st and end November 2nd (no Mexican ancestors? That’s okay, you can still join in this celebration as well!). San Francisco’s Mission District hosts a large celebration in Potrero Del Sol Park which I highly recommend you check out if you’re in the area.
A foil to the much darker Halloween traditions, Dia de los Muertos celebrates deceased family members as honored guests in this joyful day of reunion.