As a Wiccan I like to write little updates about what holidays meant to the Pagans back in the day before the beliefs and traditions were skewed slightly. Usually I just do it in a Facebook note and share it with my friends but I’m doing it as a writing post this year. So, with Samhain next week I wanted to take the time to do a little post about it.
Samhain was the original title of the day – declared by the Pagans years before Christianity – and it was a day of fright. They believed that the great God Samhain would walk the earth that night, so the people would wear masks to hide their faces and trick him so that they wouldn’t be taken. Aside from Samhain other spirits and fey would be allowed to walk the earth freely during this night, and food offerings were left out to mollify the spirits (this is where the tradition of giving candy to strangers stems from).
It also had a less frightening origin, in which it was simply the day of the end of Harvest. It was a time when people would prepare for the winter ahead, slaughtering their animals for winter, harvesting the last of their crops, and settling down for the months ahead. It was akin to Beltane, and did make up one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals (Samhain, Beltane, Imbloc, and Lughnasadh).
Mostly I’d like to focus on one aspect though – PUMPKIN CARVING. It’s one of the most popular traditions of Samhain and I just want to explore why that is.
Well, it’s quite a simple answer. You see the Celts (druids and pagans) would carve out Jack O’ Lanterns and leave lights inside to ward off evil spirits. The traditional gourd was not always a pumpkin however. It was much more commonly a Turnip. Some also say that the reason they were called Jack O’ Lanterns was actually because of an old Irish folk tale, about a boy named Jack who was so useless and horrible that when he died he couldn’t even go to the afterlife, so he was cursed to wonder around the earth with nothing but a burning light inside a gourd.
Another known reason that Pagans carved turnips and lit the inside with candles was to keep non-witches away from the forest so that Pagans practicing their rituals there.
Of course, over the years, things have gotten friendlier and less spiritual (as with most traditions). But the root of the holiday still has holds in Pagan religion and it’s good to know where the roots come from in my opinion.
So, a few days early but, Blessed Samhain! Enjoy your costumes and candy and don’t let the evil spirits get you!