Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween - What does it mean?

Halloween Day of the Dead Samhain Pitru Paksha History What is it all about? Meaning

It's October 31st again and the shops are full of black and orange ghoulish gimmicks that make most Australians groan at in anticipation of your kids begging to door knock for lollies, and those without kids groan in anticipation of other peoples kids knocking at their doors begging for lollies.

It's a holiday that is not embraced by most Australians and unfortunately is seen as just that - a gimmick. However the history of halloween or "All Hallows Eve", the pagan celebration of the dead, is fascinating.

Linked to the Celtic festival of "Samhain", the Celts celebrated this time of year as the end to the long winter farming season, a time that saw the close of one cycle and the beginning of another. It was now that the souls of those who had died that year would pass into the otherworld - a time that this world is open to faeries, ghouls and ghosts. Bonfires were lit to keep these otherworldly beings from straying here and to guide the souls of the dead to pass over. Offerings of animals and the years harvest were sacrificed to bring fortune and luck for the coming year and to placate the spirits. With the spread of Christianity, All Hallows Eve was adopted as a Christian festival that also became known as the "Feast of All Saints" as it was the death of Saints that became more widely celebrated, trying to quash the pagan belief in faeries and other such sprites. The Celts however were strong in their beliefs and the supernatural archetype of Halloween still exists today.

Many other cultures celebrate the dead around the same time, also generally following harvest.

The Hindus celebrate "Pitru Paksha" in September-October at the Autumn equinox as according to Hindu mythology, the last three generations exist in a realm between heaven and earth called Pitru-loka, and offering of food must be given to the departed to ensure the safe passage of their souls into heaven.

The mexican "day of the dead" is held from the eve of the 31st of October to the 2nd of Novemeber, with offerings of marigolds and sugar skulls being left at alters, shrines and graves to honour the dead, these customs being taken from their Aztec ancestors.

While many Australians shy away from Halloween, possibly due to its commerciality, possibly due to the American garishness many of us associate it with, why not make it a time to remember our loved ones who have passed on? Have a glass of wine outside tonight, look at the moon and reminisce the good times. Tell your children stories of those the may not have had the chance to meet or to remember so your own heritage and ancestry is not forgotten.

It is something often lost these days and hence the worth in looking at the tradition in these holidays we tend to celebrate without a second thought. Better still, pick some marigolds, light a candle and pop them in front of a photo. There is a magik in ritual that strikes something old, and deep in our own souls.

Happy Halloween! (boo!)

Emma xxx