Mountain Views News, Combined Edition Saturday, October 30, 2021

MVNews this week:  Page B:3


 Mountain Views News Saturday, October 30, 2021 


The Roots of Hallowe’en 

Is it possible to celebrate a pre-commercialized version? 

[Nyerges is the author of several books including “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme 
Sim-plicity,” and “Foraging California.” Information about his books and classes 
is available at] 

Recently, I was part of a conversation where our small group wondered, How 
was this Holy Day commemorated before it was all commercialized into a scary night? Is it possible 
to observe this Holy Day in a similar fashion today? And how might the Covid-19 restrictions 
make this even more difficult? 

We determined that we’d need to dig up whatever historical facts we could find that show how this 
day was commemorated before 1700, more or less. Though we couldn’t be 100% certain, we at 
least assumed that “commercialization” didn’t really exist in 1700, and all the European and some 
American commemorations before that year probably retained some semblance of what the day 
was all about, originally. 

So, first, let’s begin with the day. 

It is believed that the ancient Celts observed something called a “Samhain festival” towards the 
end of October. Says the World Book Encyclopedia. “The Celts believed that the dead could walk 
among the living at this time. During Samhain, the living could visit with the dead. Ele-ments of 
the customs can be traced to a Druid ceremony in pre-Christian times. The Celts had festivals for 
two major gods—a sun god and a god of the dead (called Samhain), whose festival was held on 
November 1, the beginning of the Celtic New Year. 

This day, or period, was to mark the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. 
Samhain (pronounced “sow-in,” which means “summer’s end,” or the name of a god, or both) is 
seen by some Wiccans as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have died, and it often in-volves 
paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders of the faith, friends, pets and other loved ones 
who have died. In some rituals the spirits of the dead are invited to attend the festivi-ties. 

Various sorts of activities done on Samhain have been described over the centuries. In Ire-land, 
Samhain was a time to take stock of the herds and food supplies. Cattle were brought to the 
winter pastures after six months in the higher summer pastures. Then, the people chose which 
animals to slaughter before the winter. After the slaughter of the animals, there would be feasting. 
And obviously, if you aren’t an animal-raising farmer, how would you celebrate this aspect, 
except for the feasting? 

The Catholic Church was aware of all the so-called “pagan” observances, and had their own day 
to commemorate the dead, May 13. This began in 609 or 610 A.D., when Pope Boniface the 4th 
dedicated the Pantheon— the Roman temple of all the gods—to Mary and all the martyrs. Later 
that date was changed by Pope Gregory III (731-741 A.D.), who dedicated a chapel in Rome to 
all the saints and ordered that they be honored on November 1. This was done, in part, to overshadow 
the pre-existing Samhain commemorations. 

In the 11th century, November 2nd was assigned as "All Souls’ Day" in commemoration of the 
dead. So this began the use of the term Hallow’s Eve, or Hallowe’en for October 31. 
Hallowe’en customs are similar to the observance of Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, commonly 
practiced in Mexico and which can be traced to early Aztec times. Apparently, this “day 
of the dead” was originally commemorated in Mexico in May, and was changed to Novem-ber 2 
sometime after Spanish contact to correspond with the Christian tradition.
Trick or treating in modern times goes back to leaving food and wine for roaming dead spirits 
and ghosts. The custom was referred to as "going a-souling" and was eventually practiced only by 
the children who would visit the houses in their neighborhoods and be given gifts of ale, food and 
money. It was believed the spirits of the dead returned to visit their old homes during this time, 
so in ancient times, people left food out for them and arranged chairs so that the dead would be 
able to rest. 
Treats called “soul cakes” were given out in memory of the departed. The Middle Age practice 
of souling — going door to door begging for food in return for prayers — became popular and is 
even referenced by William Shakespeare in 1593. This is obviously the root of the modern “trick 
or treating” for mini Snickers bars, a practice no doubt loved by every dentist.
Seasonal foods such as apples and nuts were often used in the Samhain rituals. Apples were 
peeled, the peel tossed over the shoulder, and its shape examined to see if it formed the first letter 
of the future spouse's name. Nuts were roasted on the hearth and then interpreted – if the nuts 
stayed together, so would the couple. Egg whites were dropped in water, and the shapes foretold 
the number of future children. Children would also chase crows and divine some of these things 
from the number of birds or the direction they flew. 

Celts would wear masks when they left their homes during the night hours during Samhain days, 
because they hoped they would avoid being recognized by the ghosts and be mistaken merely for 
fellow ghosts. 
“Mumming” and “Guising” were a part of Samhain from at least the 16th century and was recorded 
in parts of Ireland, Scotland, Mann and Wales. It involved people going from house to 
house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting songs or verses in exchange for food. It is 
sug-gested that it evolved from a tradition whereby people impersonated the aos sí, or the souls 
of the dead, and received offerings on their behalf. Impersonating these spirits or souls was also 
believed to protect oneself from them. One researcher suggests that the ancient festival included 
people in masks or costumes representing these spirits, and that the modern custom came from 

Pagan Celtic priestesses and their followers would roam the countryside, chanting songs in order 
to frighten away the evil spirits thought to be out on Halloween night. I wonder how that could 
be practiced in your neighborhood? 

Bonfires were a big part of the festival in many areas of western Europe. Bonfires were typical-ly 
lit on hilltops at Samhain where everyone could see them, and there were rituals involving them. 
Clearly, this would not be a good year for reviving that practice!
Bonfires comes from the root, “bone-fires” because the priests sacrificed animals and supposedly 
even people in an attempt to appease the sun god, while also looking for future omens. The 
fire was said to be a type of sympathetic magic, where the fire mimicked the sun, which has the 
pow-er to hold back the darkness of winter. Burning the fires was also believed to be a way of 
ban-ishing evil, at least symbolically. 

Divination has likely been a part of the festival since ancient times, and it has survived in some rural 
areas. In part, this meant that the spirits, the aos sí., could enter your world. Many of the food 
offerings and fires were directed to the aos sí. Or perhaps, some of the crops might also be left in 
the ground for them the aos sí. The aos sí.were addressed in various ways, with food of-ferings, 
with walks into the ocean, with the idea to hold off any mischief, and perhaps to learn the future.
The belief that the souls of the dead return home on one night of the year seems to have ancient 
origins and is found in many cultures throughout the world. 

So what do you conclude from all this? Is there an ideal way to commemorate this ancient day, 
and still avoid the trappings of commercialization? Is it even possible? Can you do this in your 
own home? 

I like the way that the Day of the Dead is commemorated. There are altars with pictures of the 
dearly departed, and plates of good food. Candles are lit, rather than a big bonfire which the local 
fire department would frown upon. Families gather, and talk in respectful tones about their 
departed relatives. Yes, of course, even the Day of the Dead has turned into wild partying in some 
quarters, but if you seek a return to roots of the ancient commemoration of the dead, per-haps 
begin here. Begin with family or small neighborhood gatherings. Prepare a good meal, and keep 
in the mind the foods that your beloved departeds enjoyed. This is not necessarily because you 
think their spirits will come to eat (last I checked, ghosts don’t need to eat), but because hav-ing, 
for example, your mother’s favorite dish will give you another reason to talk about your mother, 
and to remember all the good things she did. 

This is at least a start, and it elevates our day of ghoulish and pointless fear-mongering into one 
that reconnects us with our roots. 


We are looking for 

a home for these 


cuties! They are 

broth-ers from 

another mother, but 

have been raised 

together, so they are 

very bonded and we 

want them to be adopted together. Cosmo is all black and will be very sleek and handsome 

when he grows up. He was born 5/6/21. Dawson is a beautiful creamsicle orange and white, 

born 4/21. He has a pink nose and pink ears and soft, honey-colored fur. He'll grow up to 

be very handsome, too! These boys are very active. They love to explore, play, and wrestle 

together. Oh, and did someone mention food?? Yes, they love their food and their treats! They 

are both in a loving foster home, which also has 3 dogs, so if you have a respectful dog, and 

if the kitties are introduced to the dog gradually and properly, it can work out. Take them 

into your home and see yourself start laughing more and stressing less! We are quite positive 

they will make your life more fun and entertaining! That’s double cuddles and kisses for you! 

You simply MUST come and meet them! See their video and more pics and put in your 
application at 

Pet of the Week

 Two-year-old Teddy is a big, friendly teddy bear! Atfirst glance, you might be drawn to Teddy because ofhis unique chocolate coloring. But once you meet him,
you’ll also discover his happy, playful personality andfall in love even more! Teddy likes toys and treats, andacts a lot like a grown-up puppy. He would do best as the 
only dog in the home with an adopter who can continuehis training using lots of positive reinforcement, andgive him lots of love and playtime.

 The adoption fee for dogs is $150. All dog adoptionsinclude spay or neuter, microchip, and age-appropriatevaccines.

 New adopters will receive a complimentary healthand-
wellness exam from VCA Animal Hospitals, aswell as a goody bag filled with information about how 
to care for your pet.

View photos of adoptable pets and schedule an adoption appointment Adoptions are by appointment only, and new adoption 
appointments are available every Sunday and Wednesday at 10:00 a.m.

 Pets may not be available for adoption and cannot be held for potential adopters byphone calls or email. 

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