Halloween – a backstory

Imported from the archives

Thirty of us in a room when the topic of our Halloween party came up; curiously I asked, “Is anyone here actually Pagan?” In scattered murmurs and quizzical stares came the collective response: “Why?”


I’m not even talking about a group of stock-standard prime-time viewing punters here – these were smart people with varied interests and high-speed internet access. Are we really adopting the popularised American style of Halloween without knowing what on earth it’s for?

But… I can’t talk. I’d have no clue either if not for having been a teenager when The Craft came out.

What we call Halloween today was originally the Celtic and Gaelic festival of Samhain, which marked the end of summer. The Celts and Gaels believed that the veil between our world and the netherworld grew thin as nature entered its darker (winter) months. Samhain traditions were for honouring the gods, cleansing oneself and placating or warding off restless spirits.

The Romans also had festivals that occurred around Samhain season – Feralia, where they commemorated their dead; and the festival of Pomona, minding the goddess of fruit and trees. As they set up shop in Celt and Gael territories, the coinciding festivals combined. I dream that it was like when siblings or housemates have birthdays just a few days apart, so they pick a date they can share and party together. But it was most likely not like that at all.

A few centuries later, up rose the Christian wave along with its feast of All Saints’. The Pope at the time wanted an easier way to charm the locals, so they moved All Saints’ Day from the springtime to the end of summer, and mashed it up with SamhainFeraliaPomona.

Today’s Halloween tradition borrows from all of these festivals. Dressing up came from the old custom of ‘blending in’ with otherworldly creatures, so as not to be pestered by them. Pumpkin carving dates back to the Samhain origins, warding against mischievous or malevolent spirits. Bobbing for apples is said to be rooted in the Pomona festival, as the goddess Pomona was symbolised by the apple.

Not sure where egging houses came from; some little dickhead, no doubt.

Here in the southern hemisphere, Halloween coincides with Beltane – the seasonal opposite of Samhain. According to the lore, the netherworld is also close to our mortal plane at this time of year, but Beltane celebrates fertility, renewals and home for a good autumn harvest. And there it is. :) Happy Halloween, Perth.

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