Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween: Strange History, Customs, and Lore

As we continue our homage to Halloween, we present some interesting and perhaps little known insights into the holiday.

Crossroads: It was said (depending on whom you talked to) that crossroads were either lucky or unlucky places to find oneself during Halloween. In many belief systems, since the veil between the living and dead was thinnest, it was at a crossroads where the dead would pass through realms....so it was best to avoid such areas to avoid "trouble." Conversely, crossroads were areas of "energy collision" and a place of magic and luck. 

Persons could live a farthing/penny at the sight of crossroads to ensure luck and to bribe safe passage from evil spirits.

Jack O Lanterns: Did you know that Jack O' Lanterns owe their existence to turnips? The olde Irish often used lanterns to light the way on early Fall evenings...but some, too poor to afford those made of metals, would carve crude ones from turnips, place some kindling inside, and light it. Eventually, in order to drive spirits away during all Hallows--according to some accounts--the larger gourds and pumpkins grown in the fields were carved with frightening "faces" to scare away spirits, and places on porches and in front of fences as sentinels to keep evil away.

Ghosts: Have been called many things throughout the ages. Bygone names included: phantom, spectre, shade, haint, bogart, spook.

Deviled Eggs: This curious bit of trivia appears to have some connection with Victorian Halloween. During this era, the gruesome ideas of Halloween were downplayed and became a social event. Halloween postcards, party invites, and more, were the thrill of the era, with the Dennison paper company creating crepe costumes, invites, and even recipe pamphlets for such revelry.

       One of many Dennison publications giving suggestions for throwing Halloween parties...

One "hot" item for the practical hostess who was putting on a Halloween party--Deviled Eggs. As the story goes, the "devil"ling came from the use of the spice paprika...which was red, and also hot...two attributes, supposedly of the devil (or Hell).

Conversely, there are a rare few mention of the recipe calling itself "Angel-ed Eggs" which involve the use of mayonnaise in the eggs, which are white and perhaps more soothing, as was characteristic of "angels," which at least makes for interesting food lore!

Trick Or Treating: Trick or Treating has a long and complex history, which seems to stem from various cultural customs and phenomena....the origin seems to stem betwixt the pagan holiday of Halloween (known in old Gaelic as Samhain) and the Church's version of All Souls Day, which was superimposed over the original holiday.

At this time, the Christian custom was to go to see a departed loved one at the cemetery, pray for them at Church, and give alms to the poor in the name of the departed.

Sensing this, beggars often went door to door to receive money or "Soul Cakes" which were given. This eventually came to involve poor groups singing or dancing, from door to door, sometimes in shabby costumes, for a bit of charity. This eventually became known as "mumming" or the "Mummer's Dance" (as in the well known song by recording artist Loreena McKennit).

The tradition stuck, although eventually outlawed by authorities, children were allowed to continue in costume, this time known as Masking, and this became quite elaborate during the Victorian era. Since Halloween and Thanksgiving fell in relative quick succession one-after-another, the idea of Thanksgiving Masking became a large idea, with children reenacting those original mummers by dressing shabbily (usually as hobos) and begging pennies and sweets:

click to enlarge

When Thanksgiving became an official holiday , the practice of begging was replaced by family feasts and get-togethers, and the mummers begging eventuall morphed into the Trick Or Treat tradition, instead, during the end of October.

Bonfires: Speaking of maskers....modern day bonfires are indirectly tied to Victorian mischief-makers, as well as ancient practices. The ancients of Europe, afraid that the coming of Winter would signal a permanent loss of the Sun (because of the much longer days of darkness during Fall and Winter), would light bonfires to hail the sun back, to light the night in their communities, and as religious ceremony.  The practice remained during the Halloween season to such and extent that Halloween revelers would wreak havoc by burning bonfires of trashed goods, even during the Victorian era.  Whether this was inspiration for Devil's Night revelers of today, we'll never know!

And those are just some of the strange Halloween customs throughout the ages!


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