Happy Halloween to all you humans, ghouls, elves, werewolves, vampires, demons, gods and goddesses, and everyone, whoever and whatever you are.
You all know the meaning of Halloween, right?
Yay! Costumes. Candy. Parties. Ghosts and things that go bump in the night.
Okay, and you all know the origins of Halloween?
Yay! Samhain. Harvest festival. Food. Singing, dancing, booze, bobbing for apples, sexual rites.
The origins of Halloween began several thousand years ago with the Celts, who believed pagan gods controlled nature and were responsible for the four seasons, a belief held by many cultures throughout the world.
“This [Samhain] is the beginning of the Celtic and Wiccan New Year. Samhain is Irish-Gaelic for 'the Summer's end', and is pronounced 'sow-in'. Samhain represented the death of the summer sun god, Lugh.
his festival celebrates Nature's cycle of death and renewal, a time when the Celts acknowledged the beginning and ending of all things in life and nature. Samhain marked the end of harvest and the beginning of the New Celtic Year. The first month of the Celtic year was Samonios - ‘Seed Fall’.”
You knew that, right?
When the Romans conquered the Celtic territories around 43 AD, they brought their own festivals and traditions with them, and several of those merged with the celebration of Samhain. Anyone interested can find information on the Internet, but be prepared for conflicting information.
The Roman festival Feralia, commemorating deceased ancestors, is one that went with the Romans on their missions of conquest. According to some sources, Feralia occurred in late October, meshing well with Samhain.
The writings of Ovid, the famous Roman poet (Publius Ovidius Naso, born 43 bce – died 17 ce) describes the Roman year and its religious festivals his work Fasti. There, he indicates that Feralia was the last day of the Roman festival Parentalia, a nine-day event from February 13 through 21 (Julian calendar). On February 21, Roman citizens—and remember, everyone the Romans conquered had the choice of becoming a Roman citizen as long as the individual complied with Roman law—brought offerings to the tombs of their dead ancestors to honor them. Those offerings consisted of wreaths, a sprinkling of grain, salt, bread soaked in wine, and violets.
Okay, so maybe someone got the dates mixed up, or the Romans decided to celebrate the event at the same time as the Celts celebrated Samhain, since they both shared the concept of the dead returning to this world and making mischief (or worse). In the Fasti, Ovid tells of a time when the Romans, because of war, overlooked Feralia and failed to honor their ancestors. The ancestors’ spirits rose from their graves and roamed the streets howling until the rituals were performed. No wonder the festivals meshed so well.
Pomona was the Roman goddess of fruit trees, gardens, and orchards and, according to some sources, the goddess of orchards and the harvest. There is a difference of opinion when the festival honoring Pomona (a celebration shared with her husband Ventumnus, the god of the turning year or seasons) was celebrated. Various sources cite August 13, August 23, and November 1.
Pomona is also considered a wood nymph, as well as a Numina, one of the guardian spirits in Roman mythology who watched over people, places, or homes.
A third Roman festival that influenced Samhain was Lemuria. As part of this ancient feast (celebrated May 9, 11, and 13 - Julian calendar), the Romans exorcised malevolent ghosts of the dead (evil spirits or lemures) from their homes. The ritual, again according to Ovid, involved the head of the household walking barefoot around house at midnight, throwing black beans over his shoulder (nine of them to be exact) and chanting, while the rest of the family clashed bronze pots. Sounds like a good Halloween party game.
ALL SAINTS DAY AND ALL SOULS DAY
The Roman Catholics, like many faiths, honor the dead with their own festivals. All Saints Day honors the lives of saints and martyrs and became a day of obligation in the ninth century. Later, Pope Gregory IV confirmed celebration of All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2, coinciding with the festival of Samhain.
Because the festival of All Saints was sometimes known as "All Hallows," or "Hallowmas," and because October 31 was the eve before All Hallows, the celebration on night before All Hallows became known as All Hallows Eve and eventually Halloween.
And we’ve come full circle. Happy Halloween, whatever it means to you, and however you celebrate it. Take a look at the interesting scarecrow lawn décor.
By R. Ann Siracusa
A short story with a twist of fantasy from Breathless Press.
When my editor suggested I write a Halloween story featuring the heroine in my Tour Director Extraordinaire series, I thought it was a cool idea. Having been born without the pithy gene, I’m not good at short, but what the heck.
After doing research on Halloween and reading about the influence of the Roman celebrations on Samhain, an idea kicked in. The result is a fun short story about tour director Harriet Ruby taking an unusual tour group through the catacombs in Rome on Halloween, with some surprising results. If you read the story, you’ll understand where this blog came from.
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Harriet Ruby: Tour Director Extraordinaire, had had some real winners when it came to tourists, but this group, wearing Halloween costumes on an all day tour of Rome, took the cake. Well, it was Halloween, but these folks were seriously…different.
When nine of them decide to explore on their own and take off down a restricted tunnel of the Roman catacombs, Harriet has to find them—for their safety and her reputation—and ends up involved in something she never expected.
A blast of cold air sliced through me. “Yikes!” I screeched with surprise and almost dropped the flashlight. My body trembled, and I tightened my grip on my young charge.
“W-what w-was that?” he stammered.
For a moment my chattering teeth kept me from speaking. I had no clue. “An air vent, probably. They have to get fresh air down here somehow.”
Still shuddering, I inched forward, dragging the boy with me. “We should be close to the steps to the next level, so be careful. What were these people thinking, taking off like this? You’re absolutely sure you saw them go into this gallery?”
“Yes. I’m sure.”
“Then—aiii!” My foot slipped on a loose rock. I stumbled to one knee, flapping my arms for balance, and ripped my hand from Calogerus’s. The flashlight sailed out of my grip.
Smash! Ping! The light went out.
Swallowing the string of curses that rose in my gullet, I crawled to my hands and knees and felt around for the lost light. “That’s just great. Are you all right?”
“I’m okay, but I think your flashlight is toast.”
Right. Okay, Harriet, now what? “Well, we can’t go any further without a light. We’ll have to go back and let the security guards find them. All we have to do is follow the wall. We didn’t make any turns so—”
“They went that way,” the boy cried and tugged on my arm. “C’mon. Let’s go.”
“What? How do you know?” With one palm against the cold damp wall for balance, I scrambled to me feet.
“I told you, I can see in the dark.” I sensed him move away from me and almost screamed.
In an instant, he returned to my side. “Here. Open you hand.”
In a frightened daze, I complied, and he placed something soft in it. “What is it?” I fingered the object, like pulpy but thin vegetation.
“It’s an apple blossom.”
Whatever I might have said to that morphed into a startled gasp as an uncanny inhuman howl resonated through the enclosed space, coming from a distance in front of us.
“Let’s go. We’re running out of time.” Calogerus grabbed my hand and pulled me unwillingly along behind him. “Hold onto me. I’ll lead the way. Be careful on the stairs.”
An apple blossom? The stairs?
Two brownie points for Calogerus.
What could I say? This was going to be a tough one to explain, even to Will. Okay, God. You and I need to talk. This is all about the sex without marriage, isn’t it? You know we’re working on that.
We clambered down the steps as fast as we could with a nightscope-equipped ten-year-old leading the way and me as blind as a bat without sonar and shivering with trepidation.
On the last step, I smelled it. My stomach churned as though I was about to hurl. Formaldehyde? L’Amour’s aftershave. Squeezing my lids tight, I swallowed hard and forced the sense of sickness back into my belly. When I opened my eyes, a faint glow shone from a room at the end of the long hall.
We both ran toward the light and the smell, and in seconds burst into another wide cavern with pictures and symbols painted on the walls.
I skidded to a stop, and wrapped my arms around my middle against the frigid damp air, which mitigated the surge of panic I’d experienced. Burning incense sticks filled the space with a dim, diffused luminosity and the exotic scent of sandalwood, reducing the intensity of the essence of L’Amour.
My eight missing tourists stood with their backs against the walls, watching the old woman Bria, on her hands and knees, drawing a large circle in the center of the rock floor.