by John Morgan
A misty orb, a cool presence, or a frightening phantom from beyond. Ghosts fascinate our imaginations, haunt our dreams and fuel our fears. This is one Halloween symbol that does hit the historical trifecta when it comes to having its roots firmly grounded (at least as firmly as a ghost can be grounded to anything) in Roman, Celtic and Catholic traditions:
- Roman – Celebrations of the dead (Lemuria and Feralia)
- Celtic – Samhain Festival of the Dead
- Catholic – All Saints Day
Losing a loved one is never easy. All cultures have developed their own beliefs, rituals and customs to help cope and understand death. It is inescapable that our bodies come with a limited warranty for parts and services. Although the scientific RD Team is working feverishly to extend the boundaries of our existing models limitations.
Yet, what happens to our uniqueness, our spirit, our soul when our bodies finally succumb to ravages of time, wear, or unfortunate circumstances has been one of the greatest mysteries and hotly debated topics of all time.
Depending on what historical Halloween resource or expert is doing the telling (and if you have read any of our other posts, you already know that we are hardly what you can call a reliable resource and the only thing we are experts at is wandering off topic and butchering the English language) the Roman celebrations for the dead had some influence in eventually shaping the customs and rituals that led to Halloween. Exactly how much is uncertain, so we will move on to some of the stronger evidence in the ghost’s vapor trail through the history of Halloween.
Let’s look back to those early Samhain festivals; for the sake of argument, we will say the year is 50 AD. Just imagine harvest time is finally over, you are now entering the darkest and coldest time of the year (at least it is in the Northern Hemisphere – you know the top half of the world – where the toilets actually flush in the proper direction). Eccentric King Ludwig will not host the first Oktoberfest for another 1750 years or so. The Fall Classic, Johnny Depp and Katy Perry are still another two millennium away – even the Jersey shores are nothing more than another unremarkable tidal marsh (That reminds us, if someone shows up at the Halloween for All front doorstep, trick or treating in that awful Snookie outfit we saw at Spirit Halloween last night, so help us, we will sell our pumpkin farm, close this blog down, buy a rodent ranch and open up shop at “Ground Hogs Day for All”).
Where were we? Ah yes, we are in the heart of Celtic territory, year 50. We can almost hear it now, “Mathair, I am bored… there’s nothing to do?” “Angus, why don’t you muck out your room, take your annual bath, and then round-up a Druid priest. Tell him to build up an immense bonfire and start the animal sacrifices without me. I can’t do a thing until I can put together some goodies to place outside the doors and windows – because as you know lad, ain’t no one happy until our restless, wandering, endoplasmic dead relatives are happy.”
And so it was from the very beginning of the Samhain festivals that we see a strong connection between what would eventually grow into Halloween and the ghostly spirit world. Remember, this is a special time for the Druid priests and the Celtic people. It is a unique ethereal time; a time for divination and a time for spirits to walk the earth among the living. The supernatural and natural worlds merge as one.
Now let us examine how the Catholic creation of All Saints Day effects Halloween in respects to our ghostly friends. All Saints Day had its foundation poured in 609 AD, but the blueprints to overlay the Catholic rituals on top of the Samhain traditions were drafted back in 601. Now with labor negations, permit delays, zoning regulations and manufacturing shortages, the actual construction for All Saints Day was not completed until 998 AD. That is when a French monastic order – Cluny – began a special mass for all the departed Christian souls. The primary function of holding the mass was to pray for intercession on the part of all the souls in Purgatory.
Ghost really begin to materialize around Halloween in the 1800s as Americans enjoyed telling ghost stories. Spirituality was spreading all across the young nation. Why even before the Great Emancipator became legend for allegedly impaling stakes through the undead’s hearts, he gave his to Mary Todd. Both he and Mary were utterly devastated at the lost of their son Willie. Many people claim that President Lincoln actually held séances in the White House. To this you rightly say, “what does that have to do with ghosts and Halloween?” To that we reply, probably not much, other than it was a reflection of how wide-spread spiritually was accepted in those years and that Halloween certainly is a perfect vehicle for examining all things ghostly.
You only need to turn on your television to know that something remarkable is happening in Western Culture regarding people’s beliefs in ghosts. Clearly, spirits are on the rise. According to 1978 Gallup poll only 11% of Americans believed in ghosts, less than the number of people who believed in Sasquatch or Nessie at that time. Today, poll after poll indicates that almost 50% of American’s believe in ghosts. (To learn more about all things ghostly, check out Ghostly World ).
Ghost and paranormal shows dominate or at least have more than an ethereal presence on satellite programming. Practically every network offers at least one ghost or haunting themed show. Why there is even a show on Animal Planet, “The Haunted,” which chronicles animal’s interactions with the spirits from the beyond.
Regardless of your feelings on the ghost and spirit realm, their connection to Halloween started as a tribute to love one’s who had passed. And while not everyone welcomes an unplanned for vapory family reunion, it is sobering to reflect that we are just one link in an enormous chain of lives, choices, and events that ultimately allowed you to be here reading this blog and for us to create it. Regardless of what day it is, it is always worth wild to pause to remember the true miracle of our existence. So from everyone here at Halloween for All we would like to thank your ancestors – where ever they are – for allowing you to spend a few of your precious moments with us as we spin laps around the sun together.