With Halloween coming up many people consider this to be a cursed time of year. Teenagers preparing to toilet paper and egg houses, witches holding seances, and curious people using ouija boards, it is no wonder that October is viewed as a cursed time. While it is not actually a cursed time of year it is indeed a very interesting one.
If we look beyond the commercialization of the holiday we can find a few people interested in celebrating Hallow’s Eve. Some celebrate Halloween as a day of remembering the dead. Others use it for a chance to possibly contact the spirit world. What is Halloween, besides a day to give out candy?
Halloween originates as a derivative of the Celtic holiday called Samhain. Samhain, to the celts was known as Oíche Shamhna or night of samhain. The night was a celebration of the fall. People would gather around large bonfires to celebrate the end of spring and the coming of the new season. Houses were also adorned with carved pumpkins or turnips, this tradition references the legend of Jack of the Lantern.
Once in the land of Eire, there lived a blacksmith by the name of Jack. Quick to the drink but short on paying for it, Jack had few friends and was known to curse a lovely day as often as a miserable one.
One night late, when all civil folk were home abed, Jack was at a pub near the crossroads outside his village. A stranger in a long coat and hat sat near. Hoping for sympathy, Jack moaned aloud that he would give his soul to the Devil if he had the money for one last drink. Quick as can be, the stranger beside him disappeared and close to Jack’s hand lay the coins for his drink.
Now although Jack was a drinking man, he was also a clever man and he knew now that stranger was no mere man. Being the thinking man, Jack snatched the coins from the counter and pocketed them in his purse where he kept a small silver cross. Trapped by the silver cross, the stranger, who was actually the Devil in disguise, had to agree not to claim Jack’s soul for another ten years in order to escape Jack’s pocket.
Now time went by and as time does and Jack’s ways never changed. Without family or friend, Jack contented himself walking about late after the pub had closed and one night, ten years hence, he came across the Devil himself on a dark country road.
The Devil reminded Jack of their bargain and Jack, still not eager to leave life, agreed to go if the Devil would feed his terrible hunger with an apple from a nearby tree. Hopping upon Jack’s shoulder’s, the Devil hoisted himself into the tree to get the apple. Quickly Jack took his small knife and carved a cross in the tree. Now as we all know, the Devil has no power in the air and was trapped in the tree by the cross on its trunk. This time Jack made the Devil promise never to come for him again. Having no choice, the Devil agreed.
Some years later, Jack did meet his natural end. Because of his miserly and drinking ways, he was denied entrance to Heaven. The Devil himself turned him away at the entrance to Hell because he had promised years before never to take his soul. As the night was dark and the wind was howling, Jack begged the Devil for light to find his way. The Devil threw him an ember from the very fires of hell and Jack kept it lit inside a bit of rotten turnip that he found.
Ever since then, Jack has wandered the night with his wee lantern. He was seen from time to time, and still is, a bobbing light in the darkness, on windy nights out on the moors or along lonely country roads. He became known as “Jack-of-the Lantern,” and over time just “Jack-o-Lantern.”
This tale was retold by C. Austin. The idea of the lantern on Halloween being that if a demon or evil spirit saw the visage of another Demon, it would be so afraid it would leave the home alone. It is this same reasoning that has children dressing up as ghouls, monsters, ghosts, and demons. Disguised as the evil spirits, the children go door to door, nuts and fruits for the festivities.
Halloween however has become an amalgam of many celebrated holidays. Samhain, being the primary but Halloween itself being short for Hallow’s eve. The day before all saints day. Unlike other holidays such as Christmas which hold some foundation in Pagan tradition, Halloween has remained primarily pagan. It is a fantastic time of year where people can believe in the paranormal. Where things that go bump in the night have the possibility to be more than the cat knocking something over.
I myself have fond memories of sneaking into abandoned houses and forts at night in search of spirits or demons. With hopes that these tales of ghosts and goblins I heard were true. My heart racing, my mind over active as I walked down a dark damp tunnel. SNAP a branch breaks. What was that? I run outside before I can ever find out, the monsters have found me. I get home as quick as I can, thinking maybe just maybe the stories are true.
Where ever one finds them self on Halloween, it still seems to be the one time of year that continues to hold a mystique. While the imagery, and legend of other Holidays fades. Halloween, holds strong and true. Perhaps, it is because of the power of the idea of spirits, ghosts, and demons that helps us to hold on. Or maybe it is just myself that seems to recall with great fondness the excitement and mystery of the season.