Do you remember, Heart's Desire,
The night when Hallowe'en first came? 
The newly dedicated fire,
The hearth unsanctified by flame?

How anxiously we swept the bricks
(How tragic were the draught not right!)
And then the blaze enwrapped the sticks
And filled the room with dancing light.

We could not speak, but only gaze,
Nor half believe what we had seen...
Our home, our hearth, our golden blaze,
Our cider mugs, our Hallowe'en!

And then a thought occurred to me...
We ran outside with sudden shout
And looked up to the roof, to see
Our own dear smoke come drifting out.

And of all man's felicities
The very subtlest one, say I,
Is when, for the first time, he sees
His hearthfire smoke against the sky.
from A Hallowe'en Memory, by Christopher Morley

          All Hallow’s Eve derives itself from the sanctified term hallow, or “holy”, as is recited in the Lord's Prayer "Hallowed be thy name".  In prehistoric Germanic times, a verb form was evolved from the root khailag, the historically lingüistic source of this term. The noun form, as in Halloween, the Eve of All Hallows, or All Saints, comes to us from the Olde English halig or halgian, connoting a "holy person or saint", which as an adjective, over centuries in time, developed into our modern English holy. Middle English's halowen came to replace Latin's sanctificare, meaning "to make saintly through spirit". Curiously, though the observance is believed to have pagan roots, Hallowe'en is clearly Christian in its etymology. Hallowe'en has come to be rendered in modern Spanish as Noche de brujas, in French as La nuit des masques or the Vigile de la Toussaint (the Vigil of All Saints) and in German as Die Naght des Grauens.

All Hallow’s Eve, Halloween, Hallowmass, Hallowtide, Snap Apple Night, Nutcrack Night, or Samhain once marked the end of grazing, when herds of livestock were collected and separated for slaughter, when  communities reorganized for the coming of winter, and when preparation of  quarters for itinerant warriors and shamans was completed. It is also a period of supernatural intensity, when the forces of darkness and decay were said to be abroad spilling out from the sidh, the ancient mounds or barrows of the countryside. For farmers, it was the time at which anything not made use of in the garden loses its Life essence, and is allowed to rot. Halloween is the original New Year, when the turning or revolution of the Wheel of the Year completes its final cycle: debts are paid, scores settled, disputes resolved, funeral rites observed, and the dead are put to rest before the coming of winter. On Hallowe'en (as it came to be known in the 18th Century) ghosts, departed spirits, and witches were likely to be abroad and about. On the Eve of All Hallows, fortune-telling rituals associated with courting, with the augury of marriage, and with death became intertwined with prophecy of doom and dread, with bad omens and frightful outcomes. Hallowe'en was also a time when the fidelity of lovers could be tested or the prospects of marriage foretold by the roasted reactions of chestnuts burnt over an open fire. Robert Burn's lengthy poem Halloween serves as a critical referent to the holiday,  for in it he paints essentially a burlesque account of Hallowe'en's games and divinations among the Ayrshire peasantry of a late 18th Century Scotland, with the accent firmly upon future marital unions with foreshadowings of death.

In rural locales, Hallowe'en was strongly related to the rhythms of the autumnal harvest season and to the annual cycles of agriculture, to the renewal of leases and farm hire, to the realms of the supernatural, and to ancestral reverence. Originally as a harvest festival of Celtic origins, Hallowe'en never became clearly identified with any one specific national nor geographical group, therefore it became relatively easy to detach itself from its ethnic moorings, allowing the holiday to revel in its mischievous, prankish potential in defying social convention. Thus, Hallowe'en was a time of forebodings and fatal prognosticated kismets, when the wraths of the countryside were held in superstitious awe. On this night, the veil between our world and the spirit world is negligible, and the dead may return to walk amongst us here on Mother Earth. Halloween is the night to insure that they, our ancestors in spirit, have been honored, fed and satisfied. This is the best time of the year for gaining otherworldly insight through divination and psychic forecasting. Recognition of the unseen world and the ordinary person’s access to it, as well as the acceptance of Death as a natural and illusory part of Life, is central to the sacred nature of this Holy Day (holiday). Departed loved ones and ancestors, or spirits of the dead, are more accessible and hence more approachable during this time of the dying of the land and termination of the Life Essence; hence, a melancholy and introspective mood descends upon those who have an affinity for such a chill, for the dark foreboding of endings and completions, of dissolution, and of eventual rebirth.  

Anguish and fear taste more piquant, more exciting in the ever-increasing growing gloom and shadows, as the trees cast off their colorful leaves and take on more sinister, skeletal appearances and countenances!  Images of Ichabod Crane being pursued by Washington Irving's Headless Horseman while on his ghostly midnight ride in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow resurface. A distinct aroma fills the autumnal air, an ineffably indescribable October scent that comes only at the portal of Fall's commencement: pumpkins, apples, vanilla candles, cider, nuts, doughnuts, roast turkey and venison, cinnamon, chocolate, dry leaves, and ice cold beer. Flickering candles and salted pumpkin seeds, sprigs of evergreen, and photos of lost loves lead us into a time of quieter contemplation, of sad remembrance, and of honoring the defunct and departed ones. Plates replete with roasting fowl and freshly steamed squash with mugs of strong drink are spread before the spirits of the wild hunt as gestures of respect and tokens of our acknowledgement that our lives are so fleetingly brief. The gods and our antepasados are invoked in séance-like fashion, welcomed, thanked, and burnt offerings are made to them who have crossed over before us into the vast Mystery of  infinite creation. For this is our last great burst of life and Light before that inevitable and inexorable descent into winter's darkness, into the decline of the light and our forthcoming descent into the somber shadows of the longest night of the year at Yuletide. 

 A poem entitled Hallow Even written by Carrie Ward Lyon indeed captures the flavor of the autumnal season with its forthcoming holiday:

The autumn wind awakes and calls aloud,
Piping a sweet, a long forgotten tune;
The night has bared her beauty to the moon;
Casting aside each softly clinging cloud,
She walks in majesty, pale, starry-browed,
With unshod feet upon the silver dune.
Through witchèd wood she draws the laughing loon,
And dolphins to the wave in leaping crowd.
In the green valley of lost yesterday,
Safe from the hunter, wild deer frolicking
With lambs and little children, dance and sing.
To the eternal Beauty caught away,
We too a vision of the truth are given,
Sans preacher and sans book, on Hallow Even.


          Samhain, or Samhuinn, meaning "end of the summer" (or the month of November, according to some), is pronounced sów-en, not “Sam Hain”, for the medial mh in the middle of a Gaëlic (or Irish) word  is a w sound. Known in modern Gaëlic as Samhna, in Welsh as Nos Galen-gaeof (that is, the "Night of the Winter Calends"), and in Manx as Laa Houney (Hollantide Day), Sauin or Souney,  Samhain was not a "god of the dead", as has been oftentimes erroneously ascribed. In Ireland, the fé-fiada or magic fog that rendered people invisible was lifted on Samhain allowing elves to emerge from the fairy raths, thus obliterating the boundaries between the real world of the living and the otherworld of the beyond. In Celtic lore, Samhain can be seen as a liminal or transitional festival, a boundary between autumn and winter, between light and darkness. 

The Celtic peoples celebrated four fire festivals since fire was considered by them to be a physical symbol of everlasting divinity: (1) Samhain, the most important of the fire festivals, for it marked summer's end and the coming of the Celtic New Year, (2) Candlemas, (3) Beltainne, and (4) Lughnasadh. Both Samhain and the Beltainne represented mystical figures suspended in time, and both allowed the living access to the realms of the dead denominated Tir na n'Og. Since those departed ones who had traversed beyond the land of the living could provide information on both past or future events to those left living, the practice of divination and occult wanderings thus began and subsequently became associated with Samhain. The 31st of October also became a time for paying homage to the Sun God Baal, who had given the ripened grain for safe storage. A week later, the Celts’ Indo-European cousins in India celebrate Diwali, which is their New Year’s festival that honors the safe return from the dark forest of the celestial couple Rama and Sita.

 This chief god Baal, or Bel, symbolized the sun. The Druids thought that when the sun died or was captured at the end of October, the powers of Darkness took over. They mourned the death of the sun (since they had little knowledge of astronomy nor of  the physical sciences, nor of the progression of the equinoxes and seasons) and thought that for the next six months, their sun god Baal was busy fighting enemies who were in cahoots with the Lord of Darkness, Samhain.  According to ancient myth, Samhain was the time of year when  remote tribal peoples of antiquity paid tribute to their conquerors and a divinatory time when the sídh might reveal to them the magnificent, glorious palaces of the gods of the underworld. Also, Samhain was considered to be a time of somber prognostic omens and dark forbodings, a time when malignant birds emerged from the caves of Grogham to prey upon humankind, led by a monstrous three-headed vulture whose foul breath withered the recently harvested crops. Mythical kings and fallen heroes were said to have died on Samhain while carousing Ulster warriors known as the Uliad had met their imminent death by fire and sword at the hands of their Munster enemies on the battlefield.

 For the Druids the year ended on October 31st, for that was when all of Nature seemed to be dying out. Leaves withered and fell to the ground, plants drooped, and farms yielded crops no longer.  Samhain was the original festival that came to be christened All Saints’ Day in Medieval Europe. This is now November 1st on the current Christian calendar. Samhain was one of three solar festivals marked by sacred fires and sacrificial "blazing" rituals: (1) the first of May for sowing, (2) the twenty-first of June for ripening at the turn of the year, and (3) the vespers or eve of the first of November for harvesting. During the last of these festivals, the Druids of all faiths supposedly clad themselves elaborately in ceremonial garb, then gathered around the cairns of the local hilltops where a sacred bonfire burned eternally throughout the entire calendar year. This became their symbolic homage to their emblem of the Sun. During the height of the Druids (the priestly caste of Celtic society) all fires except those of the Druids were extinguished on Samhain, October 31st. Householders were levied a fee or tax for the holy fire which burned at their altars. It has been surmised that during these open air bonfires, the contrast of hues between the orange flames rising into a black nighttime sky have given Hallowe'en its trademark colors. Such blazing fires that must have been visible for miles around were thought to deter bad spirits and to guide and even invite the good spirits of their departed friends and loved ones back to the hearths of the Celts, whence mounds of gustatory delights and repasts were displayed for their offering. Even nowadays, in countries populated by a Celtic stock or lineage such as Brittany, Ireland, Wales, Gaelic Scotland, or in certain rural English counties permeated in the past by deeply-seeded Celtic influences, we find extant survivals of old traditions and customs such as bonfires associated with the season of the Holy Souls. In Ireland, a certain custom has come to be known as Samhein or La Samon for the "Feast of the Sun". 

 Robert Herrick's poem entitled The Bell-Man aptly describes the fire ritual:

From noise of Scare-fires rest ye free,
From murders ..Benedecite.
From all mischances , that may fright
Your pleasing slumbers in the night:
Mercie secure ye all, and keep
The Goblin from ye, while ye sleep.
Past one o'clock, and almost two,
My masters all, Good day to you!

In Sir James Frazer's 1890 classic Golden Bough, he wrote:

... "the night that marks the transition from autumn to winter seems to have been of olden the time of year when the souls of the departed were supposed to revisit their old homes in order to warm themselves by the fire and to comfort themselves with good cheer from their affectionate kinfolk."

Although Christianity, throughout the centuries, had tried its hardest to squelch and even eradicate any lingering paleopagan observances and traditions associated with Samhain because they were perceived as "heathen" and thus evil, the Celts never really were nor became devil worshippers. In fact, the Celtic religion, with its concept of an underworld replete with eternal youth and exuberance, contrasted greatly from the pessimistic Christian belief in Hell or purgatory, with its final victimization into punishment into an eternal pyre.


To the Druids, cats became sacred. In time, black cats came to be associated with Halloween, for they were thought to have carried magical powers that humans did not possess. Cats were often thought to be witches' helpers or were feared as being the reïncarnated souls of dead witches or of evil persons who had once lived before. So, much like the ensuing witch hunts of Europe and later in New England, cats began to be killed or burned for their strong association with witchery and witchcraft. Ironically, the Bubonic plague that cursed much of Europe in the 12th and 13th Centuries might have been lessened or possibly prevented had more cats lived long enough to eat the rabid rodents.

Since the Celts, like so many other cultures of our remote past, started every day at sunset of the previous night, this eventually became the “evening of the All Hallows”, hallowed meaning “made holy or sacred”, which was to become in due time merged into “Hallowed Even”, eventually leading to our contracted term Hallowe’en. Thus, the Eve of All Hallows is now become a night of social inversion and youthful exuberance in an era when other holidays and observances have become increasingly home-centered, institutionalized , and more culturally respectable.

          Among other things, Samhain is the beginning of the Winter Half of the Year (during the seasons of Geimredh and Earrach) and is known as “the Day Between the Years”, somewhat similar in function to Janus, the ancient Roman tutelary deity of doorways who could look both backwards at the old year and forwards into the new one, thus revealing his two faces staring in opposite directions. Thus, we have our current month of January ushering in our New Year, derived from this Roman god Janus. The year, like the day, began with its dark half first. The day before Samhain is the last day of the old year, and the day after Samhain is the first day of the new year.  Hence, Hallowe'en stood as a day apart from the Druidic calendar, as if it were suspended from the passing of chronological and calendrical time. Being “between the passing of years”, Samhain is considered to be a very magical time, when the dead walk among the living and the veils between past, present, and future may be lifted through the mediation of prophecy and divination. Although the divinatory practices associated with Hallowe'en have long since disappeared, the holiday's netherworld resonances are still reproduced in jack-o-lanterns and ghoulish garb.


Now, during the Middle Ages and throughout the 1700s, most of the continent of Europe believed that witches had sold their souls to the devil in exchange for magical powers of bewitchment and the casting of spells, especially from afar. Multitudes en masse feared that witches were in cahoots with the devil himself! Though witch hunts began as early as the beginning of the 17th Century in North America, some have estimated that over 250,000 "witches" were killed and burned at the stake throughout Europe from the late 1500s and into the early 1700s alone. Yet with historical irony, up until the 1330s the services of witches as healers and fortune-tellers were being used regularly by the church! But the tides of good fortune had somehow run out on them.

Born in Salem, Massachusetts and haunted by interminable ancestral guilt, New England's dark, prolific writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) had popularized the Salem witch trials in his short story Young Goodman Brown, published in 1846, as well as in his novel The House of the Seven Gables, released circa 1850.  The term witch, a ubiquitous presence at Hallowe’en time, has unraveled itself through centuries of time from the Middle English wicca, meaning “wizard”or “sorceress”. The Middle Dutch root prefix weik-, meaning “to separate or set aside for religious worship” implied a woman supposedly having supernatural powers by means of maintaining a secret pact with the devil or with evil spirits of the underground world. Many historical lingüists believe our modern word victim to have evolved from this ancient Dutch source. The closest Germanic relatives of this term have all but died out completely. Our modern English word wicked was derived from the Olde English substantive wicca, then it passed through Middle English as wikke, meaning “akin to evil”. Eventually, through the passing of diachronic time, the masculine form of wicce (meaning "wise one") took shape as a distant ancestor of our modern English witch. This may be related to modern German’s weihen (meaning “to consecrate”) and even, though possibly distantly, to our English victim (etymologically signifying “someone killed in a religious ritual”). So the word’s underlying connotation is of a “priestess”. Modern German also has hexe, meaning "witch": hence our modern English word hex for "to jinks". In Spanish they have bruja, in French sorcière, and in Italian strega for English's witch. Our term ghost, though not related at all to ghastly, holds etymological roots to the German geist as in poltergeist, as well as to our word guest. Their common historical Indo-European ancestor was ghostis or "stranger". Many of these terms, ultimately, trace themselves back to our Celtic ancestors and to the Germanic tribes of the Angles, Saxons, and the Jutes of prehistoric documentation and written records.


          Now, many important mythological events are said to have occurred on that day, October the 31st. It was on a Samhain day that the Nemedians  captured the terrible Tower of Glass built by the evil Formorians. Then the Tuatha De Danann later defeated the Ormors once and for all. It was said that Pwyll won his wife Rhiannon from Gwawl and that many other events of a dramatic or prophetic nature had taken place throughout the Celtic myths of antiquity. In his 17th Century work  History of Ireland, Geoffrey Keating noted that "the Formorians demanded milk, corn, and two-thirds of the newly born children from the ancient race of the Neimheadh for human sacrifice on the Eve of Samhain". Many of these events and occurrences had to do with the temporary victory of the forces of Darkness over those of Light, with the constant struggle or tension between the forces of duality in Nature, between up and down, light and shadow, good and evil, yin and yang, signaling the beginning of the cold and dark half of the incoming year. 

          There is some evidence to indicate that three (3) days were spent celebrating the Festival of Samhain. Philip Carr-Gomm, Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, had this to say about it in his Elements of the Druid Tradition: Samhuinn, from October 31st to November 2nd (the date of the Mexican Día de los muertos observance) was a suspended period in timelessness. Celtic society, like all early civilizations, was highly structured and organized. Everyone knew their place and rôle within its static and somewhat feudal limits. But in order to allow for that order to remain both socially and psychologically comfortable, the Celts knew that there had to be a time when order and structure were to be abolished, temporarily obliterated, when chaos would rule over eternal cosmos, at least for one to three days! And Samhuinn was just such a time. Awareness of Time, with its inevitable forward march, was eradicated for the three days during the passing of this festival and the citizens of Celtic Druidic society could go crazy and do preposterous things: Women dressed as men and men as women. Farmers’ gates were unhinged and left in the trenches and ditches; people’s horses were moved to different fields, cows into another's pastures. Manservants would rule their masters of the house in a blatant gesture of hierarchial ritual rôle reversal and carnivalesque misrule. Oftentimes meals or snacks were prepared. Yet, it wasn't until an article written in The Los Angeles Times dated October 30, 1938 (curiously, the same night as Orson Welles's infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast) that the term "trick-or-treat" first appeared in print.    


          Whether Samhain was associated or fused with the principal god of the Old Irish tradition Eochaid Ollathaír or with the Druidic deity Muck Olla or originated out of the mumming and masquing of Medieval Europe, the origins of trick-or treat as a communal ritual are, according to folklorist Jack Santino in his book Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life, muddied in the obscurity of  three possible historical candidates: (1) soul-caking, (2) Guy Fawkes's Day in Great Britain, and (3) Saint Columba of Scotland.

In Medieval Europe, on All Soul’s Day (2nd of November), beggars sought alms as payment for prayers that they promised to recite for the faithful departed. In an English variant on this theme, they asked for soul cakes that had been prepared especially for the occasion. A soul cake resembled a currant bun. Souling supplicants moved from door-to-door asking for food in return for a prayer given for the departed as they carried with them hallowed-out turnip lanterns whose candles connoted a soul trapped in purgatory! One tradition held that for each cake consumed, a soul would find release from the torments of Purgatory, Hell, or Eternal Damnation.

"Soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven't an apple, a pear will do,
One for Peter, two for Paul,
And three for the Man Who made us all."

The idea of the poor and those in need  receiving food for prayers at Hallowtide had later arrived in the England of Queen Elizabeth the First as was exemplified in William Shakespeare's comedy Two Gentlemen of Verona: Speed tauntingly accuses his master of "puling (whimpering and whining) like a beggar at Hallowmas." Some believe this mendicant custom to be a link between the ghostly repasts of  pre-Christian days and the candy-begging traditions of our modern era. Originally introduced into North America circa 1939, the custom of trick-or-treating radically and permanently altered the dynamics of festive license without eliminating Hallowe'en's masquerading and playful elements.

          In commemoration of the Gunpowder Plot and Guy Fawkes’s, along with a group of Catholic malcontents' abortive attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament on November 5, 1605, English children have, for centuries, built blazing bonfires and dressed rag effigies as tatterdemalion  “Guys” while  begging money from strangers to pay for fireworks to illumine the occasion. Now seen somewhat as a day of thanksgiving and also known as Bonfire Night throughout Great Britain, the Fifth of November came to represent the nation's deliverance from the Catholicizing and potential absolutist monarchy of King James the Second. For his failed efforts, Guy Fawkes was hung, drawn, and quartered as a public display of open rebellion. Though the British observance clearly postdates by millennia our ghostly holiday of late October, their calendrical proximity supports the notion of a "seasonal fusion” and, although a direct line to North American trick-or-treating cannot be clearly traced here, Americans and British Canadians did indeed celebrate Guy Fawkes Day during Colonial times under the tyrannical yoke of King George the Third. 

           Columba, the 6th Century missionary who is also known as Colm Cille in Gaelic, founded the monastery of Iona off of the Scottish coast and was partially responsible for converting the Picts to Christendom. Some sources say that Irish peasants begged alms in his name as far back in time as ten centuries after his death, on the same day that English villagers asked for soul cakes. Contemporarily and  maybe coincidentally, in the 10th Century Gaelic text Tochmarc Emire, the heroine Emer makes mention of Samhain as the first of the four quarterly annual days in the medieval Irish calendar "when the summer sun goes to its rest." Eventually, the requesting of alms came to form part of a ritual cycle of enforced charity by the laboring classes as the darkness of wintertide set in. The conjecture of a possible link here with trick-or-treating is somewhat scanty, maybe as slim as a connection with indigenous “Native American” cultures leaving food out on their ancestors’ gravesites as homage to their departed ancestors. 

          But behind all of this apparent metaphysical search for cohesion and immortal resolution lay a deeper meaning: The Druids knew that these three days contained a special quality about them. The veil between this world and the World of the Ancestors (now defunct) was drawn aside, lifted shall we say, on these special nights honoring Samhain. For those who were prepared, journeys could be made in relative safety to the other side. Druidic rites, therefore, were concerned with making contact with the spirits of the departed who were seen as sources of guidance and inspiration, rather than as elements or specters of doom and dread. The dark (or new) moon, the time when no moon can be seen in the sky, was the phase of the moon which ruled this particular period of time, because it represented a time in which our mortal sight needed to be obscured in order for us to be able to peer behind the veil and into the other worlds or realms of alternative realities and existences. The dead and departed ones are honored and feasted, not as the nonexistent dead, but as the living spirits of loved ones and of guardians who hold the root wisdom of the tribe. With the advent and coming of Christianity, this festival was turned into Hallowe’en (October 31st), All Hallows or All Saints’Day (November 1st) was next, to be followed up by All Souls’ Day (November 2nd). Here we can see most clearly the way in which Christianity built on the pagan (pre-Christian nature worship) foundations it had encountered deeply seated in the British Isles. Not only does the ultimate purpose of the later festival match with the earlier one, even the unusual length of the holiday is the same (i.e. three days).    


Pumpkins are truly a vegetable indigenous to the Américas, bountiful in their plentitude across North American autumnal farms and fields. A prominent member of the large and meaty Cucurbitaceae family which includes gourds, zucchini or courgette, the gherkin, watermelon, squash, cucumbers, and marrow, the generic term  calabaza in Spanish encompasses the entire family, only finding variations in calabacíncalabcita romana, or in melón. The Aztecs called these benevolent, yellow-headed squash chayotl and the larger, orange-hued pumpkins ayotl. Whether or not the early Celts carved out faces inside of turnips or beets to be used as vegetable lanterns to light their way is highly speculative, due in large part to its vast remoteness in times past and lack of any written historical records along these lines. Many historians believe that in Medieval Europe, hollowed out vegetables were used as candleholders or as defense in warding off evil spirits. With Hallowe'en being shamelessly secular by clearly antedating Christianity by many  millennia and hence, their worldview of the Hereafter,  jack-o-lanterns might have coïncidentally been ceremoniously used to commemorate the lost, wandering souls of perdition in a peleopagan Underworld, as flames burned in luminous reference to eternal existence and Valhalla. But the early Christian church mistakenly connected the Celtic land of the dead with their predominant concept of Hell and Satan, used as eternal damnation or punishment. In reality, Samhain or Hallowe'en have nothing to do whatsoever with Satanic worship nor such practices associated with it. So today, plastic jack-o-lanterns for carrying candies, often with characteristic grinning faces, adorn our supermarket shelves every October, alongside the myriad of other commercial trick-or-treating uses for depicting pumpkins personified in humanlike countenances.

Whatever its parallels and historical antecedents to Samhain or to Guy Fawkes Day or to soul-caking for alms to rescue departed loved ones from eternal fires, the modern custom of trick-or-treating, as we recognize it today, clearly grew out of more recent, and readily identifiable social conditions of the past. It is generally accepted among historians that the Ulster Scots had brought many of their harvest traditions and customs to the United States in the 1840s, alongside of the mass Irish emigration due to their potato famine. Bobbing for apples, divination of potential marital partners in mirrors illuminated in candlelight, the roasting and cracking of chestnuts over an open fire for fortune-telling purposes, and the hollowing out of  kale turnips to be used as vegetable lanterns and igniting them with flame (thus paving the way for Americans to carve out pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns) are among some of these rituals to have survived the voyages across the Atlantic Ocean in the mid- to late 19th Century. Our familiar  Jack-of-the-lantern legend comes directly to us from the Irish folktale of a trickster named Jack who outwits the Devil, but having no place to reside in Heaven, is condemned to wander the earth seeking his way through and into the darkness of night with a lighted coal from the hell fires, set inside a turnip. Another historical antecedent or variation on the same theme of the jack-o-lantern includes an adaptation of an old  Irish and Scottish custom of commemorating souls in purgatory with tallow candles cradled inside of  turnips. Replicating this somewhat, our carved out pumpkins originated in New England in the 18th Century.

Now the urchin hath his fun,
The reign of terror's now begun,
For Hallowe'en is here.

 This "masked solicitation ritual" known as trick-or treating is indeed a by-product or direct offshoot of America's social milieu between the two great World Wars: in the 1930s, homemade treats such as pastries with cider and donuts were the common communal expression of giving to one's newly acquainted neighbors. Once inside, the mummers would pantomime or create riddles in order for their identities to be discovered. Upon successful identification of the masked person, the "guest" would be fed and entertained within the household thereafter for the entire hallowed evening. Come the 1940s and 1950s, the depersonalization and fragmentation of commercialism en masse disenfranchised any further interpersonal contact among neighbors, thus transforming  the holiday and its participants into mere commodities, thanks in large part to such American companies as Mars, Hallmark, and M & Ms. This custom of door-to-door begging for candies has most likely been a "safety" response to mediate tensions between two forms of social deviation: the boyish, adolescent  mischief and vandalism of the 19th Century Halloween and the social turmoil of America’s Great Depression of the 1930s. To both disruptions, trick-or-treating provided a corrective measure or acceptable social outlet, one that (perhaps ironically) ceremonialized rather than resolved the implicit  social tensions of the harvest season (i.e., salvation from a paucity of crops for the family household). Such impending fears of a scarcity of crops leading to hunger during autumntide is aptly explicated in the short poem Autumn by Edmund Spenser:

Then came the Autumn all in yellow clad,
As though he joyèd in his plenteous store,
Laden with fruits that made him laugh, full glad,
That he had banished hunger.


On October 30, 1938, H.G. Wells' classic science fiction novel of invading Martians The War of the Worlds was reënacted over live radio on the Mercury Théâtre Hour by upcoming Hollywood celebrity Orson Welles. By transferring the locale of the 1898 novel from Britain to the United States and then presenting the story as a series of news bulletins interrupting a musical program of Big Band jazz and swing, Orson Welles effectively shocked millions. In a maddening frenzy of  Hitler-induced paranoia and mass hysteria that followed on the grandest of scales, a gullible American public listened intently to Welles'  (and Wells') every word with mounting anxiety as fright and fear gripped an innocent  radio-tuned audience, just in time for the following evening's Hallowe'en night to approach. From that moment onward, the commercial possibilities of promoting the scary and the macabre on Hallowe'en had heightened dramatically. 

So the tempestuous  and somewhat vandalistic Hallowe'en of the 19th Century, with its former residuals of pranks and public 18th Century charivari or openly defiant misrule, eventually gave way to turn-of-the century public displays of rowdiness and carnival-like  misbehaviors. The 1930s and 1940s witnessed a return to Gothic influences and  its fascination with violence, eroticism, dark castle dungeons, and poltergeists of the human imagination as was graphically expressed in the cinéma and in costuming. Around this time, the practice of trick-or-treating from door-to-door in North America began to take root, when shopkeepers started to bribe youngsters with money, fruit,or with homemade goodies in order to spare their valuables and property from midnight destruction. The openings in 1931 of Bela Lugosi in Bram Stoker's 1897 work Drácula and of Boris Karloff in Mary Shelley's 1816 novel Frankenstein, fully realized on the silver screen, heightened this sense of darkness and dread. Such themes had been the staple fare of such 19th Century writers as Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Louis Stevenson. 


The vision of a safe and satisfying Hallowe'en characterized much of the decade of the more stable and economically affluent 1950s in which children could savor the social reciprocities of neighborhood  trick-or-treating without much  fear of danger or retaliation. By making Hallowe'en a more consumer-oriented and somewhat infantile observance during a Cold War, both civic and industrial leaders hoped to eliminate its former anarchic features. With little or no parental supervision, children often made  homemade costumes from out of their upstairs attics by smearing charcoaled faces to spook any forthcoming outside intruders begging for candies at their doors, or by cutting out old bed sheets to disguise themselves as ghosts. In the late 1960s, as cities became progressively seen as unsafe, inhospitable places of unresolved social and racial tensions, Hallowe'en began to take on a different flavor altogether. The 1970s ushered in the return of adults to express themselves freely in costume on All Hallows Eve, and an era of open reign in cathartic fantasy through disguising oneself followed, thus eclipsing the custom of  trick-or-treat as solely a child's appropriate social outlet and sole prerogative, at least for this one night of the calendar year. The 1980s somehow removed the Norman Rockwell mystique from Hallowe'en altogether, with video and DVD rentals of horror movies soaring. Yet still, there seemed to remain a nostalgic yearning  for the traditional and familiar rituals and symbols of Hallowe'ens past, now exhibited at Halloween parties and throughout masquerade balls, as well as in colorful street parades. And according to child psychologist Dr. Lee Salk:

 "Halloweeen allows anxieties and misgivings to come out into the open, thus letting children manage what is at other times nightmarish. It is a time that helps them deal with any fears of death, darkness, ghosts, and monsters openly, without the risk of being laughed at by their peers or adults."

Such is a healthy and somewhat therapeutic  interpretation of the benefits of our modern-day autumnal holiday of mischief and sensory delights this assessment is indeed.

So nowadays, the North American concept or mythos concerning ultimate  death and life in the Hereafter is treated quite differently and separately from how one might look upon our present-day Hallowe'en: as merely a scary, prankish night of mischievous mild misrule with ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and skeletons intermeshed. But the ghosts of Hallowe'ens past have not rested quietly and  still continue to resurface on the evening of every forthcoming October 31st. So mediation or temperance between Life and Death, notwithstanding, has taken on a much more light-hearted texture at Hallowe’en time nowadays than can be said of  former times during the reign of the ancient Druidic priests and the Celts, of long ago bygone days.

I saw three witches
Asleep in a valley,
Their heads in a row, like stones in a flood,
Till the moon, creeping upward,
Looked white through the valley,
And turned them to bushes in bright scarlet bud.
 from I Saw Three Witches, by Walter De La Mare

"Must be the season of the witch."
from the 1960s singer-songwriter Donovan

"In the dark, fearful shapes haunt the shadows."
from Ben Bova's The Kinsman Saga

"It hallows me with fear and wonder."
from William Shakespeare's Hamlet

"What monsters we would see walk among us if people wore their true faces."
Carl Jung (1875-1961)

"The oldest and strongest emotion of  mankind is fear."
H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)

"If we are going to keep 'Christ' in Christmas, then let's keep 'Hallowed' in Hallowe'en."
Armand A. Gagnon  (1950-      )

"Shake off death's counterfeit and look upon Death itself".
 from William Shakespeare's MacBeth

To Read a Halloweem Poem:

To Read a Thanksgiving short story of fantasy:

    Day of the Dead/Día de los muertos:

Guy Fawkes Day

     To order THE SPANISH SAMPLER:         


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