Halloween, Samhain, Celtic Day Of The Dead And Jewellery That Celebrates Twins, Loved Ones And Life’s Journeys
Do you know the ‘true’ origins of Halloween?
No its not about fiendish ghouls, trick or treating or about skulls and skeletons - well actually it kinda is - it has much more traditional roots than that going way back to the ancient celts!
Being Irish, parts of this festival have been ingrained in my upbringing but over the years has become mixed with the more ‘commercial’ aspects of Halloween. So heres what I know to be ‘the important’ and historical elements of this celtic festival and its fascinating connotations of welcoming in the winter season, scaring away anything untoward and honouring passed loved ones.
The modern spooktacular that we now call Halloween originated from the ancient celtic pagan tradition of ‘Samhain’ - which isa Gaelic word pronounced ‘sow-win’ - and was celebrated on the 1st November with celebrations starting on the evening of the 31st October. It was historically observed in Ireland and Scotland, along with similar festivities being held in the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall and Britany.
We Irish are a superstitious lot and the traditions of our rituals were often handed down by the spoken word and through family rituals and group festivities based around the changing of the seasons and the equinoxes. Certainly my grandmother had a saying and a little ritual for everything - and although I often get these mixed up, I have brought what I know and passed it along to my family.
The Veil Between Two Worlds
For me one of the fascinating traditions that has fed into modern Halloween is the ‘veil between the two worlds’! This is the spooky and ghostly part that has fed so many nightmares! But the actual story of this is so much more interesting!
At Samhain - we believe that the ‘veil’ between the living world and the spirit world is at its thinnest and as usual in Irish culture, this has a positive and a negative connotation.
On the bad side, the thinning of the veil meant that all the fairies (both good and bad), along with all the spirits (both good and bad) could easily travel into this world and cause much havoc if they so desired.
And hence the tradition of ‘dressing up’ in a costume - or ‘guisin’ as it was often called - was seen as a way to scare off anything untoward. The superstition around this being that if you left your home after dark you should wear a mask and a disguise so that you would ‘blend in’ with any spirits roaming around.
...And hence the halloween costume was born.
…And hence this is where the ‘ghost and ghoul’ and ‘dressing up’ aspect of modern Halloween comes from, although commercialisation has chosen to focus on the ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ aspect of this festival.
You would also have gone from door to door asking for food. If you opened the door and didn't give out any food then this was bad luck. Whilst this may have seen like begging, it might traditionally have been a way for poorer families to literally have enough food to put on their tables.
As the years went on, there was often mischief to be done during this part of the festivities giving it the name ‘mischief night’ and so the modern idea of ‘trick or treating’ began! So next year if you feel grumpy about having people call at your door asking for treats, just remember if you don’t give anything away, it will be bad luck for the rest of the year!
Michael’s Skull Wedding Ring
It couldn’t be more opposite to the really pretty platinum wedding ring I made for his partner Helen which fitted around her engagement ring and was set with diamonds!
Honouring Loved Ones And Day Of The Dead
So lets look at the other aspect of the veil of two worlds - a favourite of mine and one that I will be continuing to celebrate with my family.
On the PLUS side, it was thought that at this time of year the spirits of any of your dead relatives could come to visit you and with this in mind, it was a time to honour your passed loved ones and to remember them.
To do this you might make ‘altars’ to include images and photographs of them and you might decorate these altars with flowers and food...and skulls.
And a new personal favourite - you should set an extra place for your relatives at your celebration table so that they are welcome in your home. The seat at the table and the food being a way to honour them but also just to make sure they would be appeased and that they wont come back to wreak any havoc!
‘Opposites’, Twin And Partner Jewellery
Mexican ‘Day Of The Dead’ And Día De Muertos
Does this sound familiar? It’s very like the Mexican ‘Day Of The Dead’ orDía de Muertos.
In Mexico they celebrate a very similar festival at this time of year where they too believe that the veil between the two worlds dissolve and that the souls of passed children and family loved ones can come to visit.
Whats interesting is that the actual origins of this tradition is in debate - where did it actually come from? Some say it was passed down from indignous Aztec traditions and others that its an interpretation of a much later Spanish Catholic festival brought to themby visitingSpanish conquistadors.And that the colourful sugar skulls that have become synonymous with Día de Muertos were brought to Mexico by Italian missionaries
What I can say is that Celtic Day Of The Dead appears to be a much ‘darker’ festival of spirits, scary faces, costumes and keeping bad omens at bay, whereas Mexican Day Of The Dead is more bright and colourful and a time to celebrate loved ones. Some say the celts celebrate death whereas in Mexico they celebrate life.
Either way, both these festivals are ways for families to honour their relatives and perhaps to deal with grief in a communal way!
Jack-O-Lanterns And Stingy Jack
So what about pumpkin carving, where did that come from?
Well in Ireland, the tradition was more about carving turnips or other root vegetables rather than pumpkins. Turnips would have been the abundant harvest crop in Ireland - whereas those big old orange pumpkins we have come to know wouldn't have been the traditional vegetable of the land.
Turnips were carved in scary faces, a candle was put inside and then these glowing ‘Jack-O-Lanterns’ were placed on a windowsill - both to ‘scare away’ any unwanted spirits but also to guide the way for the good spirits.
But yet again, the tradition of this ritual stems from an old Irish folk tale called ‘Stingy Jack’. The story goes that Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him, but being stingy, he was after a free drink, so he tricked the Devil into paying! After Jack died, he was then cursed to eternally wander the earth in the dead of night, with only a single coal ember which he would place in a hollowed-out turnip so he could see his way in the dark. And hence he was known as ‘Jack of the Lantern’ or ‘Jack-o’-Lantern’ for short.
And so in Irish culture, vegetables were carved out in Jack’s likeness both as a deterrent to keep Jack himself away, whilst at the same time lighting the way for good spirits!
Turnips are even harder to hollow out than pumpkins!
Pumpkin Balls And The Shimmer Of Gold
Celtic New Year
Aside from the ghost and ghouls, the dressing up and the carving, lets not forget that Samhain is referred to as Celtic New Year. It is an important festival celebrating the end of the harvest season and welcoming in the start of winter.
Superstitions around winter being ‘the darkest months’ led to winter being associated with a time of death. Even more so in historical times as this was the season that brought in the cold, longer and darker winter nights and a time when people, animals and crops literally may not have survived!
And coming from Ireland we all know that the long dark nights, grey skies and freezing cold temperatures can be a time of year that leads to severe depression and dreariness.
So to overcome this, at Samhain they traditionally lit bonfires and celebrated with slaughtering animals and offerings of food and flowers. Hence it was a fire and food festival. The fire to ward off anything bad, but also its smoke to cleanse and its warmth and energy to welcome in the new.
A further tradition which I find fascinating is that the fire would continue to be lit during the 1st November and each family would take part of the glowing embers back to their own ‘home hearth’ to light their fires to welcome in the new winter season!
Certainly as a child in N.Ireland I remember going to bonfires on Halloween night but later these disappeared. Perhaps because ‘bonfires’ in N.Ireland later became associated with the fighting that ensued after the ‘11th night’ bonfires. And as a student in Scotland, they had ‘bonfire night’ on the 5th of November as a celebration of Guy Fawkes night - something we didn't celebrate in N.Ireland!
Twin Skull Rings To Celebrate A New Journey
Whats The Tradition Here In Australia?
Now being in W.Australia, we find ourselves celebrating the ending of Spring and the onset of Summer at this time of year and so I am totally confused as to what should be celebrated.
In terms of the holiday festivals, Halloween is still celebrated with the children dressing up, pumpkin carving and the going door to door trick or treating for treats.
And whilst I bring into this time of year my more ancient celtic roots of honouring passed loved ones and making sure theres a place for them at my table and a candle to light their way, I wonder what the Aboriginal cultures do at this time?
And so that is my new quest - and I don’t have any answers just yet as their culture doesn’t seem to revolve around the seasons in the same way. Their terminology is more about ‘country’, the land, the stars and the dream world and like the Irish, their folklore has been passed down through stories and not always written down!
And so I’ll finish this tale by wishing you a happy Samhain and Celtic Day Of The Dead. As well as dressing up, carving pumpkins and eating sweets, dont forget to light a candle and set a place at your table for your passed relatives. And in my family, we need a pretty big table for this!
And lets welcome in both the winter season for those of you still in the Northern Hemisphere and the Summer season for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere. Here’s to a weekend of cleansing, the ending of one seasonal cycle and the beginning of the new and wishing you good fortune for the days ahead!
And dear knows, we really need to focus on the positive parts of this festival this year!
My Granny’s Twin Ring