What is Halloween? Halloween History & Halloween Myths
Have some old-fashioned fun! Halloween history, including the Halloween myths and Halloween games played in the Victorian era. (Published in the “Christian Advocate” in 1884.)
Every one knows that All-Hallow Eve, or Halloween, falls on the last day of October, and that the day following, the first of November, is set apart in honor of saints and martyrs by the Western Churches—whence comes its name, All Saints' Day.
"This feast was kept in the Greek Church as early as the fourth century, though it did not become common in the West till the beginning of the seventh century."
"The setting apart of one day sacred to the memory of these saintly departed ones arose from the fact that the number of saints multiplied as the Church grew and prospered, and it was found too burdensome to devote a feast-day to each. Indeed, so great was the number of the canonized, that there were "scarce hours enough in the year to distribute among them all." So it was decided to commemorate on one special day those who had no particular days of their own. In the English Church the day is sometimes called All-Hallowmas. But it is the eve of the festival that we write about."
"In the seventh century the Pantheon, the Roman temple dedicated to all the pagan gods, was consecrated to the worship of the Virgin and the Martyrs. The new festival was held at first on May 11th in each year, but later it was shifted to Nov. 1st."
"Halloween was thereby made to fall on the same day as did an ancient festival among the Druids, those strange priests of a stranger religion who were scattered over many portions of northern Europe before Christianity became its creed. They had many strange ceremonies. For instance: three times in each year -- on May 1st at the time of sowing; at the June 21st summer solstice for the ripening of the crops; and on October 31st at the harvest season -- these priests built fires on the hill-tops in Britain, Ireland, and in France, in honor of the sun-god."
"At the latter festival the Druids, for miles round, gathered in snow-white robes at the altar of stones on some hill. Here rested an emblem of the luminary they worshiped, and on the altar was the sacred fire which bad been carefully kept alive during the past year. The Druids grouped themselves around it, and at a given signal quenched it, amid absolute silence on the part of the assembled people."
"Then a new fire was kindled on the cairn, a mound of stones, as the multitude raised a mighty shout, and from every eminence for miles around other fires blazed into view. The same night the fire was put out in every cabin and farmhouse, only to be rekindled with embers from the sacred fire of the priests, which was believed to protect each homestead from peril as long as it remained burning."
"In those days faith in the existence of fairies and goblins, witches and sprites, was very strong, and as the Druidic faith faded before the advance of Christianity the heathen festivals lost much of their old grandeur and former significance, and took on a lower character. So, on the night of October 31st, the simple country-folk believed that the fairies came out of their grottos while witches and goblins gathered in forest glades, or plotted against mankind in the shadows of ruinous castles and keeps."
"By a very natural transition the Halloween fire came to be looked on as a charm against these sprites. As a result, late as the seventeenth century, it was customary for farmers to make the circuit of their fields with a lighted torch in hand, to protect them from harm during the year, chanting or singing a doggerel rhyme the while."
"Because these unseen magic powers were deemed to be so near at this season, Halloween was thought to be the night of all nights on which to pry into the secrets of the future, and thus arose all those simple ceremonies by which it was claimed that one's fate might be learned. Of course, no sensible person now believes that by cracking nuts, ducking one's head in a tub of water for apples, dropping melted lead in a goblet, pulling kale, or eating an apple before a mirror, anything supernatural or ghostly will be seen or heard; but the pleasant fireside revelries survive, though they have lost their superstitious significance."
"In England, Scotland, America, and even in far-off Australia — wherever, in fact, the Saxon tongue is spoken — these Halloween festivities are kept up by young and old. But it is in the two first-named countries that Halloween frolics are seen at their best. Great bonfires are still kindled in many places, around which the villagers join hands in a merry dance. Then, as the flames subside into a pile of glowing embers, the real fun begins."
"The first ceremony in Scotland consists in "pulling the kale." Kale is a sort of cabbage. Lads and lasses go out in couples, hand in hand, with eyes shut, and pull the first head of kale they touch. The fact of its being crooked or straight, large or small, is said to be emblematic of the height and figure of the coming husband or wife. If any earth clings to the roots, that means money; while the sweet or bitter taste of the heart of the kale denotes the disposition of the prospective life-partner."
"Burning nuts is another equally famous charm. Two hazelnuts are placed in the fire, having been previously named for the particular lad and lass about to try their fortune. Accordingly as they burn quietly side by side, or crack and sputter and break apart, will be the result of the wooing. Says Burns:
The auld gudewife's weel hoarded nits
Are round and round divided,
And monie lads' and lasses' fates
Are there that night decided.
Some kindle, couthie, side by side,
And burn thegither trimly;
Some start awa' with saucy pride,
And jump out-owre the chimlie.
"In England the following charm is frequently tried: Three dishes are taken; one is empty; one is filled with clear water; and the third with dirty water. A boy is blindfolded and led to the hearth where the dishes are set in a row. Then he dips the left hand in one of the dishes — if in the dish with clean water his wife will be a maid, if in the dish with the foul water she will be a widow, if in the empty dish he will remain ''a horrid old bachelor." The trial should be made three times, meanwhile the dishes should be shifted about."
"In the country districts of Scotland much faith is reposed in this formula: Go to a south-running stream, and dip your sleeve in it at a spot where the lands of three lands come together. Then go home, hang the wet garment before the fire, and go to bed in full view of it. Keep awake, and sometime near midnight you will be rewarded by seeing an apparition, bearing an exact likeness to the future husband or wife, come and turn the sleeve 'as if to dry the other side of it.'"
"Doubtless many an American girl of English or Scotch ancestry has heard of, or tried, the "looking-glass spell." The curious one must go, candle in hand, to a mirror, eat an apple while standing before it, and in due time the face of her destined husband will be seen reflected in the glass across her shoulder."
"There is a mirth-provoking game played in England on Halloween — perhaps in America too. A hoop from a flour-barrel is taken, and around it is fastened alternately at regular intervals apples, cakes, candies, and candle-ends. The hoop is then suspended from the ceiling and set to revolving. The players gather in a circle round it, and each in turn tries to bite one of the edibles. The boy or girl who is so unfortunate as to seize one of the candles pays forfeit."
"In England and in America, Halloween frolics are nowadays mere harmless sports. Although in Scotland they still retain a more or less superstitious character, it is clear that, in being repeated from year to year as simple holiday merrymakings, the mysteries of Halloween have arrived at their final stage; and perhaps, as more years have flown they will perchance be forgotten."