Halloween is an ancient festival held annually on 31st October and it originated with the Celtic people living in Britain over 2000 years ago, but it may be even older than that. For the Celts it was originally known as Samhain (pronounced sow en) and it was a time to celebrate the last harvest of the year, the end of summer and the coming of the cold and dark of winter. This was the start of the Celtic new year, and the festivities held around this time of year have endured throughout the ages and have even survived the Christianisation of the native Pagan population. It’s now the second largest festival in the UK after Christmas.
During Halloween it was believed that the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest and no magic spells were required for beings to come and go from the other world. This meant that demons and fairies could walk amongst us and cause mischief and terror. It was also believed that the living could contact the deceased far more easily on Halloween than at other times of year.
These beliefs resulted in all sorts of strange traditions, games and rituals that have been passed down for generations and some are still hugely popular today, such as pumpkin carving, trick or treating, and dressing up in costumes. All three, as it happens, have the purpose of frightening off or confusing those pesky demons and fairies that are out and about on Halloween night.
But have you heard of these other activities that you can try at home as well?
Yes, I know you’ve heard of apple bobbing but did you know that originally the apples were marked to signify certain unmarried women?An unmarried man would bob for the apples and the apple he managed to grab out of the water with his mouth would foretell a forthcoming marriage between the two.
Why not do the same or you could mark the apples with coloured stickers to signify a prize.
Apple Peel Divination
Apples are a big feature at Halloween due to their abundance at that time of year and for being symbols of fertility and immortality. A popular activity was to peel an apple in one continuous piece and to throw it over one’s shoulder whilst reciting “Peel, peel, please reveal, the first initial of my true love”. The peel would land on the floor in the shape of a letter which is the first initial of the person you truly love.
Beware, things could become awkward if the “wrong” initial is revealed.
This was another popular activity for finding out who you were going to be married to, although it’s rather high up on the creepy list. Sit alone in a darkened room whilst holding a candle and staring into a mirror. Clear your mind and stare into the mirror, an apparition of your future spouse will appear over your shoulder. (Although, if a skull appears..., well, it was nice knowing you).
Now i’ve tried this on my 11 year old niece and she was out of the room in less than a minute. Far too spooky! But it’s lots of fun nonetheless.
Creating a bonfire on Halloween was traditionally very popular for warding off those evil spirits (and burning all of that garden rubbish). This tradition lives on, just it’s now conducted a few days later for Bonfire Night on 5th November. But before the Gunpowder Plot we were lighting our bonfires on Halloween.
Halloween bonfires also served another purpose, they were a way of communicating with deceased loved ones. It was popular to write a private heartfelt letter or note to a deceased friend or relative, then throw it onto the bonfire. The letter would burn and turn to smoke, where it would rise into the ether to find its recipient.
It was also tradition to place stones, arranged in a circle, in the burning embers of the bonfire. The stones represent each member of the household and if any of those stones were missing by the following morning then the person who it represented wouldn’t make it to the end of the year. I certainly won’t be bothering with that. No thank you!
Communicate with the dead with a pendulum. This was very popular for finding answers to yes no questions regarding deceased loved ones or about one's future.
All you need is a piece of cotton and a weight for the end such as a pin or ring. Anything you have to hand, it doesn’t matter. Then you need to cleanse the pendulum in salt water (salt is used to protect yourself from evil spirits) and preferably leave the pendulum on a sunny windowsill to absorb a lot of natural energy. Your pendulum is now primed and ready to go.
Hold the cotton between your thumb and forefinger and rest your elbow on a table for support. Wait for the pendulum to stop moving. Now ask a few questions that you already know the answers to. This allows you to see which way the pendulum moves or twists for a yes and which way for a no. Now you’re ready to ask questions about your future or about the deceased.
Protect your home from evil spirits with a handmade wreath for your front door. This is a fun craft project to do with children as it also involves going out into nature collecting foliage. A plain willow or wicker wreath can be purchased from Ebay quite cheaply and they can be used year after year. Decorations can be attached to the wreath such as dried autumnal leaves (representing the season, discarded past and the cycle of life), rosemary (representing remembrance and protection), rowan berries (for protection) and dried apple slices (representing immortality and fertility). It’s also customary to sprinkle salt onto the doorstep to keep those evil spirits away.
Halloween Feast (for you and the deceased)
Enjoy a big sit down meal this Halloween to be thankful for all the plentiful food, to remember the dead and to celebrate the end of the harvest and the start of winter. It doesn’t have to be a fancy affair like Christmas but do make it a sit down meal, with homemade comfort food like cottage pie, plenty of cider and a slice of cake from Togri Bakery for pudding. Brownies with custard would be my choice. It’s traditional to set an extra space at the dining table for visitors from the other side as they may want to join you!
A Halloween feast is a great time to share stories of loved ones who are no longer present and to learn new things about your own family history.
I hope you enjoy these activities and make the most of spending time and making happy memories with the living.
Have a happy Halloween!