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Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy Feralia! The Origins of Halloween

Happy Halloween to all you humans, ghouls, elves, werewolves, vampires, demons, gods and goddesses, and everyone, whoever and whatever you are. You all know the meaning of Halloween, right?

Yay! Costumes. Candy. Parties. Ghosts and things that go bump in the night.

Okay, and you all know the origins of Halloween, right?

Yay! Samhain. Harvest festival. Food. Singing, dancing, booze, and sexual rites.

Okay, but maybe a few other things as well.

The origins of Halloween began several thousand years ago with the Celts, who believed pagan gods controlled nature and were responsible for the four seasons, a belief held by many cultures throughout the world.

Samhain was the third day of a Druid festival that marked the change of seasons from the Season of the Sun (Summer) to the Season of Darkness and Cold (Winter). New Age, states:

“This [Samhain] is the beginning of the Celtic and Wiccan New Year. Samhain is Irish-Gaelic for 'the Summer's end', and is pronounced 'sow-in'. Samhain represented the death of the summer sun god, Lugh.

This festival celebrates Nature's cycle of death and renewal, a time when the Celts acknowledged the beginning and ending of all things in life and nature. Samhain marked the end of harvest and the beginning of the New Celtic Year. The first month of the Celtic year was Samonios - ‘Seed Fall’.”

You knew that, right?

When the Romans conquered the Celtic territories around 43 AD, they brought their own festivals and traditions with them, and several of those merged with the celebration of Samhain. Anyone interested can find information on the Internet, but be prepared for conflicting information.

The Roman festival Feralia, commemorating deceased ancestors, is one that went with the Romans on their missions of conquest. According to some sources, Feralia occurred in late October, meshing well with Samhain.

Well, maybe.

The writings of Ovid, the famous Roman poet (Publius Ovidius Naso, born 43 bce – died 17 ce) describes the Roman year and its religious festivals his work Fasti. There, he indicates that Feralia was the last day of the Roman festival Parentalia, a nine-day event from February 13 through 21 (Julian calendar). On February 21, Roman citizens—and remember, everyone the Romans conquered had the choice of becoming a Roman citizen as long as the individual complied with Roman law—brought offerings to the tombs of their dead ancestors to honor them. Those offerings consisted of wreaths, a sprinkling of grain, salt, bread soaked in wine, and violets.

Okay, so maybe someone got the dates mixed up, or the Romans decided to celebrate the event at the same time as the Celts celebrated Samhain, since they both shared the concept of the dead returning to this world and making mischief (or worse). In the Fasti, Ovid tells of a time when the Romans, because of war, overlooked Feralia and failed to honor their ancestors. The ancestors’ spirits rose from their graves and roamed the streets howling until the rituals were performed. No wonder the festivals meshed so well.

And by the way, the word naso in Italian means nose (nose is nasus in Latin). That was his real name, but if the drawings of Ovid are anywhere near accurate, it was prophetic.

Pomona (Pomorum)
Pomona was the Roman goddess of fruit trees, gardens, and orchards and, according to some sources, the goddess of orchards and the harvest. There is a difference of opinion when the festival honoring Pomona (a celebration shared with her husband Ventumnus, the god of the turning year or seasons) was celebrated. Various sources cite August 13, August 23, and November 1.

Pomona is also considered a wood nymph, as well as a Numina, one of the guardian spirits in Roman mythology who watched over people, places, or homes. The goddess’s name comes from the word apple, which is her symbol. Samhain and the festival of Pomona fit well together in relation to celebrating the harvest. I guess we can cut them some slack regarding the actual date. We dunk for apples, perhaps in her honor.

Lemuria (Lemuralia)
A third Roman festival that influenced Samhain was Lemuria. As part of this ancient feast (celebrated May 9, 11, and 13 - Julian calendar), the Romans exorcised malevolent ghosts of the dead (evil spirits or lemures) from their homes. The ritual, again according to Ovid, involved the head of the household walking barefoot around house at midnight, throwing black beans over his shoulder (nine of them to be exact) and chanting, while the rest of the family clashed bronze pots. Sounds like a good Halloween party to me.

All Saints Day and All Souls Day
The Roman Catholics, like many faiths, honor the dead with their own festivals. All Saints Day honors the lives of saints and martyrs and became a day of obligation in the ninth century. Later, Pope Gregory IV confirmed celebration of All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2, coinciding with the festival of Samhain.

Because the festival of All Saints was sometimes known as "All Hallows," or "Hallowmas," and because October 31 was the eve before All Hallows, the celebration on night before All Hallows became known as All Hallows Eve and eventually Halloween.

Happy Halloween
And we’ve come full circle. Happy Halloween, whatever it means to you, and however you celebrate it. And watch out for flying black beans.

Halloween In The Catacombs
When my editor suggested I write a Halloween story featuring the heroine in my Tour Director Extraordinaire series, I thought it was a cool idea. Having been born without the pithy gene, I’m not good at short, but what the heck.

After doing research on Halloween and reading about the influence of the Roman celebrations on Samhain, an idea kicked in. The result is a fun short story about tour director Harriet Ruby taking an unusual tour group through the catacombs in Rome on Halloween, with some surprising results. If you read the story, you’ll understand where this blog came from.

By R. Ann Siracusa
# 6 in the Tour Director Extraordinaire Series

LinkComedy/Fantasy Short Story
(9k) ISBN #978-1-934657-54-6
Buy Links: Sapphire Blue Publishing
Harriet Ruby: Tour Director Extraordinaire, had had some real winners when it came to tourists, but this group, wearing Halloween costumes on an all day tour of Rome, took the cake. Well, it was Halloween, but these folks were seriously…different.

When nine of them decide to explore on their own and take off down a restricted tunnel of the Roman catacombs, Harriet has to find them—for their safety and her reputation—and ends up involved in something she never expected.


Tina Donahue said...

Wow, interesting stuff. Halloween in the Catacombs sounds like a great read. :)

Katalina Leon said...

I absolutely love your blogs Ann! They should be compiled into their own book along with your travel blogs.
Thank you for this lovely autumn treat.

jean hart stewart said...

Since I've written a series of books about Druid I knew some of this stuff, but not all. Thanks. Love the researh you do, Ann.

Anonymous said...

Really LOVED the Blog, Ann! And your "Halloween in the Catacombs" sounds great!

Kari Thomas

Marianne Stephens said...

So much research for your blog...I never know most of it. Celebrating some for of what we call Halloween goes back longer than I thought, but I never guessed all that you mentioned.
Your Halloween story about the travel agent sound like a fun read!

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