Monday, October 31, 2011

Goddesses in the Dirt: Why Halloween is Persephone's Favorite Holiday

Unearthing the Divine Feminine, one archetype at a time...

 Proserpine (1873-77) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 
Goddesses in the Dirt - Issue #22: Why Halloween is Persephone's Favorite Holiday

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays...yet somehow I sensed early on - as I went trick or treating, enjoying the freedom of being outside at night - that there was more to it than costumes and candy. When I was old enough to be interested in history I began to research the roots of this day we have made into such a spooky event. Also, being raised Catholic, I was fascinated that the religious holidays of All Saints and All Souls Days coincided with October 31 and November 1.  What could the church have in common with this ghoulish celebration?


The answer lay in Celtic tradition, which celebrates the four cardinal turning points of the seasons: Imbolc, Beltain, Lughnasadh and Samhain, which falls on October 31 and signifies the end of summer and official start of fall in the Celtic calendar. It is thought to be the time of year that the veil between worlds (our world and the afterworld - or Underworld) is thinnest and most easily penetrated. The word "hallow" means to sanctify and was incorporated into the Catholic Church to honor all saints, known or unknown. The thinness of the veil between worlds encouraged peoples' interest in divination and prophecy, also laying the groundwork for fears of possession by spirits of the dead.


During Samhain, the Druids celebrated by lighting an enormous bonfire on a hill. On this night, all Celtic households would douse the hearth fires and instead travel to retrieve the flame from the community bonfire to bring back home, often within a carved out turnip, signifying their unity and common purpose. The tradition was brought to America in the 1840s after the great potato famine. At that time Irish immigrants shifted the tradition to using pumpkins, which were plentiful in this country and easier to carve.


The pagan and Christian traditions became mingled along the way. During this holiday Christians would go door to door asking for Soul Cakes, in return they would pray for the dead. Pagan tradition during this time of year was marked by households leaving offerings of food and drink on their doorsteps to feed the spirits who might be out wandering during the night. People would often wear masks or other forms of costume - a tradition of guising that was thought to scare away unwanted or evil spirits.


Today we have commercialized this holiday to capitalize on society's appetite for the appealing aspects of dressing up, offering the freedom of trying on another persona and being someone else for a night...



...children have a chance to become the scary ghost as opposed to being scared by ghosts...



...and everyone likes free candy.



What many don't realize - consciously or unconsciously - is that the fun tradition of Halloween is deeply rooted in the belief that this is the time of year when the dead can communicate with the living. 


As Queen of the Underworld - that's why it's Persephone's favorite holiday.

In the Celtic tradition I light a candle on this night. Wishing you all a very Happy Halloween. 

Photos (except pomegranate and candles) courtesy of Tumblr and Google images

28 comments:

  1. My dear! We do not celebrate here this holiday, 1st of November is purely a familiar and religious name. A bit similiar belives were connected with 2nd of November called sth like "Souls day" - also religious holiday but with some belives which are not purely Christian- like a possibility to meet ghosts etc!

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  2. Good morning, dear Amanda,

    Hallowe'en has long enchanted me, as well-- and with good reason. I enjoyed the images of the pomegranate, the candles and the goddess of the Underworld, herself.

    Today is a special day, I think. This year. Just, something ...

    Glad to be connected to you, now.

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  3. you always "dig up" the most interesting tales. thanks, and a happy halloween to you, a candle will flicker.

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  4. Love it! As you know, I am a fan of Halloween as well. The idea of the spirit world being within reach is fascinating to me. Have a beautiful Samhain--All Hallows Eve--Halloween!

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  5. Beautiful post Amanda my Celtic Kindred!I too love Persephone of course and her magnificent energy! I so ejoyed your tribute to her and this magical time of year..loved that painting/image near the end..magnificent!
    Blessings friend..I light a candle along with you..
    victoria

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  6. Dearest *Twin*....OF COURSE we would both adore this season of Magick! My Irish half ascends - and I evel in all the tales, legends, poems, paintings - and Pomegrantes! (When I was a child, I was mesmorised by the little ruby-like seds....they seemed to *glow*....like eating magical jewels!)

    The Rossetti painting is one of my favourites.... (I am just a Pre-Raphaelite Girl!)

    I will be lighting my candles tonight too...and raising a glass to toast my fabulous Twin!!!

    Love,

    ♥ Robin ♥

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  7. I had never heard that this time of year is when the veil is the thinnest...very interesting history there Amanda! Thanks for sharing and great photos!

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  8. I'm conflicted on such days, and never did like to dress up either. Mother used to drag us to the cemetery on both days, and that tradition was not something that sat right with me.

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  9. When our children were small, we used to invite their friends over at our place for a Hallow'Een party. They have outgrown it but are still talking about those parties and "Ciné Citrouille", short 8mm films that we projected every year...till they broke, but the kids were then getting too old.

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  10. I have this thing about Celts - I am really curious about their traditions. An enchanting post, dear Amanda.

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  11. Thanks for this enlightening description of the origins of Halloween, which we do not really celebrate here in Australia my home country except in emulating Americans.

    I'm new to your blog via Rob bear,Amanda, and very much taken by your writing here. It's good to meet you.

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  12. I've always been fascinated with Persephone and pomegranates. I like how you tied her story into Halloween. Sorry to be so slow to visit. You know your life is crazy when Halloween with a house full of costumed teenagers feels like a quiet night at home.

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  13. Celtic traditions are one of my favorite topics. Very interesting post and I must admit that Halloween is my favorite holiday! lol It seems like it just falls at the perfect time of year.

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  14. Yes, we Celts know how to party. (Only, since we're now Canadian, our partying is more, oh, I don't know, discrete, maybe. Toned down, perhaps.)
    It's one of the traditions swiped and adapted from the Celtic Druids by the early Celtic Christians, long before Augustine of Canterbury.
    Delighted by how you put this all together! Very good research. Excellent writing, as usual.
    And yes, we still remember the dead. The space is thin between the worlds; you never know who you might meet.

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  15. I love Persephone so so much! Wonderful post. I hate the commercialism of Halloween (and the candy, actually...it's all too much) but love the bread on The Day of the Dead, right after. Now I'm hungry...and those pomegranate seeds look luscious!

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  16. I'm a fan of the Persephone myth, but it never occurred to me to connect her with Halloween. Of course!

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  17. Oh those early Popes just couldn't stand the fact that the Celts were having far too much fun with their celebrations no matter how hard they tried they just couldn't get them to stop. So as the saying goes if you can't beat 'em join 'em and they moved their day of the dead from May to November. Did the same with their Christmas too moved it into the Celts Winter Solstice ... must have been some parties back then ;)

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  18. ola - i'll have to check out the catholic calendar but you may be right that the days are nov 1 and 2

    suze - this whole time of year enchants me, period - just something about this season, i agree~

    glenn - love that - 'dig up' - ha! a candle flickers here, too ;-)

    julie - i thought your halloween post was fantastic - very comprehensive!

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  19. victoria - i hope your halloween was especially magical! and the last foto ~ it was taken in the cathedral at milan - a very powerful setting..

    robin twin - i lit a candle last night too and enjoying seeing the waxing moon on this most special of nights. thinking of you too during this magical time of the season ~ and yes - those seeds are just amazing, aren't they? like jewels - rubies indeed~ xoxo

    lisa - so glad you enjoyed this!

    rosaria - being dragged to the cemetery as a child would not bring back good memories - it makes sense in a heavily catholic italy the focus on these days would naturally revolve around the souls of the departed - and i imagine there was no halloween at that time such as what we celebrate now.

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  20. paul - now you have peaked my curiosity - i must know what is this cine citroullie!

    loree - i find celtic tradition endlessly fascinating. if you are interested, a great book about the subject i would recommend is john matthew's the celtic shaman.

    elisabeth - it's lovely to meet you, too ~ any friend of r-bear's is a friend of mine! thank you kindly for dropping by and commenting ;-)

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  21. sarah - a house full of costumed teenagers, ah yes! this parenting phase is all-consuming, but so rich. so glad you are enjoying this wonderful time of life~

    farmchick - halloween does fall at the perfect time of year - like you, i love every minute of it~

    r-bear - the mixing of the celts and the canadians - now that is a fantastic confluence. and yes, when the veil thins you don't know whom you're going to meet..which makes it all the more enticing!

    p.s. am going now to look up augustine of canterbury

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  22. maggie - you must tell me more about this bread on the day of the dead - i wonder if it's related to soul cakes?

    ruth - it didn't occur to me either, until recently. i stayed up until the wee hours last night, reading the homeric hymn to demeter - a good choice for samhain/halloween! hey - thanks so much for commenting and for following!

    annie - that is fascinating information - it did seem the early church was intent on eradicating all the pre-christian ritual which connected us to mother earth and all of nature. maybe now we can start finding our way back to that connection?

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  23. What an interesting post! I loved the photos.

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  24. you are amazing, amanda! i didn't know the history of halloween one bit, and now i do.

    'the veil between worlds': ah, the space we either pretend we don't know or we once knew and no longer remember.

    more and more i am aware the veil is very thin. and i find comfort in knowing that. ♥

    you are a good teacher, amanda.

    love
    kj

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  25. So informative and interesting post, Amanda!!

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  26. nancy - thanks - the pomegranate photo was taken in dubrovnic - there was a tree in the garden of the home we were staying at and the owner gave us some to eat - and the candles in the cathedral of milan

    kj - the space we pretend we don't know or once knew and no longer remember.....ah. i think it's both! the ancient greeks say that before souls return to this earth they drink from lethe, the waters of forgetting, so we can enter this life as if for the first time....

    philip - thank you my friend. i hope things improve in greece very soon..

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  27. Amanda, I too love Halloween. I adapted this tradition from my time in the US and was so happy to find it gaining hold here in Scandinavia too upon my return. When I met my Irish boyfriend, my fascination with Samhain only grew in intensity.;)
    I hope you enjoyed it this year and so I wish you a very belated Hallow's Eve dear friend,
    xoxo

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  28. zuzana - i always enjoy halloween - even if it's just lighting a candle on this special night.

    what a wonderful combination - it must be such fun for you to combine the traditions of your irish boyfriend with the customs of your home in scandinavia!

    wishing you a joyous season of samhain dear zuzana! ♡

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