The evolution of Halloween can be traced farther back in history than any other holiday that we celebrate today. It is perhaps for this reason that, for many people, this holiday seems to awaken ancient feelings of fear and mystery.
times, human kind relied upon the land and agriculture to sustain
that time, before the sciences of astronomy and meteorology had
did not understand how and why the seasons changed. There was
(perhaps instinctive and residual from the ice ages?) that the coming
might always mean a permanent end to their ability to grow crops and
warm. Some also believed that gods or demons controlled these
changes. They felt that one way to help ensure that Summer
again was to offer sacrifices and gifts to the spirits that controlled
destiny. In some cultures, when the days began to grow colder
prime portions of the harvest were offered in great ceremonies with the
that in exchange they would be granted a short Winter and another
to provide for their families. When the harvest had ended,
were lit in the fields to honor their gods and goddesses in
thanksgiving for the
productive growing season. A festival was held for three days
Celtic peoples of England and France, who celebrated November 1st as a
transition from the old year to the new. Before the bonfires
went out, families would
collect burning embers from the fires and bring them to their homes to
own fires to keep them warm throughout the winter It was
these special fires also protected them from evil spirits.
As Christianity was introduced throughout Europe, many had trouble leaving their old ways behind. The growing Church of Rome helped sustain the belief that those who did not follow the Christian faith must be followers of the devil. Soon, there were tremendous numbers of witch-sightings throughout Europe and the devil became a popular subject of stories and art. Up to this time, the ritualistic celebration was known as "Samhain" (pronounced "sow-ween"), which meant the "end of summer", and was being celebrated by the Celts throughout Great Britain with a long festival that included role-playing by people dressed in costumes made from dead animals. Around this time the Church tried to squelch the pagan event by inventing a holiday of their own, called "All Hallow's Day" (hallow meaning one who is holy or sainted as in "hallowed be thy name"). Modern Catholics still celebrate "All Saint's Day" as a holy day on November 1st each year. The religious holiday was intentionally assigned to the same time of year and with a similar concept to that of Samhain - to give thanks to a higher being and to welcome the passing of the seasons with patience and faith. All Hallow's Day eventually gained the larger audience as the Catholic church grew in popularity (and power), and was intended to be a day of general; worshiping of all of the Roman Catholic saints. A holy day honoring all of the dead (not just saints) was celebrated the next day on November 2nd and was called "All Soul's Day". The night before All Hallow's Day was called "All Hallow's Evening", which was eventually shortened to "Hallowe'en". Although we've dropped the apostrophe from the modem holiday's name, the mysterious and fearful aspects of the original celebration of Samhain eventually found a home on the night of Hallowe'en. The ritualistic worship of the departed, renewed by the Church, has helped to keep Halloween a popular event for many to contemplate the mysteries and fears that we associate with death and the beyond. It is a time to connect with our ancient past. Because Summer still changes to Winter much the same as it did centuries ago, it is a magical and mystical time of year that opens a "window" of sorts to our past and connects us to our primitive ancestors who collected the burning embers from the harvest bonfires on a cold and starlit night.....pensively retreating to their homes for the Winter and contemplating the possibility and fears of the unpredictable, the incomprehensible, and the unknown.
Witches and Halloween
First, let me tell you about the history of witches in America. Did you know that during the 16th and 17th centuries, many people were accused of being witches and burned alive or hanged as a punishment for casting spells on their neighbors? Yes, it's true. Many small New England towns are to this day haunted by the witches that once lived among ordinary people.
Witchcraft began to be practiced in ancient times and has it's roots buried deep in Africa, where before there was organized religions the people believed in spirits that had the power to do good and evil. These powerful spirits could not be spoken to by just anyone. Only people with a special power could communicate with them. These special people were called "witch doctors" and were leaders of the people. The people did what the witch doctors told them because they feared the power of the spirits that could be conjured up by the witch doctors. They seemed to have special potions and spells to cure some and hurt others. As time passed and societies developed in the islands off the African coast, some people practiced the magic spells to gain the evil powers of the unseen spirits to change the course of behavior among people in their tribes. They would sometimes make masks or dolls to use in their ceremonies. This kind of magic was called "voodoo". When Europeans sailed in great ships to the islands to steal slaves, this voodoo witchcraft was introduced to the rest of the world. Eventually, many ordinary people presumed that evil powers were responsible for unexplainable occurrences, such as deaths and plagues. Before the great witch hunts, it was not uncommon for people to proclaim themselves to be witches in service to the devil in order to scare others into doing what they wanted. They believed that human beings were sensitive to changes in nature, and that the forces of nature could be gathered and directed to alter the metaphysical world around them.
Witchcraft became a type of religion practiced by those who wanted to harness the forces of nature to create "magic". The witches were feared and when seemingly evil occurrences happened among the civilized people, there were witch hunts. In the 16th and 17th centuries, witches began to be hunted and burned or hanged in an attempt to rid society of the evil plaguing it. Witch trials began in Europe and spread to America by the late 1600's, reaching a height of activity in Salem, Mass. in the 1690's, an era known today as the great "witch hysteria". At that point, the witches who escaped the witch trials in America retreated deep into the wilderness to escape persecution. They built cabins made of log and stone. They became dirty and uncivilized, using animals for ceremonies and to help them conspire with the forces of nature. They would light great bonfires during their ceremonies and cook stews of unusual meats and vegetables that they would gather in the woods. They kept company with animals and used the animals to communicate with people in the villages. These animals, especially the cat, were believed to be bewitched and in service with the witches and the devil. There are real witches today that practice magic spells and are the descendants of the original witches. They cackle and moan in the eerie night around great harvest bonfires in the haunted woods.
Death and Halloween
Remembering Hallowe'en Past
Old things.....Vintage Halloween memories from the nineteenth and twentieth century
Vintage Children's Halloween Music
Downloadable MP3 versions of some of our favorite children's Halloween songs (now quickly becoming favorites of Samantha and Maranda):
This weeks offering - "Trick-or-Treat"
Tricks and treats in the 21st century!
As part of the Halloween celebration in the USA, people now decorate their yards with scenes to entertain and scare Trick-or-Treaters!
Nowdays, Halloween stores specialize in mass-producing props and robotic monsters. Everyone can build a haunt in their own yard or have a spectacular haunted house. The special effects get better every year.
Haunted Places We've Visited
How We Celebrate Halloween.....
.....and Harvest Time!
The annual fall foliage trek to Naples, NY was not complete without a stop at the 1812 Country Store in Lima, The Olde Country Store (with their famous "rat cheese" and penny candy) in N. Cohocton , lunch at Bob's 'n' Ruth's Vinyard, a tour through the Widmer Winery, and a stop at the local farm markets. Pictured below is a trip from 1999.
Another happy Halloween memory was a surprise birthday party in 2003!
In 2005, my twins were born into our Halloween family!!
We are lucky enought to live in the heart of apple country. The climate near the shores of the great Lake Ontario is perfect for growning some of the sweetest and crispiest apples in the country. Some of the largests orchards are a skip and a hop from our back door. One of the largest consumers of local apples has been the Motts Company down the road in Williamson, NY, which has been manufacutring apple-based products in the area since 1842!