Well, we’ve covered the ancient Celts and the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire. We can continue on, now, with the evolution of All Hallow’s Eve. You see, even the Christian holiday would run into problems over the course of the centuries. Indeed, initially, they couldn’t even decide when to celebrate it.
We learned in the last article that Pope Gregory I had established All Hallows Eve, but it was having trouble taking hold in all parts of the empire. Pope Boniface IV first name All Saints’ Day on May 13, 610 CE as a day of recognition for those who had died as martyrs for their faith without the official recognition of the church. It was later in the seventh century that the holiday would be moved to November 1 by Pope Gregory III to follow up All Hallows Eve. All Saints’ Day was, for a time, renamed Hallowmas. All Hallows Eve became All Hallows Even which was shortened to Hallowe’en.
As the church continued to hammer down on the Celts with their bonfires and merriment, one positive thing that came about at this time was the cessation of sacrifice. The Celts might not be convinced to put out the fire, but they stopped burning people and animals in the fire. The Christians would only support a death penalty when it was sanctioned by the church. It was also at this time, that the Christians finally put their back into their beliefs enough to convince the Celts that the need fires were there to keep the devil at bay rather than to honor the seasons.
Now, let’s add another celebration day to consider that would come to fall at the same time. Though there is some debate as to when it came about, it is thought that in 988 CE All Souls’ Day was first celebrated by the Benedictine abbot Saint Odilo. It was placed on November 2 as another day to pray for those who were stuck in Purgatory (apparently they needed a lot of days to pray for those poor folks). We do know that it was in 1000 CE that Pope Sylvester II approved the celebration.
As time passed, the Christian church faced its first real break. Though the Roman Empire was long gone, the Church and the Pope were, of course, still in power. It was on Halloween in 1517 that Martin Luther initiated what would come to be known as the Protestant reformation. The Protestants had even less use for the old pagan ways than the Catholic Church, but they still continued to hold autumnal festivals. There was something about it that was so deeply ingrained that they simply continued to celebrate the end of harvesting season. Perhaps, it was simply because they needed a break at the end of all that work. Perhaps it was something that still called to them on a more basic level.
More time passed and the history of our holiday, along with the rest of history, gets very fuzzy through the dark ages, the Inquisition and the outbreak of witch trials all over the continent. This was the first time that witches became associated with Halloween. Folk magick and other ritual practices sprang up among the people with the dissolution of the Druid caste. Powerful healers and makers of charms were regularly sought out by the local villagers when in need. Divination was an important part of their practice and they harnessed the mindset and power of Halloween and the thinning of the veil to foretell the future and communicate with the dead once more in secret. And while most would seek the wise men and women out for help, they would also point fingers very quickly if the healing did not work and lay blame of evil on the failed healer. It was a scary profession to say the least!
We do know that a rich oral history kept some of the traditions alive in the minds of the people even in the darkest hours of our history, and the reason we know this is that when the peoples of Europe began to move across the ocean to America, guess what began to creep up again? Halloween survived the arduous journey and began to branch out into the different colonies, taking on new practices while holding to those from time immemorial. But that…that’s for next time.
Well, we’ve almost reached the final leg of our journey. I hope you’ve been enjoying this trip through the history of our favorite holiday. Join me again next week as we trace Halloween from colonial to modern times in the United States!