by Denise Golinowski
Hi! Welcome to Myth Perceptions where I explore and then share aspects of myth and legend that I have encountered in my reading and writing.
It’s autumn, my favorite time of the year. Cooler temps and shorter days are leeching the green from the leaves, revealing the rainbow that resides beneath. The air carries the scent of leaves and woodsmoke as it chills your face and fingers. We dither each morning between sweaters and short sleeves as summer’s heat reluctantly fades beneath autumn’s encroachment. The round of holidays as we turn toward the end of the year makes the wheel seem to shift into overdrive. So much to see and do, but only the same number of hours in which to accomplish them. First on the calendar is Halloween, beloved of children of all ages, and here is a sprinkling of myths for your enjoyment.
Why Do We Celebrate Halloween?
Halloween coincides with a pagan holiday called Samhain (sow en). This holiday is one of the three harvest festivals, and is when the veil between the worlds was thinnest. Spirits can travel between the worlds easier and ancestors were honored. The final harvests are brought in and animals who will not survive the coming winter are slaughtered. The celebration of Halloween itself is thought to have arrived with Irish immigrants and morphed into a children’s holiday, which then evolved into the holiday we now know and love,
Why Do We Carve Pumpkins Into Jack o’ Lanterns?
Jack o’ Lanterns are named after a wily Irish character, Stingy Jack who managed to lure Satan into a trap. There are several variations on precisely how Jack accomplished such a feat, but a cross figures in most of them as the mechanism that set the lock. To free himself, Satan agreed to never take Jack’s soul, which seemed like an excellent insurance policy to Jack, I’m sure. Unfortunately, Jack was a rather unsavory soul, and when he finally died, he could not get into Heaven. Forced to seek admission to Hell, Jack discovered that pursuant to their agreement, Satan refused him entrance. Jack’s soul was left adrift, caught in a middle space of unending darkness. He pleaded with Satan who is, not surprisingly, a pretty unforgiving guy. In the end, Satan tossed Jack a bone, in the form of an eternal ember from Hell, which Jack put in a turnip he hollowed out and carved with holes so he could light his way in a long dark night.
An interesting aside, one site mentioned a Halloween good luck myth to be that if you find a lump of coal along your path that night, you’ll have good luck. This sounds like a perfect tie-in to the Jack o’ Lantern myth, don’t you think?
Why Do We Dress Up For Halloween?
Well, that’s easy – Because it’s FUN! Actually, there are several possible reasons. Mummers took part in some cultural celebrations of Samhain and that practice could have influenced the costuming craze. And then there is the concern about the fey, wearing costumes would protect celebrants from fairies and a lot of the things that go bump in the dark.
Trick or Treat?
For my money, the best illustration of early American Halloween celebrations is in the movie Meet Me In St. Louis starring Judy Garland. The children in the neighborhood would go around on Halloween collecting rubbish left outside by adults as a kind of tithe. They would pile it up into a bonfire and dare each other to throw flour into adults’ faces. It seems a far stretch from a communal harvest festival. As for the candy, well, how else to bribe rowdy kids not to become too destructive? Then again, food was always part of the event. Some ancient feasts probably required the collection of food and this could also easily evolve into the giving of treats.
I’m going to stop here, but please, feel free to add some Halloween myths, legends, and/or superstitions of your own in the Comments. Until then, start stocking up on candy!
NEWS FLASH! I’ve just signed a contract for my third book, ACES DOWN, to be published by The Wild Rose Press. Aces Down is a Paranormal Romance set in the mountains of Colorado. Please feel free to visit my facebook Author page for updates as Aces Down moves from contract to publication. Still Happy Dancin’!
Denise Golinowski is a reader and writer of fantasy and romance. Her enovella, Collector’s Item, is available as both print and ebook The Wild Rose Press.
Her first enovella, The Festival of the Flowers: The Courtesan and the Scholar is also available through the Wild Rose Press. You can visit her blog at Golinowski’s Gambol.