Samhaim (pronounced sow-en) was a celebration of life, not death. It was the time when the veil between the world of the living and the other world of the dead was the thinnest. People would leave food and drink outside as gifts for the dead and they would place lit candles in their windows to help them guide their way.
Today, children dress in costumes and go from door to door, intoning, “Trick-or-treat!” for sweets and other goodies. People decorate their homes with pumpkins, silhouettes of black cats, witches and Jack-o-lanterns, symbols of Hallowe’en. Samhain colors of orange and black are featured in the décor. Hallowe’en is the one of the most decorated holidays, second only to Christmas.
Pagan Roots of Hallowe’en Costumes
The Celts didn’t believe in the devil or evil spirits of the dead. They didn’t fear the dead until Christians began to convert them and taught these Pagans about Satan, demons and evil spirits. This is when Celts began to wear animal pelts as disguises so demonic and evil spirits wouldn’t recognize them.
The offerings of food and drink left outside became a way of appeasing the dead instead of gifting them.
Pagan Roots of Trick-or-Treat
Today, children dressed in costumes go from door to door, begging for candy and other packaged treats. In the not so distant past, apples and other fruit were given as treats. This ended when some demented individuals hid razor blades in the fruit.
Begging for alms was a Samhain tradition and the root of trick-or-treating. Alms were soul-cakes and fruit. The Welsh called them Dole Cakes; the Scots, Dirge Loafs and the English, Sammas or Soul Mass Cakes.
Pagan Hallowe’en Song
The song, with changed lyrics, was popularized by folksingers Peter, Paul and Mary. It’s also sung as a round. Alms seekers would sang the song of old while begging for soul-cakes and fruit.
The original lyrics of the Pagan Hallowe’en Song are: “Soul! Soul! For a soul-cake! I pray you, good misses, a soul-cake! An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry, Or any good thing to make us all merry. One for Peter, two for Paul, Three for Them who made us all. Up with the kettle and down with the pan. Give us good alms and we’ll be gone.”
Pagan Roots of Pumpkins as a Decoration
The Celts hollowed out mangel-wurzels to use as lanterns during Samhain celebrations. Mangel-wurzels also called mangold-wurzels, are a large, yellowish colored member of the beet family that’s primarily used for cattle fodder.
The lit lanterns, called “punkies,” symbolized the life giving energies of the son and fire. When the Pagan Celtic people came to the New World, they brought their traditions — including punkies — with them. They replaced mangel-wurzels with pumpkins, native to the Americas, because they were easier to carve.
Jack-o-lanterns have their origins in Irish lore. Jack made a pact with the devil that he would never bother him again after the second time he tried to claim Jack’s soul. When Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his degenerate ways. He was denied entrance to hell because of the agreement and condemned to walk the earth for eternity. The devil threw a piece of coal to Jack to light the way on earthly paths. Jack put it in a mangel-wurzel.
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