On October 31 to November 2, much of the world continues a celebration that has its origins in Celtic antiquity, the Feast of Samhain (also spelled variously in Celtic languages as Samhainn, Samhuinn, and Sauin. All are pronounced /ˈsɑːwɪn/ sah-win or /ˈsaʊ.ɪn/ sow-in, the Christian Hallowmas and an ancient Aztec festival.
The names for Samhain come from the Old Irish samain, samuin or samfuin. Since the 1907 work of linguist Whitley Stokes, the etymology has been suggested as from Proto-Celtic *samani (‘assembly’), cognate to Sanskrit sámana, and Gothic samana. Thus the name commemorates the Royal (and other) assemblies for this feast.
October 31 is Oíche Shamhna (Irish Gaelige), Oidhche Shamhna (Scotts Gaelic), or Samhain’s Eve, while November 1 is Samhain itself. Over the millennia, a third day, November 2 completes the three-day festival. Samhain also is the name for the month of November in Gaelige, and some other Celtic languages.
We should note that, consonant with modern practice, we are using the latin alphabet to write the Gaelic names. The older, traditional alphabet would look like this:
In English language popular media, especially in North America, Samhain is routinely mispronounced as “Sam-hain” because the speakers do not realize that Irish / Gaelic Orthography represents sounds considerably differently than English does. While there is some controversy on how to correctly pronounce this Gaelige word in English (in the Nominative Case), the standard is /ˈsaʊn/, /ˈsaʊɪn/ or /ˈsawɪn/, NEVER Sam-hain.
English in general, and particularly North American English, usually tries to preserve something of the original pronunciation of foreign words it imports. Thus “Rendezvous” is pronounced “rahn-duh-voo” (N.A.) or “rahn-dih-voo” (U.K.) in an approximation of the original French “rahn-day-voo.” Normal English orthography would call for the word to be pronounced “Ren-dez-voos,” as it is sometimes pronounced for humorous effect.
North American and British English diverge, however, especially in some Spanish words and names. Most famously there are:
|Don Juan||Don Juan||Don Juan|
|Don Quixote||Don Quixote||Don Quixote|
|San Joachin||San Joachin||San Joachin|
North American usage is to approximate the original sound, but not over-exaggerate it. For example, Los Angeles, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. During our mid-guided military adventures in Central America, some newscasters got a little carried away with “authentic pronunciations, which are parodied in the sound clip as the third alternative. We usually Anglicize the Spanish “G.”
Finally, with names of cities and countries that have long-standing English names, we use those instead of importing
foreign pronunciations. For example, the capital of Russia is Moscow in English, not Moskova. Only when nations insist upon a change, as in Peking to Beijing, do we switch.
The Fire Festivals
Samhain is one of the four Fire Festivals, the mid-point celebrations in-between the Equinoxes and Solstices. The Wheel of the Year for the Northern Hemisphere looks something like this:
It is important to note that the seasons begin on the Fire Festivals, and the Solar Festivals mark the High Point (esoterically, the strongest energy) of each season. These are all aligned with the directions, stages of life, the four elements, etc.
For Samhain, the festival is the Kalends of Winter in the Brythonic Gaelic languages: in Wales it is Calan Gaeaf, in Cornwall it is Allantide or Kalan Gwav and in Brittany it is Kalan Goañv. You will recall that the Kalends is the first day of the Roman month. It is the origin of our word Calendar.
It is unclear in the ancient world where the year began. Modern Pagans and Celtic Revivalists generally use Samhain as “New Years,” based on a reference in Manx Gaelic to October 31 as “New Year’s Night” or Hog-unnaa. There is slender evidence that this was true among the ancient Celts.
As we did with Lughnasadh, here are some of the common correspondences of Samhuinn:
- Direction: North West
- Life: Eldership
- Kabbalah Path: Faithful Intelligence
- Tarot Trump: Justice (Lamed) (to Teach, Instruct; Ox Goad)
- Kabbalah Number: 11 (Daath). Meanings of 1 + 1 individually OR the Theosophical Reduction = the Meanings of 2 (at the second level).
- Gemmatria Value: 30
- Consciousness: Equilibration
- Essential Meanings: Karma, Balance
- Zodiac: Libra
- Alchemy: Airy
- Color/Note: Green / F-sharp, G-flat
Body: Kidneys, the lumbar region of the spine, the vasomotor system, and the skin, suprarenals, has some influence upon the gonads, or sex-glands. Balance through Elimination
- Christian: Western: All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day, All Souls Day; Eastern (Byzantine): See special section below.
As Samhain is the end of Autumn and the gateway to Winter, it mediates the Autumn Correspondences seen in our article on Lughnasadh, and those of Winter:
- Number: 16 = 1+6 OR 7
- Sephirot: Either Crown + Beauty or Victory
- Oppositions: Grace and Sin / Beauty and Ugliness
- Path: Active or Exciting Intelligence
- Divine Name Letter: Final Heh
- World: Assiah: World of Action; The Material World
- Tarot: The Falling Tower, Peh (Mouth as the Organ of Speech)
- Tarot Suit: Pentacles (Coins, Denars) = Diamonds
- Tarot Court: Page
- Personality: Body
- Consciousness: Awakening
- Planet: Mars
- Alchemy: Iron
- Body: Gonads, adrenals; Svadistthana Chakra. Prostatic ganglion (3 fingers below the navel)
- Week: Tuesday
- Book of Humanity: 7th Page (Martinism)
- Martinist: Humanity’s true Science
- Element: Earth
- Druid World: Abred: Circle of Struggle
- Christian: The World, place of the Spirit’s Action; Christmas Lent, Nativity
- Esoteric: This plane of existence
Samhain’s Place in the Circle
Samhain is not only the end of the harvest, it is also the time when the cattle are brought from their summer pastures to their winter home. In both contexts, it is the preparation of the vegetable and meat products which, naturally frozen by the winter, will keep the people alive during the cold months ahead. It is therefore at the intersection of life (Summer) and Death/Sleep (Winter).
Building on this, the mystical and spiritual aspects of Samhain include, not surprisingly, the time of the year when the veil between the worlds is thinnest, and the living and the dead can cross over and interact.
One of the most ancient customs is the lighting of bonfires, and carrying the flame from this back to one’s hearth in a carved turnip, gourd or squash. The often gruesome faces carved on the gourd not only allowed the flame to breathe, but also warded off bad luck and frightened away evil spirits, which were roaming about at this time.
Over the hundreds of years through the 19th century, many other customs attached to the celebration of Samhain, including feasting, mumming, guising and tricking (and begging for treats).
How Samhain Evolved
The Western Church, as it did with so many Pagan (Country) Festivals, assimilated the themes of Samhain to All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2). At first, All Saints was celebrated in the spring, but beginning in the 9th Century, it moved to its present spot.
The customs of the Pagan Samhain then blended with those of these Christian adaptations, with Oct 31 being “All Hallows’ Eve,” eventually “Hallowe’en.” These festivals persisted in England and the Celtic countries. In England itself, the popularity of the Nov. 5 “Guy Fawkes Night” after 1605 began to draw the customary feasts a few days later.
You may recall that on the evening of November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the
House of Lords, was arrested and the plot to kill the Lords and James I was thwarted. The cry of “Remember, remember, the 5th of November,” was heard every year thereafter, and became England’s great State festival. Unfortunately, it also had considerable anti-Catholic overtones, as Fawkes and his fellow plotters were English Catholics reacting to the English Reformation and the persecutions of Catholics.
For centuries, Guy Fawkes Day drew energy away from Hallowe’en in England. Today, however, the trend is reversing, as Hallowe’en is increasingly popular there.
Guy Fawkes has been revived, thanks to the Graphic Novel and film, V for Vendetta. This is the story of an anarchist revolutionary in post-apocalyptic, dystopian Britain, which has reverted to a fascist state. He wears a Guy Fawkes mask and plots to blow up the Parliament buildings, to galvanize the people to restore rule by the people. The motto of the film is “People should not fear their government, Governments should fear their people.”
Samhain / Halllowe’en-All Saints-All Souls (collectively known as Hallowmas) continued to be vigorously celebrated in the Celtic countries. On the continent, commemorations of the departed took place on Hallowe’en and All Souls, particularly in France, Italy and Spain.
In Puritan North America (remember the Puritans?), Hallowe’en was completely suppressed. If they didn’t want to celebrate Christmas, why Hallowe’en?! The mass 19th century immigrations of Irish and Scots to America brought Samhain/Hallowe’en back to the United States, where it became immensely popular by the beginning of the 20th century, finally resulting in exporting the Americanized Hallowe’en customs around the world.
Hallowe’en’s customs are clearly resonant with those of Samhain. Costumes, evil spirits, ghostly apparitions, trick-or-treating, jack-o’lanterns, etc. are all familiar signs of the festival.
At Yale, when I was an undergraduate, the Catholic Chaplaincy (St. Thomas More House,
led by Fr. Dick Russell) and the Episcopal Chaplaincy (headed by the founders of St. Gregory of Nyssa parish in San Francisco, Frs. Rick Fabian and Don Schell) celebrated Hallowe’en in a unique way. As many as wished vested in full regalia, and processed through the campus, including the Library (!) incensing and blessing all. We then ended up at the Episccopal Dwight Chapel and celebrated the Eucharist together for All Saints Day.
It was great fun, and very spiritual, but was stopped because the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Hartford, John F. Whealon intervened and chastised More House for—gasp!—intercommunion with other Christians. Ah, Well!
Modern Pagans and Celtic Reconstructionists celebrate Samhain with various customs related to this historical practices.
Dia de los Muertos
The southern European commemorations of the departed during Hallowmas are continued in the celebrations of Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico. They blended with pre-columbian Aztec festivals of the dead held during August, presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the Queen of the Underworld, who rules with her husband Mictlantecuhtli. The customs of the three-day feast are summarized by Frances Ann Day, and should be familiar when compared with the All Souls Day customs in southern Europe:
“On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children’s altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit. November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives. The three-day fiesta filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.” — Latina and Latino Voices in Literature (Frances Ann Day), Greenwood Publishing Group, 72.
This Mexican festival is now very widespread in the United States, especially in California and the Southwest. San Francisco holds an elaborate celebration on the weekend of the Day of the Dead.
This festival has spread to Brazil, and other parts of Latin America, to Haiti and to The Philippines and Oceania including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Indonesia. The traditional European All Souls Day commemorations are now being re-influenced by the Mexican usages.
In other cultures, very similar customs exist to honor and commemorate the beloved departed, including in Africa and Asia. We should not forget, of course, the elaborate meals and offerings given to the departed by the ancient Egyptians at all times, and especially at the festival of the dead. The ancient classical cultures followed similar, if less elaborate, commemorations.
It would be not only another posting, but a lengthy study to reference all of the appearances of Samhain/Hallowmas/Dia de los Mueros in various types of media. Here are just a few of my favorites:
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree
Hallowe’en III: Season of the Witch
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror
And in Classical Music, the list is almost as long, many quoting the Gregorian Chant, Dies Irae:
Liszt — Totentanz
Berlioz — Symphonie Fantastique
Mussorgsky — Night on Bald Mountain (In this version from Walt Disney’s Fantasia, the opening art is clearly influenced by Rosicrucian Mystic, Nicholas Roerich.
Marschner – Overture: Der Vampyr (The Vampire)
Saint-Saëns — Danse Macabre
Bernard Herrmann — Psycho Suite – (Proms 2011)
Béla Bartók – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, III (used by Stanley Kubrick in The Shining)
Gy Ligeti — Requiem (used by Stanley Kubrick in 2001)
(Thanks to Limelight Magazine for these selections!) Next year we’ll have to do a “Hallowe’en Media” post, there are so many!
Byzantine Christian Associations
Let us cap our discussions with an interesting anomaly, the apparent absence of Samhain or Hallowmas Analogates in Byzantine Christianity. We are surprised at this, because in most other cases of the 8-fold year, there are Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine/Greek Catholic parallels.
The Byzantine Christian Tradition, shared by Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine (Greek) Catholic Christians, does not have any major feast that corresponds to Samhain. Just to give you a feel for the complexity and depth of the commemorations on the Byzantine Calendar, here are the Saints for the three days of Samhain:
Apostles Stachys, Amplias, Urban, Narcissus, Apelles, and Aristobulus of the Seventy; Martyr Epimachus of Alexandria; Saints Spyridon and Nicodemus the prosphora-bakers of the Kiev Caves; Saint Maura of Constantinople; Saint Anatolius, recluse of the Kiev Caves; New-Martyr Nicholas of Chios; Martyrs Stephen, Barnabas, Trophimus, Dorymedon, Cosmas, Damian, Sabbas, Bassa, Abraham, and others with them; Martyr Gordian; Martyr Epimachus the Roman; Martyrs Seleucius and Stratonica his wife, myrrh-gushers; First Priest-martyr of the Russian Revolution John Kochurov; Martyr Foillan, Abbot of Fosses; Saint Quentin; Saint Begu, nun of Hackness; Saint James, Bishop of Mygdonia, one of the 318 fathers of Nicaea; Saint Erc, Bishop of Lilcach.
Holy and Wonder-Working Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian of Mesopotamia and their mother Venerable Theodota of Mesopotamia (c.287); Martyrs Cyrenia and Juliana in Cilicia (305); Hieromartyr John the Bishop and James the Presbyter of Persia (345); Martyrs Caesarius, Dacius, Sabbas, Sabinian, Agrippa, Adrian, and Thomas at Damascus (7th c.); Saint Theolepte, martyr; Martyrs Cyprian and Juliana; Martyr Mary the Slave Girl (c.117-138); Saint Benignus of Dijon (2nd/3rd c.); Saint Austromoine (Austremonius, Stremoine), first Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, the “Apostle of Auvergne” (c.250); Martyrs Caesarius of Africa, a Deacon of Africa, together with Julian, a local presbyter, martyred at Terracina in Italy (c.284-305); Saint Mathurin of Larchant (Maturinus), confessor, French exorcist and missionary (c.310); Saint Marcellus, 9th Bishop of Paris (c.430); Saint Amabilis of Riom (475); Saint Cledwyn (Clydwyn), patron saint of Llangedwyn in Clwyd in Wales (5th c.); Saint Pabiali of Wales, patron-saint of Partypallai in Wales (5th/6th c.); Saint Dingad of Llandingat (5th c.); Saint Vigor, disciple of St Vedast, became Bishop of Bayeux, resolutely opposed paganism (c.537); Martyr Hermeningild the Goth of Spain, Prince (586); Saint Gwythian (Gothian, Gocianus) of Cornwall, hermit (6th c.); Saint Cadfan, Abbot of Tywyn and Bardsey Island (6th c.); Saint Caillin, a disciple of St Aidan of Ferns in Ireland (6th c.); Saint Ceitho, one of five brothers, all saints in Wales (6th c.); Saint Licinius of Angers (Lesin, Lezin), chosen Bishop of Angers in 586 and consecrated by St Gregory of Tours (c.616); Saint Caesarius, Bishop of Clermont in France (c.627); Saint Floribert (Florbert), Abbot of monasteries in Ghent, Mont-Blandin and Saint-Bavon in Belgium (c. 660); Saint Genesius of Lyon (c.679); Saint Severinus, a monk who lived as a hermit in Tivoli in Italy (c.699); Saint Germanus of Montfort, born in Montfort in France, became a monk at the monastery of Savigny, reposed as a hermit (c.906-1000); Venerable–martyr James of Mount Athos and his two disciples James the Deacon and Dionysius the Monk of Prodromou Skete on Athos (1520); Saint David of Euboea (1589); New Virgin-Martyr Helen of Sinope (18th c.); Blessed Cosmas of Verkhoturye (1704); Hieromartyrs Alexander (Smirnov), and Theodore (Remezov), Priests (1918); Hieromartyr Demetrius (Ovechkin), Priest of Perm (1937); Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of the Zaporizhia Eparchy (1937): – Hieromartyr Sergius (Zverev), Archbishop of Elets and Melitopol, Hieroconfessor Alexander (Ilyenkiv), Hieroconfessor Protopresbyter Dimitrius (Ihnatenko), Hieroconfessor Protopresbyter Victor (Kiraniv), Hieroconfessor Protopresbyter Michael (Bohoslovsky), Hieromartyr Priest Matthew (Alexandriv), Hieromartyr Priest Michael (Shafaniv) and his Presbytera St Sofia, Hieroconfessor Priest Alexius (Usenko), Martyr Stefan (Nalyvayko); Virgin-martyr Elizabeth (1937); Martyr Peter (1941); Other Commemorations: Translation of the relics of St. Boniface of Mainz, enlightener of Germany (see June 5) (755); Repose of Elder Hilarion of Valaam and Sarov (1841).
The Holy Senators of Sebasteia, martyrs of senatorial rank, under Licinius, by fire (ca.315); Martyrs Eudoxios, Agapios, and eight others with them, soldiers from Sebasteia, under Licinius (ca.315); Women-Martyrs Kyriaki (Cyriaca), Domnina and Domna, by the sword; Martyrs Acindynus (Akindynos), Pegasius, Aphthonius, Elpidophorus, Anempodistus, and those with them, of Persia (341); Holy 7,000 Martyrs who suffered in Persia, during the reign of King Sapor II (310-381); St. Marcian of Cyrrhus, in Syria, monk (ca. 388); Saint Justus of Trieste, sentenced to death by drowning (293); Martyrs Publius, Victor, Hermes and Papias, in North Africa; Saint Victorinus of Pettau, Bishop of Pettau in Styria in Austria and the earliest exegete in the West (304); Saint Erc of Slane, Bishop of Slane, Ireland (512); Saint Ambrose, abbot of the monastery of St. Moritz in Agaunum in Switzerland (532 or 582); Saint George of Vienne, Bishop of Vienne in Gaul (ca.699); Saints Baya (Bava) and Maura, Anchoresses in Scotland (ca. 10th c.); Saint Amicus, a priest, then hermit, finally a monk at St Peter’s in Fonte Avellana (ca.1045); Blessed Cyprian of Storozhev, former outlaw (Olonets) (16th c.); New Hieromartyrs Bishop Victorinus, and Priest Basil (Luzgin) of Glazomicha (1918); New Hieromartyrs Ananias (Aristov) of Perm, and Constantine (Organov), Priests (1918); Other Commemorations: Ozerianka Icon of God of Shui-Smolensk (Shuiskaya-Smolensk) (1654-1655); translation of the relics of Saint Ebba I of Coldingham (Æbbe of Colding-
Nov 15: beginning of the Philipine Fast (Christmas Lent).
One should note that besides “Byzantine” Saints, Pre-Schism Western Saints are
actively commemorated. The Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches have never forgotten that there are other parts of the Church beside their own.
The Byzantine commemoration of All Saints falls on the First Sunday after Pentecost, around the time of the Summer Solstice. The Second Sunday after Pentecost is the Commemoration of all the Local Saints. For example, in Greece, it is All Saints of Greece. Here, it is All Saints of North America.
By the way, the Orthodox Church has been very proactive in glorifying saints in North America. Here is the list of those already glorified, and those under current consideration:
American Orthodox Saints
- Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, leader of ex-Byzantine Catholics into Orthodoxy
- Basil Martysz, hieromartyr in Poland
- Brendan the Navigator, leader of short-lived 6th c. Irish monastic community in Canada
- Herman of Alaska, first missionary to Alaska
- Innocent of Alaska, missionary bishop to Alaska
- Jacob Netsvetov
- John Kochurov
- John Maximovitch, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco
- Juvenaly of Alaska
- Nikolai Velimirovic, rector of St. Tikhon’s Seminary
- Peter the Aleut, protomartyr of America
- Raphael of Brooklyn, founder of the Antiochian Archdiocese
- Seraphim (Samuilovich) of Uglich, missionary in Alaska and hieromartyr under the Soviets
- Tikhon of Moscow
- Varnava (Nastic), the New Confessor, born in Gary, Indiana
- Anatole (Kamensky) of Irkutsk, New Hieromartyr and Archbishop of Irkutsk
Persons under consideration (whether formal or informal) for glorification:
- Met. Philaret (Voznesensky) of New York
- Abp. Arseny (Chagovtsov) of Winnipeg
- Bp. Gerasimos (Papadopoulos) of Abydos
- Br. José Muñoz-Cortes
- Hieromonk Seraphim Rose
- Matushka Olga Michael of Alaska
- Ivan Smirennikov the Aleut elder
- Abp. Ioasaph (Skorodumoff), Enlightener of Canada
- Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich, Serbian Apostle to America
- Schemamonk Sergius Yanovsky, disciple of St. Herman of Alaska
- Bp. Ioasaph (Bolotov), Enlightener of Alaska
- New Hieromartyr Fr. John (Karastamatis) of Santa Cruz
All the departed are commemorated on several days of the year, particularly Saturdays, which are dedicated to the departed in general:
- The Saturday of Meatfare Week (the second Saturday before Great Lent)—the day before the Sunday of the Last Judgement
- The second Saturday of Great Lent
- The third Saturday of Great Lent
- The fourth Saturday of Great Lent
- Radonitsa (Monday or Tuesday after Thomas Sunday)
- The Saturday before Pentecost
- Demetrius Saturday (the Saturday before the feast of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki—26 October). In the Bulgarian Orthodox Church there is a commemoration of the dead on the Saturday before the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel—8 November, instead of the Demetrius Soul Saturday.
Aside from the many saints, including the Holy Moneyless Wonderworkers Cosmas and Damian, commemorated on Nov 1, why is there no major feast following the themes of Samhain?
First, the adaptation of Samhain into All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints, and All Souls is a solely western development, as Samhain was so popular in Western Europe. The original All Saints in Western Christianity was in April and May, but was switched to November 1 in 835 in the Gaulic Empire, and later in the rest of the West. There was no parallel development in the East.
Second, however, and I believe more importantly, there is no need for a feast on the primary theme of Samhain: the crossing through the veil between this world and the next. That is because this is celebrated daily in the Churches of the Byzantine (and other Eastern) Christians.
Byzantine Liturgical theology clearly teaches that the Divine Liturgy in particular, and all of the many daily Liturgical services (e.g. Vespers, Compline, Midnight Office, Matins, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, and many other occasional services (Baptism/Chrismation, Matrimony, Ordination, Funerals, Molebens, etc.) are not reenactments.
Rather, the Eternal Liturgy before the Divine Throne is forever ongoing, and by raising ourselves spiritually and being transformed by the Holy Spirit, we simply step into the Eternal Liturgy at the beginning of a Divine Service, and withdraw at the end of the service. That is why, to Western eyes, Byzantine Services don’t appear to have a clear beginning and ending (although they actually do): we are the ones entering into the eternal reality that is continuous.
Furthermore, since the Eternal Liturgy is in the Divine “Now,” and all time and space are one, we are made present to the Mystery being celebrated at the Liturgy. We are at the foot of the Cross, at Pentecost in Jerusalem, etc. This is the same as the theology that when one is praying before an Icon, one is actually present before the Mystery or Saint depicted. This is not unique to Byzantine Christianity, Buddhism teaching something of the same about prayers before holy images.
On a personal note, that is why I have no doubt that Christ is Risen, as I have been present at the Resurrection year after year.
This is why no special feast of the “Piercing of the Veil” is needed among Byzantine Christians, as it happens every day.
More Research: History and Aspects of Hallowe’en – An Initial Bibliography for Exploration
Here is an annotated Bibliography about just a few good ways to continue your research on Samhain, Hallowmas and Dia de los Muertos:
Hallowe’en is an unexpectedly complex holiday, with facets ranging from the ancient Celtic Samhain (Samhuinn) through the Western Christian “All Saints & All Souls Days,” to Latin American and other “Days of the Dead.” The following works give an introduction to this rich history and cultural mélange. (Please note, these are academic texts, not children’s holiday or recreational literature.) For further searches, the Library of Congress subject headings include Halloween; Halloween – History; All Souls’ Day; Religious calendars–Neopaganism. For google searches, the terms Halloween, Samhain, Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos are helpful.
Bannatyne, Lesley, Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History. NY: Facts on File, 1990. From the Publisher: Lesley Bannatyne’s fascinating book . . . will be widely appealing to anyone who ever wondered where witches, trick-or-treating, and jack-o-lanterns really came from. It is by far the best book on the history of Halloween available today. Alison Guss, senior producer, The Haunted History of Halloween, The History Channel An excellent resource for research into the history of holidays . . . in the United States . . . Highly Recommended. The Book Report Halloween has evolved from the Druids’ celebrations of 2,000 years ago to become today the fastest-growing holiday in the country. This, the only book to completely cover All Hallow’s Eve, examines those ancient origins as well as its traditions and celebrations, from costuming to bobbing for apples. Jack-o-lanterns, black cats, and witches are explained. Ghosts, ghouls, and goblins lurk behind every page. The book traces the contributions of America’s immigrants to the holiday, documenting the beliefs each ethnic group has added to the mix. Related recipes, poems, songs, crafts, and photos perfectly complement the meticulously documented text. The result is the most educational and entertaining examination of Halloween, its myths, and its truths.
_______________, Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night. Gretna, LA: Pelican Pub. Co., 2011. From the Publisher: America’s leading authority on Halloween presents interviews with spooky rock groups, amateur vampires, haunted house creators, champion pumpkin carvers, and more, all in the quest of explaining the nation’s unique love affair with this holiday. The collection of essays and interviews explores the pop culture phenomenon that is Halloween, and why we celebrate it the way we do today.
Carmichael, Elizabeth, and Chloë Sayer. The Skeleton at the Feast: the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991. Contents: Pt. 1. The Day of the Dead — The pre-Hispanic background — The Spanish conquest — Travellers’ tales — The here and now — pt. 2. Interviews: Introduction — Fredy Méndez, la congregación del Tajín, state of Veracruz — Juan Simbrón, la congregación del Tajín, state of Veracruz — Froylan Martínez Cuenca, Huaquechula, State of Puebla — Candido Reyes Castillo, Huaquechula, State of Puebla — Luis Vivanco, San Salvador Huixcolotla, State of Puebla — Consuelo García Urrutia, Toluca, State of Mexico — Wenceslao Rívas Contreras, Toluca, State of Mexico — María Antonieta Sánchez de Escamilla, Puebla City — Víctor Fosado, Váquez, formerly Mexico City — Appendix. The Day of the Dead in Mixquic / by Elizabeth Baquedano Meza. From the Publisher: All over Mexico, early in November, families gather to welcome the souls of the dead on their annual visit home. The smells of burning copal incense and pungent cempasúchil (marigolds) mingle with the aromas of fresh bread, new clothing, sweets, and candles. One of Mexico’s most important festivals since prehispanic times, the Day of the Dead is an occasion for celebrating and feasting, cleaning and decorating graves, dancing and making music. In this unique work, the authors explore both the historic origins of this holiday and its colorful present-day celebrations in Mexico and the United States. Interviews with Mexican artists and crafters who provide goods for the festival–from personalized sugar skulls to gigantic papier-mâché skeletons–offer a fascinating glimpse into traditional and contemporary attitudes toward death and the dead. Lavishly illustrated with color and black-and-white photographs, The Skeleton at the Feast will be required reading for all who are interested in Mexican culture, art, and folklore.
Kelley, Ruth Edna, The Book of Halloween (Forgotten Books). Boston, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1919. From the Publisher: Halloween, or Hallowe’en, is a holiday celebrated on the night of October 31. Traditional activities include trick-or-treating, bonfires, costume parties, visiting “haunted houses” and carving jack-o-lanterns. The term Halloween (and its alternative rendering Hallowe’en) is shortened from All-hallow-even, as it is the eve of “All Hallows’ Day”, which is now also known as All Saints’ Day. Irish and Scottish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America in the nineteenth century. Other western countries embraced the holiday in the late twentieth century. Halloween is celebrated in several parts of the Western world, most commonly in Ireland, the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom and occasionally in parts of Australia and New Zealand. (Quote from wikipedia.org). Ruth Edna Kelley (8 April 1893 – 4 March 1982) was an American librarian and author. She is chiefly remembered for The Book of Hallowe’en (1919), the first book-length history of the holiday.
Markale, Jean. The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: Celebrating the Dark Half of the Year. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2001. From the Publisher: “A comprehensive examination of the rituals and philosophies of the Celtic holiday of Samhain, the inspiration for Halloween. Presents the true meaning of this ancient holiday and shows how contemporary observances still faithfully reflect the rituals of pagan ancestors. Explains why this holiday, largely confined to the English-speaking world since the advent of Christianity, has spread throughout the rest of Europe over the last two decades. One of humanity’s most enduring myths is that the dead, on certain nights of the year, can leave the Other World and move freely about the land of the living. Every year on October 31, when the children of the world parade through the streets dressed as monsters, skeletons, and witches, they reenact a sacred ceremony whose roots extend to the dawn of time. By receiving gifts of sweets from strangers, the children establish, on a symbolic plane that exceeds their understanding, a fraternal exchange between the visible world and the invisible world. Author Jean Markale meticulously examines the rituals and ceremonies of ancient festivities on this holiday and shows how they still shape the customs of today’s celebration. During the night of Samhain, the Celtic precursor of today’s holiday, the borders between life and death were no longer regarded as insurmountable barriers. Two-way traffic was temporarily permitted between this world and the Other World, and the wealth and wisdom of the sidhe, or fairy folk, were available to the intrepid individuals who dared to enter their realm. Markale enriches our understanding of how the transition from the light to the dark half of the year was a moment in which time stopped and allowed the participants in the week-long festival to attain a level of consciousness not possible in everyday life, an experience we honor in our modern celebrations of Halloween.”
Morton, Lisa. Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. London: Reaktion Books, 2012. From the Publisher: Every year, children and adults alike take to the streets dressed as witches, demons, animals, celebrities, and more. They carve pumpkins and play pranks, and the braver ones watch scary movies and go on ghost tours. There are parades, fireworks displays, cornfield mazes, and haunted houses—and, most important, copious amounts of bite-sized candy. The popularity of Halloween has spread around the globe to places as diverse as Russia, China, and Japan, but its association with death and the supernatural and its inevitable commercialization has made it one of our most misunderstood holidays. How did it become what it is today? In Trick or Treat, Halloween aficionado Lisa Morton provides a thorough history of this spooky day. She begins by looking at how holidays like the Celtic Samhain, a Gaelic harvest festival, have blended with the British Guy Fawkes Day and the Catholic All Souls’ Day to produce the modern Halloween, and she explains how the holiday was reborn in America, where costumes and trick-or-treat rituals have become new customs. Morton takes into account the influence of related but independent holidays, especially the Mexican Day of the Dead, as well as the explosion in popularity of haunted attractions and the impact of such events as 9/11 and the economic recession on the celebration today. Trick or Treat also examines the effect Halloween has had on popular culture through the literary works of Washington Irving and Ray Bradbury, films like Halloween and The Nightmare Before Christmas, and television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Simpsons. Considering the holiday in the context of its worldwide popularity for the first time, this book will be a treat for any Halloween lover.
Olsen, Karen I. Halloween/Samhain/Dia de Los Muertos/Feast of the Dead. Webpage. Created: June 20, 2001. Accessed October 30, 2004. http://www.angelfire.com/folk/karivox/samhain.html. Contains many good links on the antecedents and current practices of the Season.
Rogers, Nicholas. Halloween: from Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. From Publishers Weekly: “If America is a melting pot, then Halloween is the stew that simmers in our national cauldron. In this fascinating study, Rogers shows how the holiday is a hodgepodge of ancient European pagan traditions, 19th-century Irish and Scottish celebrations, Western Christian interpretations of All Souls’ Day and thoroughly modern American consumer ideals. At its heart, he says, Halloween is a celebration of the inversion of social codes-children have power over adults, marauders can make demands of established homeowners and anyone may assume a temporary disguise. Canadian professor Rogers is a fine cultural historian, who carefully sifts through complex social and religious data to tease out meanings and trajectories. One excellent chapter
illuminates Halloween and Hollywood, while a chapter entitled Border Crossings discusses Halloween observance among non-Anglo populations in North America, including Mexico’s “Dia de los Muertos.” From the Publisher: “Boasting a rich, complex history rooted in Celtic and Christian ritual, Halloween has evolved from ethnic celebration to a blend of street festival, fright night, and vast commercial enterprise. In this colorful history, Nicholas Rogers takes a lively, entertaining look at the cultural origins and development of one of the most popular holidays of the year. Drawing on a fascinating array of sources, from classical history to Hollywood films, Rogers traces Halloween as it emerged from the Celtic festival of Samhain (summer’s end), picked up elements of the Christian Hallowtide (All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day), arrived in North America as an Irish and Scottish festival, and evolved into an unofficial but large-scale holiday by the early 20th century. He examines the 1970s and ’80s phenomena of Halloween sadism (razor blades in apples) and inner-city violence (arson in Detroit), as well as the immense influence of the horror film genre on the reinvention of Halloween as a terror-fest. Throughout his vivid account, Rogers shows how Halloween remains, at its core, a night of inversion, when social norms are turned upside down, and a temporary freedom of expression reigns supreme. He examines how this very license has prompted censure by the religious Right, occasional outrage from law enforcement officials, and appropriation by Left-leaning political groups. Engagingly written and based on extensive research, Halloween is the definitive history of the most bewitching day of the year, illuminating the intricate history and shifting cultural forces behind this enduring trick-or-treat holiday.”
Santino, Jack, ed. Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994. Contents: Festivals of Death and Life / Jack Santino — 1. Harvest, Halloween, and Hogmanay: Acculturation in Some Calendar Customs of the Ulster Scots / Philip Robinson — 2. “Safe” Spooks: New Halloween Traditions in Response to Sadism Legends / Bill Ellis — 3. Halloween Pranks: “Just a Little Inconvenience” / Steve Siporin — 4. Bonfire Night in Brigus, Newfoundland / Catherine Schwoeffermann — 5. Trick or Treat: Pre-Texts and Contexts / Tad Tuleja — 6. Carnival, Control, and Corporate Culture in Contemporary Halloween Celebrations / Russell W. Belk — 7. Day of the Dead: The Tex-Mex Tradition / Kay Turner and Pat Jasper — 8. Adult Halloween Celebrations on the Canadian Prairie / Michael Taft — 9. The Seasonal Context of Halloween: Vermont’s Unwritten Law / A. W. Sadler — 10. Wishes Come True: Designing the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade / Jack Kugelmass — 11. Things That Go Snap-Rattle-Clang-Toot-Crank in the Night: Halloween Noisemakers / Carl R. Holmberg. 12. Halloween Imagery in Two Southern Settings / Grey Gundaker. From Amazon.com: Halloween is many things to many people; we do not celebrate the day in any one way.” So Jack Santino writes in this first ever collection of essays dedicated to the study of Halloween and related festivals. Thirteen folklore and culture scholars examine the evolution of Halloween from its Celtic origins through its adaptation into modern culture. Essays on holiday customs describe harvest and autumnal rituals in Scotland, new Halloween traditions in response to legends about contaminated candy, the custom of “pranking” (more popular in some areas of the U.S. than trick-or-treating), England’s Guy Fawkes Day and a parallel Bonfire Night in Newfoundland, and the development of American trick-or-treating in the years 1940-1990. Also covered are the sociopolitical meanings of carnival celebrations and attempts to control them, the Tex-Mex tradition of el Dío de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and community approaches to Halloween in such diverse locales as the Canadian prairie, rural Vermont, and Greenwich Village in New York City. A final section looks at the history of Halloween noisemakers and unusual imagery (including the decoration of graves) in two Southern settings. In several of the essays, the authors examine the ironic, even disturbing, implications of such a popular holiday being based on images of death, evil, and the grotesque. Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life is written with a lively balance of scholarship, anecdotes, and enthusiasm, with ample black-and-white illustrations. Whether you’re interested in Halloween as a scholar or simply a celebrant, this is the book you need. –Fiona Webster
Skal, David J. Death Makes a Holiday: a Cultural History of Halloween. New York: Bloomsbury, 2002. Contents: Candy man’s tale — Halloween machine — Witch’s teat — Home is where the hearse is or, how to haunt a house — Devil on Castro street and other skirmishes in the culture wars — Halloween on screen — September 11 and October 31.
Enjoy the Feast!
Steven A. Armstrong
Tutoring, Editing and Consulting