The Many Faces of All Hallows’ Eve

With Halloween coming up in mere weeks, many will be looking for anecdotes to bring up at parties to show their friends and strangers alike.  Why not break out a few of these gems about Halloween superstitions the next time there’s a lull in the conversation?

Halloween is one of the most active holidays in western culture with more quirks and twists to it than almost any other holiday (with the exception of course being Christmas).  But where do these superstitions, traditions, and quirks come from?  And since Halloween is approaching, which ones warrant being resurrected to once again haunt the streets as the clock strikes twelve and All Hallow’s Eve once again is unleashed on an unsuspecting world?

The paranormal entities most commonly associated with Halloween would by far have to be ghosts.  But why do we believe ghosts once again walk the streets when the clock strikes twelve?  This is partially an homage from a permutation of a Catholic tradition that made its way into religious folklore.  It’s said all the souls in Purgatory find their way to Earth once again on this sacred day and are allowed to roam the streets and check up on loved ones and old friends.

And where do we get the name Halloween?  All Saints’ Day was also known when it was widely practiced as Hallowmass.  Immediately the similarities in the names are apparent.  As Hallowmass was translated, it became All Hallow’s Evening.  In time, All Hallow’s Evening, meaning “The night belonging to all those who are holy” is transformed regionally to the far easier to say “All Hallows’ Eve” and finally changed once again by the Scots to “Hallowe’en.”  And the rest is history.

But All Saints’ Day takes place on the first of November, not on the 31st of October.  Why did the widely practiced and largely secular Halloween transform as it did?  Originally, October 31st was known widely by a different name, Samhain.  Samhain was the last day of the summer and Spring half of the year, and marking its transfer into the autumn and finally winter which would last until Imbolc (or Oimelc) marking the triumph of spring over winter.

And Halloween has another long standing tradition that few people practice today.  For many centuries women have used the holiday to gather information about their future husbands through divination.  A woman putting a sprig of Rosemary under her pillow along with a silver sixpence will inevitably see the face of her future husband, according to an old tradition hailing from merry old England.  Additionally, a young girl who doesn’t have a sixpence was said to be able to see the face of her husband in a mirror on All Hallow’s Eve if she sat in a dark room either alone or among friends and stared long enough either silently or while chanting.  Later this tradition would become the Bloody Mary legend.

But what if you want to keep your home protected from spirits as the night ticks away?  It’s said burying a picture of an animal in front of your home is quite sufficient to keep the spirits at bay.  But if you want them to feel comfortable and at home you can also host a ‘Dumb Supper’ where dinner is held with an extra place for the spirits of the deceased.