Tuesday, October 31, 2017
The Festival of the Dead: Trick or Treat
The celebration of the dead is found throughout the Celtic world and lasts from Halloween to New Year (Hogmanay). In the old Celtic calendar, New Year fell on the 1st November and was called Samhain. This was an unreal time, when one year turned into another. A twilight zone where spirits of the dead and those not yet born walked freely among the living. It was a time associated with spirits and monsters on the prowl. Many ancient superstitions surrounding Samhain were concerned with the darkness and the evil it was thought to harbour.
The celebration of the dead is found throughout the Celtic and Hispanic world and was traditonaly the time of plenty as the harvast was gathered and the stocks returned from the hills in preparation the severe winter ahead. This was a great time for kinship as the hill dwellers came to 'the gathering.'
Samhain was a time where the darkness of night was thought to prevail over the lightness of day. Lun the Sun God, was defeated by his darker side and became the Lord of Misrule. Good people needed the comfort of their own kind and protection from the evil forces of the dark. Much of the sacred symbolism of Samhain can be found in the customs of Halloween and Hogmanay. Kissing under the mistletoe is thought to be an ancient Druid (Celtic) tradition. Drinking of wassail (alcohol) is another Celtic tradition. The Vikings used to slaughter a boar at Yule time in honour of the god, Freyr.
A common practice among medievil Christians was during certain celebration days to temporarily reverse order. During “All Hallows Eve,” “All Soul’s Day,” and “All Saints Day” for example, the faithful dressed up as saints, angels and demons. Children and poor adults at Hallowmas, went from door to door in disguise (guising) begging for food (soul cake). As they went from house to house they entertained (or mummed) and to ignore them was thought to bring bad luck. Children were likely to play tricks on the less charitable.It has been suggested modern 'trick-or-treating,' evolved from impersonating spirits, or the souls of the dead. A long held belief is souling dressing like the spirits or souls, by itself protects the guiser from evil doing.
"Guising" has long been a Scottish and Irish tradition from the 16th century. The children are only supposed to receive treats if they perform a party trick for the households they go to. In North America, trick-or-treating has been a Halloween tradition since the late 1920s.