Who Put the Hell Into Halloween?
The ghosts and ghouls that roam our streets every Halloween night in search of candy have their roots in something much darker and deeper than, thankfully, the majority of our current festivities acknowledge. In fact, the event these days is, for the most part, treated as a social excuse for getting together and partying with friends and family. There are some, however, who use the event as an opportunity to unveil their darker side and this, sadly, gives what has generally become a ‘fun’ time of the year such bad press.
So who really put the ‘hell’ into Halloween (or All Hallows Eve as it is know in some parts of the world)? It’s true origins and definition comes from the Celtic festival of ‘Samhain’, identified by J.C. Cooper, author of The Dictionary of Festivals as:
"Samhain or Samhuinn: (Celtic). 31 October, Eve of 1 November, was the beginning of the Celtic year, the beginning of the season of cold, dearth and darkness."
Associations with Death
So we know that Halloween’s past is firmly connected with the end of the Celtic year and has it’s roots in Ireland. The end of the yearly cycle was associated with dying and death and the Celts believed that more human death appeared at this time of the year than any other. Many historians believe that the night itself was dreaded above all others in the Celtic calendar and that an appearance was even made by the grim reaper himself (his name originating from Samana the Lord of Death, the dark Aryan God and leader of the ancestral ghosts).
Links to Satan and Witchcraft
The links to Satan, however, didn’t make an appearance until the 17th century assumptions with witchcraft using pacts with the devil as a basis for their rituals became linked with the unholiness (a Christianity inspired definition) of the date. Was it then the Celts themselves with their mournful honoring of the year’s end, or was it the later inclusion of Satan-infused witchcraft rituals that have ingrained themselves into the legend of Halloween’s hellish psychological framework? Certainly celtic belief surrounding animal-possession has a part to play in the notion of the ‘black cat’ containing the soul of a magical spirit that worked with witches to procure their evil intentions. In fact, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has over the years become increasingly aware of the threat against these creatures at this time of the year and wisely initiated an anti-adoption campaign for black cats in the days immediately preceding and following Halloween.
The Hollywood Impact
The movie studios have also had a tremendous part to play in our perception of the darker side of the event. Moreover, the provocative symbolism of Halloween is fully exploited by them within the image-based society of today and, perhaps because of this, a morphing has occurred between our symbols of death and those of hell.
Separating Fact from Fiction
In this day of enlightened knowledge about the myths and legends surrounding Halloween and the horror industry, we would all like to believe that we have the ability to be able to separate fact from fiction and the maturity to use the ‘commercial elements’ of this holiday in a positive way that promote togetherness and emotional rebirth, rather than the death and fear associated with Samhain. Whilst this is true in the majority of cases, it appears that evil in one form or another is still prevalent, although sadly it is not confined to the exploitation of one particular event. The darker side of the human mind is, it seems, the real creator of the ‘hell’ in Halloween.
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