Welcome to the witchiest time of year! As many of you know, our current incarnation of Halloween, full of ghosts and goblins and candy and children, is rather different from the original apparition of this Pagan holy day. Nevertheless, you can still find echoes of the ancient in the practices of today.
Remembrance & Mischief
Halloween is usually referred to by Pagans as Samhain (pronounced sow-EN). In Scottish-Gaelic, Samhain translates to “summer’s end.” The holiday is also known as All Hallows Eve, Hallow E’en, Hallowtide, and Spirit Night. As with many ancient pagan holidays, the Catholic Church conveniently placed some of its own holy days on or near it. All Saints’ Day was officially placed on November 1 by Pope Gregory IV in 835 CE. It is actually from this holiday that we get our modern term for October 31, “Halloween.” All Saints’ Day became known as Hallowmas—a mass to honor the Christian dead. October 31, as the Eve of All Hallows Day, became All Hallows Even, which evolved into the word Halloween.
Other holidays that have congregated around this time of year share the common themes of honoring the dead and/or making mischief. The Feast of All Souls, celebrated on November 2, was officially approved by Pope Sylvester II around 1000 CE. This holiday was originally established to offer prayers and alms to assist the souls of the departed who reside in neither Heaven nor Hell, but in Purgatory. Now many modern Christians celebrate it by praying for all of the departed. The joyful Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos), a syncretic merging of the Catholic holidays and the pre-Hispanic traditions, is also observed in early November.
The early American Mischief Night, also called Goblin Night or Devil’s Night, was the precursor to our contemporary celebration of Halloween. Most of the mischief was simply for fun and amusement, but sometimes it got out of hand, as in 1939 when one thousand windows were broken in Queens, New York. The chaotic atmosphere of the holiday was taken advantage of by some, and used as a cover for criminal activity. Interestingly enough, the custom of trick-or-treating was introduced by the Boy Scouts to redirect the sometimes deviant behavior of young people during this holiday. The roots of the tradition go back much deeper than early American history, but it took the efforts of the Boy Scouts and local community organizations to make the activity a nationwide custom.
The Tale of the Jack-o’-Lantern
The pumpkin is, without a doubt, one of the most popular symbols of Halloween. Following is Silver RavenWolf’s take on the folktale that brought on our pumpkin carving craze.
Once upon a time there was a farmer by the name of Jack. He wasn’t an unlikable fellow, no he wasn’t, but he was the sort of fella that would run from honest work faster than a youngin’ can run from bath water. Tall and lanky, Jack had a lopsided smile and a missin’ tooth. A nice laugh—one that rumbled deep from the belly and danced about the barn quicker than a fellow with a fiddle in his hand. His hair was limp and his face was creased—yep, that was our Jack all right. Once fine day, the devil…well, he got bored. Temptin’ the rich folk got far too easy, so he set out to find hisself a poor boy. That old devil, he spied Jack sleepin’ under the big old oak tree out there by the garden. “Jack,” he says, “I’ve come to take your soul.” Pumpkin Magic
“If’n you can climb that oak tree and touch the top, then you kin have it,” said Jack. “Ain’t no never-mind to me.”
Ain’t no one in the county able to climb to the top of that big ole tree, and Jack, well …he knew that, yes he did.
So the devil, he climbs the tree, but he gets stuck and cain’t git down. “Jack, help me down,” says the devil.
“Nope,” says Jack, “because if’n I do, you’ll want to take my soul. If’n you stay in that tree, you cain’t git me.”
Now the devil, he thinks and thinks, and then he says, “If’n you help me down, I’ll give you anythin’ you want. Just name it.”
Jack walks around the tree, lookin’ up at the devil from different angles. He scratches his beard and cocks his head. “Okay,” says Jack, “If’n I let you down, you have to promise me that you’ll never allow me into hell.”
“Done!” says the devil, and Jack helps him down.
“Well now,” thought Jack, “this is mighty fine, I kin do as I please!” And so he did. Poor Jack. Nobody believe his story, so he took to drinkin’ and then to gamblin’ and I hear tell he coveted the wife of a neighbor man, and ran off with another—I ain’t rightly sure. Anyway, Jack finally up and died.
Well now, Jack went to heaven and stood in front of them pearly gates and the angel there said, “You cain’t come in here. We’s only got room for good people, and Jack, you weren’t so good down there on earth. I’m afraid you’ll have to go to the other place.”
Jack stood in front of the gates of hell, but the demon said, “Sorry Jack, you cain’t come in here. You made a deal with the devil. There’s no room at this end unless, of course, you can exchange your soul for another’s.”
“But it’s dark down here and I cain’t see,” said Jack. “How will I find someone to take my place?”
“Here,” said the demon, and threw Jack a glowing coal.
Now Jack, he wasn’t a stupid fellow, so he took hisself a turnip outta the garden and hollowed it out, then put that hot coal in the turnip so’s he could see, as the world of in-between is mighty dark. On Halloween night, when the veil between the worlds is thin, you kin see Jack and his little light, across the fields and in the woods, roamin’ in the night, searchin’ for someone to take his place.
Now, if you hollow out that there turnip, and put a candle in it, then Jack will think you’re lost too, and he won’t pay you no never mind. He never was a really smart fella.
After cleaning and carving your pumpkins to fool our dear old Jack, you will surely have some seeds left over. Wait before tossing them! The seeds are quite magickally useful (and rather yummy, too).
Charm Bag for Drawing Money
Ingredients: 7 pumpkin seeds, 1/4 teaspoon dried ground pumpkin rind, 1/4 teaspoon dried mint, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 silver coin, 1 small orange flannel bag with 17-inch red ribbon, black felt pen.
On the new moon before Halloween, mix the pumpkin rind, mint, and cinnamon together and hum: East and West, South and North, Prosperity I bring thee forth. Draw a dollar sign on both sides of each pumpkin seed with the felt pen. Add the pumpkin seeds to the mixture. Pour into orange bag. Hold the coin in your hands until it gets warm, humming the chant again. Put the coin in the bag and tie it up. On the following Thursday, hold the bag in your hands and repeat the chant until the bag becomes warm. Add seven knots to the ribbon around the bag: one for beginnings, two for money, three for abundance, four for stability, five for protection from blocks, six for luck, and seven to seal the spell. Put the bag in a special place until Samhain. On Samhain, hold the bag in your hands and repeat the chant until the bag warms and you feel good inside. Carry the bag with you until your desired outcome manifests. (Hopefully in time for all the winter holiday spending!)
Surely your pumpkins yielded a bit more than the seven seeds needed for the charm bag spell. Why not toast up the rest of them? Silver recommends boiling the seeds (symbolizing wishes) in water (for purification) until they are soft. Drain and dry them, and then mix them with a little salt and dried rosemary (for protection), and olive oil (for healing and peace). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread a single layer of seeds on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil, and toast in the oven for twenty to thirty minutes. When you feast on them later, think of how you are taking in the blessings of the season.