As I may, or may not, have revealed, I know way too much about folklore.
I blame my father — I grew up watching Clash of the Titans. I’ve seen it so many times, I actually identified it from a 5 second sound bite with my back turned to the television one day. (Sad I know)
From there, my interest in folklore steadily grew over time, and I’ve developed a tendency to devour it faster than I can find it.
This is why one of my favorite holidays has always been Halloween.
Yes, when I was a kid, I always loved it. Dress up in costumes, run around, cause shenanigans, get free candy, what’s not to like?
Well once I learned a little bit more about the holiday, I realized that there was even more about it to enjoy.
To give you the quick and dirty version, Halloween was originally a pagan holiday named Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). It was a Celtic holiday that was their equivalent to our New Years Eve, as their calendar years began on what we’d call the 1st of November. (If you want to learn more, I found this great site that gives all this info here.)
Besides being a marker for their agricultural and livestock related activities, Samhain had a bigger meaning to the Celts.
This was the day they felt that all the souls of the people who died the year before, went to the Otherworld. This was a day when the veil between the worlds was especially thin, and the spirits were most apt to be seen and experienced.
Eventually, Catholicism arrived in Ireland, and they did their usual remix of the local holidays and such, and these spirits became evil and associated with the Devil.
That’s why we run around as children and wear scary costumes, to scare away all the bad things so that they pass us over and leave us alone.
The same is to be said about the jack-o-lanterns we so joyfully carve every year. Originally the Celts would leave offerings of food and animals to sate the angry spirits so that they wouldn’t come into people’s homes.
As my dive into the folklore of Halloween continued, I found more and more seemingly disparate cultures that had similar beliefs.
One of those I liked the most is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead in Mexico and some Latin American countries.
There are even similar practices in different sects of Buddhism and other Asian religions.
When it comes down it, after I learned all of these interesting and downright spooky things Halloween took on a whole new meaning for me.
As silly as it sounds, the day just feels very old to me in a strange and primal way, as if we’re connected to civilizations of long ago.
It’s as if I can feel those spirits around me, shuffling through the world looking for the way to the Otherworld.
Granted, I know that these things are probably not real, (or are they?), but at the same time I don’t care.
They up my enjoyment of the holiday as all the downright silly and seemingly arbitrary things we do now take on an actual meaning despite the fact that we celebrate it purely for entertainment.
Looking at Halloween has become a way for me to possibly guess how people used to celebrate in times past, or in other modern cultures all around the world.
It’s no surprise to any of you that fear and comfort are the two easiest ways to bind people together — especially if these things involve death.
I think our modern celebration of what we call Halloween is simply an analogue of how and why, people did, or still do, celebrate and come together.
I feel a little closer to humanity on that day.
As if we’re not as alone and disconnected as the media and the societal climate would behave.
If we’re doing something the way it was done in antiquity in one way shape or form, how disconnected could people actually be?
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Think I’m nuts? Whatever you do think, please leaves your thoughts in the comments below.
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