The Season of the Witch

By BOB PALMERUntitled

Just because you think Halloween is in your rearview mirror, doesn’t mean the week of ghouls, goblins and children ringing your doorbell has past. Actually, Halloween is one of three fall rites celebrated in various parts of the world with some popularity in the United States.

The roots of Halloween and Mexico’s El Dia de las Muertos (Day of the Dead) sound eerily similar. Pre-Christian Celts and Druids observed Samhain. At Samhain the division between this world and the otherworld was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. The wearing of costumes and masks to ward off harmful spirits became part of the observance that has evolved into the Halloween celebration.

Christianity incorporated honoring of the dead into the Christian calendar with All Saints (All Hallows) on November 1st, followed by All Souls on November 2nd. Oct. 31 is All Hallows Eve which became corrupted over time to Halloween. With the influx of Irish and Scottish emigrants to the United States the Halloween traditions came here.

Native American culture in Mexico celebrated a Day of the Dead even before the Aztecs. The observance of the return of the dead once occupied the entire month of August, but the Roman Catholic Church was able to squeeze it into November 2 and 3, to coincide with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, the latter being the closest in concept to El Dia de los Muertos, because on that day the devout are tasked to pray for the souls of the
dead.

The indigenous tradition was for the family to welcome the spirits of departed children on Nov. 1 with sweets and the spirits of departed adults with tobacco and alcohol on Nov. 2. The party is then moved to the cemetery for more revelry. In Britain, Nov. 5 is still celebrated by children towing a cart with a straw dummy and asking residents, “Spare a penny for the Guy.” The straw effigy would be tossed on the communal bonfire. The money was to be spent on fireworks.

It was on that date in 1605, Guy Fawkes was discovered with a bunch of gun powder in the basement of England’s Parliament. He and other Catholics were accused of plotting to blow up Parliament and King James. The court sentenced Fawkes to the hung, drawn and quartered, but at his execution he jumped from the gallows and broke his neck.

Many in Britain lament the decline of Guy Fawkes Day to the increasingly popular Halloween. The commercial muscle behind Halloween has made it popular throughout the world. The Oct. 31 celebration is now second only to Christmas. In some countries, the celebrations are not confined to a single day.

Halloween kicks off a six-day party. Oct. 31 gets things rolling with Trick or Treat. Nov. 1 and 2 belong to Day of the Dead. Then, three days later, you have Guy Fawkes Day. Perhaps the fall trilogy has not achieved universal acceptance yet, but I would not be surprised if we don’t see something very much like it in the near future.

In Britain, Guy Fawkes Day is also known as Bonfire Day. Could that have been the beginning of the Homecoming Bonfire?

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