The origins of the holiday we know as Halloween are somewhat uncertain. The most widely held opinion seems to be that it originated in the early middle ages with the Catholic church. The day after Halloween, November 1st, is the day known in the Catholic church as All Saints Day - a day set aside to celebrate all of the 'Saints', both known and unknown. It was apparently held by some that on the day prior to this (October 31), all of the souls that were currently residing in Purgatory (a holding place, so to speak, somewhere between Heaven and Hell, where souls unworthy of Heaven were thought to be held for the day of Judgement), were released to walk the earth for 24 hours. It became tradition for some to go from door to door on this day, asking for prayers for the souls of their deceased loved ones, as they believed that a soul held in Purgatory could be released to Heaven if enough supplication was made on their behalf by those still living.
Still others trace the origins of Halloween back to the feast of Samhain, which was a Celtic festival celebrating the end of the harvest season, dating back to the time of Christ of before. Fairies and spirits were thought to be particularly active during this time, and feasts were held, during which places were set at the table for those that had passed, and their spirits were beckoned back to earth. The spirits of the dead were thought to wander the streets, looking for bodies to inhabit, so many of the living (who did not want their bodies to be overtaken by a spirit) would dress in costumes and parade about making loud noises, so as to frighten the spirits away.
"The Jack-O-Lantern apparently comes from Irish folklore about a man named Jack who tricked the devil into climbing a tree. Once the devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross on the trunk, preventing the devil from coming down. The devil then made a deal with Jack not to allow Jack into hell after Jack died if only Jack would remove the cross from the tree. After Jack died, he couldn't go to hell, and he couldn't go to heaven. He was forced to wander around the earth with a single candle to light his way. The candle was placed in a turnip to keep it burning longer. When the Irish came to America in the 1800's, they adopted the pumpkin instead of the turnip. Along with these traditions, they brought the idea that the black cat was considered by some to be reincarnated spirits who had prophetic abilities." source
Since the early 20th century, pagans and Wiccans have adopted Samhain as somewhat of a religious celebration.
So, it seems that the holiday we now know as Halloween is linked to pagan rituals, Catholic traditions, witchcraft and ancient superstition.
Sounds great. Let's have a party! (not.)
...To be continued. Come back tomorrow for the next installment!