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In Wales, this night is called Nos Galan Gaeaf (the beginning of the new year), the night when spirits walk abroad. On stiles, or entrances to footpaths, ghosts of dead persons are said to appear at midnight. In some parts of Wales, the ghost was often the Ladi Wen (white lady), but in the north, it was usually the more frightening Hwch Ddu Gwta (tail-less black sow) that appeared. Before dawn, huge bonfires were lit on the hillsides, often two or three within sight of each other. It was a great honor to have your bonfire burn longest and great pains were taken to keep them alight. While apples and potatoes were thrown into the fires for roasting, the watchers would dance around or leap through the flames for good luck. Stones were thrown into the fire; then, when the flames died down, everyone would run for home to escape the clutches of the Hwch Ddu Gwta. The next morning, at daybreak, searchers would try to find their stones. Those who succeeded would be guaranteed good luck for the coming year. If you could not find your stone, then bad luck or even death would follow. On Nos Galan Gaeaf in Montgomeryshire, in many farmhouses, a mash was made of nine ingredients: potatoes, carrots, turnips, peas, parsnips, leeks, pepper, salt and new milk. In the mash was hidden a wedding ring. The young maidens of the local village would dig into the mash with their wooden spoons, anxious to learn their fate, for the one who found the ring would be first married. In Carmarthenshire, the mash of nine ingredients, stwmp naw rhyw, was not used to foretell the future, but nine girls used to meet to make a pancake containing nine ingredients. This was then divided among the girls and eaten. Before morning, each girl would have a vision of her future husband. In many parts of North Wales, where the custom of bundling was a very common practice (much frowned upon by the English judiciary) the young dreamers would often find their future husband in bed with them!! Along with the mash, or the pancakes, came the wassail bowl. The wassail was often put inside a puzzle jug, with many spouts, and the unsuspecting drinker would find himself doused with beer, wine, or cider by drinking from the wrong spout. Apples always played a large part in Halloween festivities (they are the one fruit that grows prolifically in the temperamental Welsh climate and can be preserved throughout much of the early winter). The most popular game was apple bobbing, with six or eight perfectly round fruit placed in a large bowl of water set on the floor. Then, with both hands tied behind their backs, the young lads and lasses would try to pick up an apple with only their teeth. Usually they received a nose and mouth full of water for their pains, but no apple!! In some houses, the apples were tied on one end of a stick suspended from the ceiling with a candle tied to the other end. The stick was then rotated and the participants, again with their hands tied behind them, tried to catch the apple with their teeth as it spun around. They usually ended up with a mouth full of candle! Other Halloween customs did not involve apples, but the unseen. In the Vale of Glamorgan, at night, when the spirits were roaming the churchyards, one of the braver villagers would put on his coat and vest inside out and recite the Lord's Prayer backwards as he walked around the church a number of times. Then the courageous lad would enter the porch and put his finger through the keyhole of the church door to prevent any spirits from escaping. It was believed that the apparitions of those who would soon die could be spied through the keyhole. In other areas of Wales, groups of youths would dress up in women's clothes with the girls in men's clothing. They would wander from house to house after dark, chanting verses and soliciting gifts of fruit or nuts, used to divine one's future. In other, more rural areas, young men used to dress up in sheepskins and old ragged clothes and disguise or blacken their faces. After chanting their weird rhymes, they would then be given gifts of apples or nuts, and sometimes beer. The groups would be known as the gwrachod (hags or witches). The visiting of these groups were always in fun, but were taken seriously as harbingers of good tidings for the forthcoming year and the expulsion of the bad spirits from the household.
Samhain (pronounced 'sow'inn') is a very important date in the Pagan calendar for it marks the Feast of the Dead. Many Pagans also celebrate it as the old Celtic New Year (although some mark this at Imbolc). It is also celebrated by non-Pagans who call this festival Halloween. Samhain has been celebrated in Britain for centuries and has its origin in Pagan Celtic traditions. It was the time of year when the veils between this world and the Otherworld were believed to be at their thinnest: when the spirits of the dead could most readily mingle with the living once again. Later, when the festival was adopted by Christians, they celebrated it as All Hallows' Eve, followed by All Saints Day, though it still retained elements of remembering and honouring the dead. To most modern Pagans, while death is still the central theme of the festival this does not mean it is a morbid event. For Pagans, death is not a thing to be feared. Old age is valued for its wisdom and dying is accepted as a part of life as necessary and welcome as birth. While Pagans, like people of other faiths, always honour and show respect for their dead, this is particularly marked at Samhain. Loved ones who have recently died are remembered and their spirits often invited to join the living in the celebratory feast. It is also a time at which those born during the past year are formally welcomed into the community. As well as feasting, Pagans often celebrate Samahin with traditional games such as apple-dooking. Death also symbolises endings and Samhain is therefore not only a time for reflecting on mortality, but also on the passing of relationships, jobs and other significant changes in life. A time for taking stock of the past and coming to terms with it, in order to move on and look forward to the future. Ancient Celtic celebrations Not only did the Celts believe the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead dissolved on this night, they thought that the presence of the spirits helped their priests to make predictions about the future. To celebrate Samhain the Druids built huge sacred bonfires. People brought harvest food and sacrificed animals to share a communal dinner in celebration of the festival. During the celebration the Celts wore costumes - usually animal heads and skins. They would also try and tell each other's fortunes. After the festival they re-lit the fires in their homes from the sacred bonfire to help protect them, as well as keep them warm during the winter months.

Halloween isn't just costumes and candy; it's a cultural holiday rich in tradition.

All Hallows Eve Pictures, Images and Photos As most folks are aware, "Halloween" is a contraction of "All Hallows Eve." "Hallows" is an archaic form of "holy." So the word Halloween (the night set aside for demons, witches, vampires, and goblins) means "Holy Night." Most modern Christians will tell you that the holiness of this night has been co-opted over the years by evil influences. Historically, it's actually the other way around. It was the Catholic Church that tried to change what they saw as an "evil" festival into a good and holy Christian celebration. It didn't work. Like most of our religious holidays, Halloween was established by Catholic canon (or law) between 400 and 1000 A.D. According to the Catholic calendar, October 31st is set aside as a holy night that preceded the annual "Feast of All Saints." This feast is a celebration of all the good, saintly people who were mutilated, tortured, and killed to show the world how powerful the Christian message was. One might logically assume that the ones doing the killing and torturing should have been the ones who got to celebrate it, but for some odd reason the early Church decided that the murder of their best and brightest warranted a day of feasting and celebration. It was a theological thing. Originally each martyred saint had his own feast day. However, by the ninth century the guys doing all the murdering and torturing had done such a good job that they had killed more saints than there were days in the year. Since the Christians felt it was important to honor all the flayings, stonings, and crucifixions, Pope Boniface IV instituted a single day, November 1st, wherein all of this bloodshed and cruelty could be properly venerated. This greatly disappointed the Romans, Celts, and Greeks who had been responsible for killing a lot of these saints. Until the Church actually set aside this day of partying, they thought they had been doing bad things to the Christians by killing their saints. That it was cause for feasting was all very confusing to them. According to Christian lore, the evening before All Saints' Day was a night wherein the souls of the saints would drive evil from the world so all the good and holy Christians could celebrate the Feast of All Saints on November 1st. This explanation for the existence of Halloween is believed by millions of Catholics and Christians around the world. It's the official explanation given by the Vatican for having a holiday on October 31st-November 1st, and remains on the Catholic Calendar to this day. However, to fully appreciate the depth and meaning of this Christian holiday, we have to examine what October 31st was before the Christians converted (read: "decimated") the original Celtic culture. Long before Christianity arrived in Ireland and England, October 31st was celebrated as the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts divided the year into only two seasons; the light and the dark. Beltane, on May 1st, was the passage from the dark winter to light spring/summer. For the Celts, October 31st was where the summer season touched the beginning of the dark, cold winter. More importantly, it was where the Celts believed that, like the summer and winter, life and death touched and were closer than at any other time of the year. On Samhain, the lines between life and death blurred. It was believed that this was the night where the spirits of those who had died over the previous year would have their last, best chance of reaching the living. This belief brought with it a lot of superstition and ritual. Druids, or Celtic priests, would use this night to make predictions about the future because the "otherworld" was closer. For a people entirely dependent on farming and crops, these prophecies became an important part of the culture. On Samhain, the priests would wear animal skins, dance around a bonfire, and try to tell each other's future. It was essentially like any given night at a biker bar. The Celts would also wear costumes to disguise themselves on the way home from the party, just in case one of their dead relatives (who would wander around on Samhain eve) saw them and decided to follow them back. They also left out wine and food for the spirits, assuming that if the ghost was drunk and had a full belly he'd be less likely to seek revenge for anything that may have happened while he was alive. The modern idea of "trick-or-treating" wasn't part of the Samhain ritual, though. It dates back to the All Souls' Day parades in England in the 17th century. During the parades, the poor would beg for food from the rich folks who had come out to celebrate. Not wanting to give them money, the rich took to giving away pastries called "soul cakes"--if the poor person promised to pray for the family's dead relatives. These soul cakes eventually replaced the idea of leaving food and wine out for lost souls. Eventually the practice moved from the parade to the neighborhood, with teams of local children visiting the houses of wealthier neighbours and asking for food or ale in exchange for praying for the family's dead relatives. This house-to-house prayer-for-food arrangement was known as "going a-souling." The idea of wearing costumes came from the Celtic tradition of disguising yourself from dead relatives, and was picked up by the children who had seen it done in the All Souls' Day parade. When Europeans made it to North America, these traditions travelled with them. From the earliest settlements, October 31st was always set aside to celebrate the harvest and remember the dead. Early Colonists held what they called "play parties" where they would tell stories about dead relatives, tell each other's fortunes--and generally scare the hell out of each other. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the "play parties" had evolved into being "autumn festivities," which were basically the same thing without the costumes or the soul cakes. It wasn't until the second half of the nineteenth century that North America started to see what we now call Halloween. Millions of Irish fleeing Ireland's potato famine of 1846 brought back a lot of the old Celtic traditions, adding them in to the "autumn festivals" to re-create the Samhain flavor. It was the Irish who restarted the tradition of wearing costumes and going house to house asking for food or money. By 1900, Halloween parties became the "in" thing, but the Christians were doing their best to stave off the Celtic flair. Newspaper articles and sermons were put out telling the parents to get rid of anything "frightening" or "evil" in the celebration of Halloween. By 1940, the Christian idea of October 31st being the "All Hallows Eve" before "All Saints' Day" had been firmly entrenched in North America. This is really the only era in which Halloween was truly thought of as a Christian holiday. Not surprisingly then, it was also the era of the most boring Halloween celebrations in history. It was the baby boom and the 1960s that saved Halloween from becoming a stodgy, sedate holiday devoted to a bunch of dead Christian saints. When the baby boomers reached the age where they wanted to party there were just too many of them for the adults to control. So, come October 31st, the baby boomers leapt at the chance to revive the tradition of dressing up, partying, and having scary, creepy fun. The church leaders warned them about hell, damnation, and the cost to their eternal soul, but this of course just made the idea that much more intriguing. Halloween became part of the counterculture revolution; a way for the baby boomers to revolt against the establishment. As the baby boomers had children, the practice of going door to door asking for treats was reintroduced, and it all came full circle back to the original Celtic tradition. The Christians scowled about this, but there was little they could do. By the early 1970s, commerce stepped up and drove Halloween to new heights. Sales of costumes, flashlights, party favors, and candies reached all time heights during the Halloween season. UNICEF boxes were added to capitalize on the tradition of giving away money, and the holiday was firmly entrenched from then on. Today, Americans spend an estimated $7 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country's second largest commercial holiday after Christmas. And the Catholics? They're still sitting around trying to convince everyone that October 31st is now and always has been the evening before the Feast of All Saints.
Dispelling Halloween Myths For thousands of years people have been celebrating holidays and festivals to honor the dead and their ancestors. It is in this vein that I would like to address some of the Christian 'Halloween' myths and put forth some facts on the Pagan celebrations in the past and present. The Roman Catholic Church attempted to Christianize the pagan festival of 'Samhain' (pronounced sow-in) by adopting November 1 as All-Saints Day or All-Hallows Day - a time to remember those that have passed away. All Saint's (Hallows) Day was first introduced in the 7th century, and was originally on May 13, and then apparently moved to February 21. It was changed to November 1 by Pope Gregory in 835. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the Church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, another day to honor the dead. The Celtic New Year and the Roman New Year were not the same. The Celtic New Year was indeed Nov. 1, but the Roman was on April 22. Lets first address the word 'halloween' itself. 'Hallow' is an old word meaning holy, to treat as sacred; "e'en" is Scottish/Gaelic for evening. Thus we have 'holy evening or sacred evening'. Now lets look at the traditional word 'Samhain'. The word 'Samhain' means summer-end; 'Samhuinn' or 'Samhainn' means Hallow-tide. The Druids were an 'oral' tradition; they didn't write down their teachings. Unfortunately, most of what is known of them from pre-Christian times was written by their mortal enemies: the Roman Empire. The ancient Celtic fire festival called 'Samhain' is the origin of modern Halloween. This festival was the feast of the dead in Pagan and Christian times, marking the close of harvest and the initiation of the winter season. Samhain marks the pagan New Year's eve. It is a time spent celebrating death, fertility, and renewal. The autumn leaves, cornstalks, apples, and nuts which are so much a part of the Halloween season are reminders of the Druids' autumn festival in honor of the harvest. There is no such deity as 'Samhain, Druid god of the dead'. The 'Great God Samhain' myth appears to have come from Col. Vallency's books in the 1770s before the reliable translations of the Celtic literary works and before the archaeological excavations. 'Samhain' is the name of the holiday. There is no evidence of any god or demon named 'Samhain', 'Samain', 'Sam Hane', or however you want to vary the spelling. All Hallows Eve is the night to bring to life those who have passed. It is Samhain, All Soul's Day, the Day of the Dead, Halloween. It is the time to 'hallow', to venerate the dead and in so doing, acknowledge their energy which still flows through us. It is the time to be with our ancestors, when the earth hovers in the twilight of decay. The window to those who have already passed is open. In Ireland, where Halloween began in my opinion, the first jack-o'-lanterns weren't made of pumpkins. They were made out of rutabagas, potatoes, turnips, or even beets. There is an old 18th century Irish 'legend' about a man named Stingy Jack who was too mean to get into heaven and had played too many tricks on the devil to go to hell. When he died, he had to walk the earth, carrying a lantern made out of a turnip with a burning coal inside. Stingy Jack became known as 'Jack of the Lantern', or 'Jack-o'-lantern.' From this legend came the Irish tradition of placing jack-o'-lanterns made of turnips and other vegetables in windows or by doors on Halloween. The jack-o'-lanterns are meant to scare away Stingy Jack and all the other spirits that are said to walk the earth on that night. It wasn't until the tradition was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants in the late 1800's that pumpkins (which were abundant) were used for jack-o'-lanterns. Let's now see how other countries celebrate 'Samhain': In Mexico, Halloween is known as 'Los Dias de los Muertos' (the day of the dead). However, it isn't a time of sadness but one of great rejoicing. At this time of year the Monarch Butterflies, which have summered up north in the United States and Canada, return to Mexico. They are believed to bear the spirits of the dearly departed and are warmly welcomed home. In the homes, the family set up an 'altars' with flowers, bread, fruit and candy. Pictures of the deceased family members are added. In the late afternoon special all night burning candles are lit - it is time to remember the departed. In the Aztec calendar, this ritual fell roughly at the end of the Gregorian month of July and the beginning of August, but in the postconquest era it was moved by Spanish priests so that it coincided with the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve In Palermo and the rest of Sicily November 2 is a festival day for the children of Palermo as, according to tradition, they believe that their dead relatives would return the night before and leave them traditional sweets and cakes on the table (Martorana fruit, which is almond paste made into the shape of different fruit). They would also receive puppets of boiled sugar and toys. It's one way of keeping the memory of their dead relatives and loved ones alive. In Japan, the 'Obon Festival', (also called Matsuri or Urabon) is dedicated to the spirits of ancestors, for whom special foods are prepared. Bright red lanterns are hung everywhere. Lit candles are placed into lanterns and floated on rivers and seas. During the 'Obon' period a fire is made every night in order to show the ancestors where their families are. One of the two main occasions during the year when the dead are believed to return to their birthplaces. Memorial stones are cleaned and community dances performed. This festival, however, occurs during July or August. In China, worshipers in Buddhist temples make 'boats of the law' ( fa-ch'uan) out of paper, some very large, which are then burned in the evening. The purpose of the celebration is twofold: to remember the dead and to free and let ascend to heaven the 'pretas'. The 'pretas' are the spirits of those who died as a result of an accident or a drowning and as a consequence were never buried; their presence among men is thought to be dangerous. Under the guidance of Buddhist temples, societies are formed to carry out ceremonies for the pretas--lanterns are lit, monks are invited to recite sacred verses, and offerings of fruit are presented. In Korea, the festival is called 'Chusok'. Families take this time to thank their ancestors for the fruits of their labor. The family pays respect to ancestors by visiting their tombs and offering them rice and fruits. This festival occurs in August. In Sweden, 'Alla Helgons dag', is celebrated between Oct 31-Nov 6. This like many other holidays has an eve that is either celebrated or is a shortened working day. The Friday before All Saint's Day is a short day at the university and school children have vacation. Not everyone celebrates Halloween to honor their dead and ancestors. Halloween is seen as an 'American' holiday in modern France. Pronounced 'ah-lo-een' by the French, this holiday was virtually unknown there until about 1996. Neither Witchcraft nor Wicca is synonymous with Satan or Devil worship. The very concept of a supreme evil spirit is alien to Witches; we do not worship any being known as "Satan" or "the Devil", as defined by the Christian tradition. We do not seek power through the suffering of others, nor accept that personal benefit can be derived only be denial to another. The notion that Witches worship Satan was produced by the Roman Catholic Church as they made their way across Europe, in an effort to suppress the native earth-based religions prevalent at the time. So if it appears on October 31 that the wind sounds a little too mournful as it whistles through the skeletal fingers of the bare trees, it's only your imagination. And if the nip in the air seems to bear the chilling touch of the grave on it, it's only fall foreshadowing the arrival of winter. It has nothing to do with the ghosts and goblins that a 'legend' has made.
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