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Celtic Origin
Celtic Origin


A carved turnip from early 20th century in a museum in Ireland.

respecting the dead

  • Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts.
  • Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1.
  • This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
  • On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.
  • On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.
  • A rendering of what ignus fatus might have looked like.

    Death mythology

  • The term jack-o'-lantern was originally used to describe the visual phenomenon ignis fatuus (lit., "foolish fire") known as a will-o'-the-wisp in English folklore. Used especially in East England, its earliest known use dates to the 1660s. The term "will-o'-the-wisp" uses "wisp" (a bundle of sticks or paper sometimes used as a torch) and the proper name "Will": thus, "Will-of-the-torch." The term jack-o'-lantern is of the same construction: "Jack of [the] lantern."[4]
  • A will-o'-the-wisp, will-o'-wisp or ignis fatuus (/ˈfa.tu.us/; Medieval Latin for "foolish fire") is an atmospheric ghost light seen by travellers at night, especially over bogs, swamps or marshes. It resembles a flickering lamp and is said to recede if approached, drawing travellers from the safe paths. The phenomenon is known by a variety of names, including jack-o'-lantern, friar's lantern, hinkypunk and hobby lantern in English[1] folk belief and is well attested in English folklore and in much of European folklore.[5]
  • In these tales, protagonists named either Will or Jack are doomed to haunt the marshes with a light for some misdeed.
  • Was there a factor X in there that, by sleight of thermodynamics or chemistry, could summon up the marsh spirit? Long ago, Volta had suggested phosphine (PH3) as a substance that might make marsh gas self-ignite. Sure enough, make phosphine and spontaneous ignition will occur – but with a bright flash and clouds of white smoke; and, this particular compound has not been detected in gases emanating from stagnant phosphate-bearing soils. The ghost seems stubbornly absent from this particular machine.[6]
  • Souling for All Saints Day

    All Saints Day

  • By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

    The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.
  • All Saints Day

    On May 13, 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church. Pope Gregory III later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the observance from May 13 to November 1.
  • In 1000 A.D., the church would make November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead.
  • A turnip lantern

    Souling: trick or treating

    The American Halloween tradition of “trick-or-treating” probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives.

    The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as “going a-souling” was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food and money.

    The tradition of giving soul cakes was celebrated in Britain or Ireland during the Middle Ages, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy.

    Soul Cake Song

    Sharing food

    A soul cake is a small round cake which is traditionally made for All Hallows' Eve, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day to commemorate the dead in the Christian tradition. The cakes, often simply referred to as souls, are given out to soulers (mainly consisting of children and the poor) who go from door to door during the days of Allhallowtide singing and saying prayers "for the souls of the givers and their friends". The practice in England dates to the medieval period, and was continued there until the 1930s, by both Protestant and Catholic Christians. The practice of giving and eating soul cakes continues in some countries today, such as Portugal (where it is known as Păo-por-Deus), and in other countries, it is seen as the origin of the practice of trick-or-treating.

    In Lancashire and in the North-east of England they are also known as Harcakes. In the United States, some churches, during Allhallowtide, have invited people to come receive sweets from them and have offered "pray for the souls of their friends, relatives or even pets" as they do so. Among Catholics, traditionally the soul cakes are blessed by a priest before being distributed on the Eve of All Saints (Hallowe'en); in exchange, the children promise to pray for the souls of the deceased relatives of the giver during the month of November, which is a month dedicated especially to praying for the Holy Souls In Purgatory. Any leftover soul cakes are shared among the distributing family.[wiki]


    [1]A carved turnip from early 20th century in a museum in Ireland.
    [2]A rendering of what ignus fatus might have looked like.
    [3]A modern day turnip lantern.
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