Are you getting ready for Halloween fun? Carving pumpkins, designing new costumes and masks, inventing new games? Perhaps you were thinking of a lottery too, or want to try your luck on witches’ night. In which case a gala bingo review could come in handy.
But let us for a moment forget about the present and the modern version of this very ancient pagan festival. Let us remember when Halloween was called…. … Samhain.
The most important festivity of the Celtic year
That is the ancient name of the most important Celtic festivity of all. Samhain was the Celtic New Year’s Eve, exactly on the night of October 31st. The origins of this tradition are lost in time, all the way down to prehistory. Very probably they are connected to the seasons of ancient shepherds, rather than farmers.
Now, if you read the short descriptions of Consett’s history on the internet, you will find only a few lines. Until the 1840s Conside (as it was then named) was just a tiny hamlet. But this is far from being the whole story.
Did you know that there are 158 archaeological sites within 10 km of Consett, registered in the ARCHI database? As many as 42 of them are Roman, another 20 are bronze and iron age, a few even from the stone age.
Lost roots reach deep and far
What does this tell us? That the Consett area was rather lively and important as far back as 3000 years ago and more. Surely the people living here in those ancient times celebrated the same seasons as all Celtic tribes. And the Celts had probably inherited the rites of passage from summer to winter from earlier peoples, more than 2500 years ago.
Therefore it is not off-topic to mention Samhain traditions in Consett as Halloween approaches. Thinking about our ancient roots, it is good to know that this is not just a modern entertainment occasion imported from the United States.
The opposite is rather true: the Irish who emigrated to the States during the 19th century took their ancient festivity across the Ocean with them, so Halloween has actually come back home in a modernized fashion. Fascinating, isn’t it?
The spiritual dimension behind the fun
So there is a spiritual side to Halloween/Samhain to be found in the old traditions. Let’s have a look.
The dead coming back to the world of the living on the night of October 31st is part of the transition between the light and the darkness. Summer is replaced by winter. The division between the worlds is the thinnest in this moment, so the spirits can pass through and come visit.
Not all visitors are the same… While the spirits of the ancestors were welcome and food and drink was prepared for them too, protection was necessary against evil spirits. This is where the part about costumes and masks comes in.
Disguise is protection. And also a way to exorcise one’s fears. The traditional name for the “trick or treat” practise of visiting neighbours wearing costumes and masks was “guising”.
There was more than fun to it, a spiritual meaning: the guisers were actually impersonating the aos sí, the souls of the dead. They offered songs and verses in a ritual exchange for food. Some interpretations maintain that those were the old spirits of winter demanding reward in exchange for good fortune. Guising was part of the Samhain tradition from at least the 16th century.
Give it a thought and who knows, you might get a chance to meet the ancestors in the midst of your Halloween fun.