Tag Archives: Halloween

Celtic Autumn – The Origins of Halloween

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Samhain (pronounced Sow-in): The origin of Halloween can be traced to this ancient pagan festival celebrated by Celtic people over 2,000 years ago (states the Word Book Encyclopedia). “The Celts believed that the dead could walk among the living.”

It hasn’t changed all that much since then. The dead still walk among us that night, joined now by Zombies, Witches, Warlocks, Werewolves, Vampires, Black Cats and various other “haunts.”

Halloween night has become very crowded indeed.

Halloween is a contraction of “All Hallow’s Evening.” Also know as Allhalloween, All Hallow’s Eve, or All Saint’s Eve. Whatever you call it, it’s pretty scary. It used to scarier still, but in the nineteen fifties, it became sort of  “family friendly.” Now it is the second most popular holiday of the year, second only to Christmas. Americans spend about six BILLION dollars buying Halloween stuff.

And that doesn’t even include the candy.

According to many scholars, Halloween is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals. In many parts of the world, religious observances of Halloween include attending Church services and lighting candles on the graves and tombstones of the dead.

The word Halloween dates to about 1745, and is of Christian origin. It is a Scottish term. Samhain is old Irish and means “The end of summer.” Indeed. Gaelic Halloween was on November the first, rather than the last day of October. I’m not exactly sure which day I prefer. Both seem somehow very apropos, either night seemingly a good one to “Rattle dem dry bones.”

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At Samhain, places were set at the dinner table for the dead. It was believed that the departed would re-visit their homes on that night, and apparently be hungry when they got there. In 19th century Ireland, candles were lit, and prayers formally said for the souls of the deceased.

In modern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Mann, and Wales, the festival includes Mumming and Guising. The adult mummers go door to door, reciting verses and singing songs in exchange for food. Guising is closest to our own tradition, with children making the rounds in disguise, searching for food or coins. The food usually consists of apples or nuts, with very little sugar.

“Trick or treat is largely America – demanding treats with menace. But then, that’s more or less the American way. One improvement we did make however, was to center the tradition largely around candy, and lots and lots of it. Chocolate is preferred.

No matter how it started, or where it came from, children the world over love it. I know that some of my very best memories of my kid-hood involve trick or treating around the neighborhood with my dad. The nights were cold and crisp. The scent of apples and cider were in the air. Dad was always by my side to ensure my safety. He was as constant as the sun rising in the morning.

Years later, when I was grown and dad was old, I would usually visit on Halloween night. I would bring about a half ton of candy, and dad would have more. We always bought a whole lot more than we knew we would distribute to the kids. But that was exactly the point. We got to eat the leftovers, as we watched an evening marathon of horror movies on the television. Old black and white monster movies were preferred.

Memories don’t get much better than that.

Dad has gone on himself to the great beyond now. I celebrate his life and his passing. And I will do it in typical (and traditional) Halloween style. As in light a candle, carve a pumpkin, eat a ton of candy, set a place for him at the dinner table, just in case he wants to drop in and is hungry when he gets there.

And just generally scare the crap out of myself and the grandkids as we watch an evenings marathon of old black and white horror flicks.

Because Halloween is, and always will be, the most wonderful (and scariest) night of the year.

Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful (and incredibly frightening) Halloween night.

We will meet again in a few days, with an excerpt from my upcoming book in The Watchmaker series, THE RECKONING.

Until then. Happy Halloween .  .  . and Happy Nightmares.

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Tales of Enchanted October – Black Cats in Myth and Legend

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The folklore surrounding black cats has always varied widely from culture to culture. One people’s dark omen is another’s good luck charm. But all things considered, the black cat has always sort of gotten a bum rap, being closely associated with witches and hobgoblins.

Darned shame too. They are lovely creatures, and exquisitely beautiful.

The Scottish found them to be good luck and the presence of a black cat was thought to bring prosperity to the home. (I think I’ll get a dozen!) Likewise, black cats are lucky in both Briton and Japan. Ladies take note, Japanese single females believe ownership of a black feline will bring many suitors.

Not so at the old casino. There, black cats are considered VERY direly bad luck indeed, hitting just where it is most likely to do the most harm .  .  . in the wallet.

In Celtic mythology, the black cat becomes a fairy known as the Cat Sith (shades of Star Wars).

Mostly in Western culture, are black cats symbols of evil and witchcraft. Why? It seems nobody knows, or can’t remember. May have to do with the Bible-thumping Pilgrims. They found foreboding and evil in most anything dark.

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Germany is my favorite. There a cat crossing one’s path from right to left is a bad omen, but the other way forebodes good times. 18th century Pirates once believed (and may still do for all I know) that a black cat walking toward a person .  .  . bad luck. Away from them, good.

Sailor’s who wanted a ship’s cat, would favor the color black, thinking it would bring good luck. Fisherman’s wives, back home, would keep them for the same reason – to bring hubby home safely.

Since the 1880’s. the color black has been associated with anarchism. The black cat, in an alert, fighting stance, was later adopted as an anarchist symbol. It is true. When I was a kid, we once had a black cat. It was a hell-raiser.  .  . and anarchy reigned.

It is doubtful, I think, that there could be a more misunderstood creature.

One thing we do know though, is that black cats are a heck of a lot of fun. It just wouldn’t be Halloween without the ever-present black cat. It is perhaps, along with the witch and the pumpkin, the most recognizable of autumn symbols.

So here’s to you black cats. We love you, we can’t do without you, and if you didn’t exist .  .  . well, come October, we’d just have to invent you.

You all have a great night tonight, and watch out for that black cat, lurking, just outside the window.

and .  .  . Happy Nightmares!!!

.  .  . ’til next time.

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