Traditions and Superstitions Surrounding Halloween

The word ‘Halloween’ is first seen and used in 16th century and corresponds to a Scottish modification or variant of fuller version of the All-Hallows-Even meaning night prior to All Hallows Day. Although the expression ‘All Hallows’ is found in Old English (mass day of all saints), All-Hallows-Even is not attested until 1556. In relation to the title of the holiday, this is the earliest piece information known on the holiday. All other additions to the holiday came after 1556. The following are some of the traditions and superstitions that surround the festival.

Trick or Treat
During Samhain, (in Gaelic culture, it marked the end of the harvest season) the Druids (priestly class in Old Britain) had the notion that dead would take part in tricking and pranking the living causing terror and devastation on the property of the people. As time went on, people did not use the Druids anymore. They left their offering at their doors and by morning, the food was not there. They believed the spirits had taken the food, probably not realizing that the homeless might also have taken the food.

Another old Irish origin of trick-or-treating states that peasants practiced going to each door collecting bread cake, eggs, money, apples, cheese, butter among other foodstuffs for the festival of St. ColumbKill (original name – Colum McFehlin MacFergus), a revered saint believed to be the first to introduce Christianity to Scotland. This evolved to trick-or-treating being practiced by children and it became largely carried out by the young ones. Costumes had not been integrated into the festival. As the community grew in knowledge and awareness, intermingled with other communities, and got the idea of costumes from other communities.

In the ninth-century, Europeans had another custom named as souling related to trick-or-treating. Souling was a Christian festivity where on the November 2, during All Souls Day, earlier Christians would march from one village to another begging for the ‘soul cakes.’ These were made from square portions of the bread along with currants (these includes certain vegetables and plants used as food). The motivation behind the festival was that more soul cakes the beggars received, more prayers they guarantee to say in place of the donor’s dead relatives. During that time, people believed that dead remained for a short time after the death. Prayer, even from strangers, was believed to expedite the soul into heaven.  

Bobbing for the Apples
When Celts were integrated into Roman Empire, several rituals of the Roman basis started. Among the numerous rituals, was the adulation and worship of the Pomona, the goddess of harvest?  She was often depicted as sitting on the basket of flowers and fruits. Among the fruits in the portrayal, were apples, which were considered as sacred fruit of goddess. Because of this, many games with divination involving apples entered Samhain customs. With the custom integrated into the Samhain ways of living, it eventually got into Halloween festival.

Witch’s Broomstick
Witch is considered as the vital symbol of the Halloween and the festivities surrounding the holiday. The original name Saxon Wica, means wise. Some witches, those regarded as rich, rode on horses, while the poor witches walked and carried the broom to help in leaping over streams and small rivers. In England, when the new witches underwent the initiation ceremony, they were completely blindfolded, soiled with the flying ointment all over and placed on the broomstick. This ointment had a mind-altering and confusing effect, speeding up the witch’s pulse and deadening the feet. Then they said that they are flying. The new witch would take their word and actually believe they were flying. With this origin, many people who believe in witches also participate in Halloween.

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