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Halloween-the Celebration of Death
Images of Samhain
Are you ready to take a little trip?
This is not only to several locations around the world and though time, but also a trip into other people’s minds and beliefs. This trip will not cost you one soldiery dime, or take any preparation whatsoever. All you have to do is read on.
Our first stop is Ireland let’s say about…two thousand years ago. Give or take a hundred years. It is the thirty first of October and we are winding through an oak grove on a very narrow and warn path. On our way, we have passed several small bonfires that people are dancing around on their way towards the middle of the grove. It is late at night; let us say about 10:30 PM. Up ahead we can make out a very bright light, partially hidden by the trees. It is a large bonfire, at least ten feet long and maybe, ten feet wide. It was also quite possible that there was towering object shaped like a man or some other kind of animal. This was known as "The Wicker Man" and was often used to cage animals and sometimes human sacrifices.
The bonfire or wicker man is inside an even larger clearing, right in the middle of a circle of stones. By each stone is a wooden poll topped with a special lantern. These lanterns are what were originally called samhng and are made from turnips and have horrific faces. These are the very earliest form of Jack –o’ Lanterns. They are meant to ward off evil spirits that are believed to roam freely on this most scared night. For this is Samhain, the night that the dead walk the earth!
Several activities will be performed on this night, since this is the last and greatest harvest festival. Roughly translated from the Old Irish or Gaelic, the word Samhain means “summer's end” and the word Mi na Samhna was Gaelic word for November. It will be the night of feasting and prophecy, with young women using scaring bowls to get glimpse of their future husbands alongside their own reflections.
So what was the mind set on these ancient pagans as they prepared to greet the winter and a new year? I am certain there was a touch of fear, since they had a strong belief that this night the veil that separated our world from the underworld (or spirit world) was at its thinnest. It was also a time of thankfulness for the harvest, and a time to remember those who passed on.
Then came the Romans
The Romans had their own festivals to honor the dead. This was Parentalia that began on February 13 and continued until February 22. This was not as joyful as Samhain was, for it was considered a time of mourning, even though there was feasting at the grave sites of the deceased relatives (the sites were known as manes). Faralia was the last night of the festival and the most sacred event. During this time, the entire temple was closed and no wedding or any other normal activities were permitted.
Then in the 7Th century Pope Boniface IV, started a celebration that was clearly meant to replace the pagan celebration, Samhain. This was All Saints Day, when all the Saints and Martyrs were remembered. Much later, the Catholic Church created All Souls day on November 2ed. Both All Saints day and All Souls Day was combined and called Hallow-mass which became known as Halloween.
Celabrating death, Mexican style
Our final destination is Mexico and the Festival that refused to die!
Just like Samhain, the Aztecs had a ritual that "laughed in the face of death." It involved the Goddess Mictecihuatl who was known as "the Lady of the Dead." It was originally in the month of August, however when the Spaniards took power they found they could not stop the natives from practicing this ancient ritual, so they changed it to November 2ed and combined it with All Saint day and All Souls Day. On this day there is much celebration and people decorated the graves of their relatives with brightly colored flowers and sugared skulls. This is known as "The Day of the Dead" or Dia de Los Muertos.
Personally, I have a lot of mixed feelings when it comes to celebrating death. For being a Christian, I like to stay focus on the promise of eternal life. Even so, honoring and remembering your love ones is a very positive act, I just do not think that dancing around a bonfire or eating sugar skulls is the best way for me to do it.