Today, Halloween is celebrated by many individuals each year, with children dressing up in creepy outfits and catholic beaded jewellery and participating in the village celebrations of trick or treating. While the festival is now often seen as being a chance to collect up as many sweets as possible, the ancient celebration has more traditional meaning that one may realise. In this article, we will explore the history of Halloween, discuss it’s origins, development, and true meaning; as well as focussing on the correlation between the creepy festival, vampires and Catholic jewellery.
Dating back thousands of years, Halloween first originated from the ancient Catholic festival of Samhain. Living over 2,000 years ago, the Celts first came from the area that is now known as Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France. Back then, they decided to celebrate their new year on 1st November; this day was believed to mark the end of the summer, bringing with it the beginning of the dark nights of winter – a time of year commonly associated with a high death count. On the night before the new year, it was believed by the Celts that the worlds of the living and dead blurred into one; many thought that on that evening, the dead returned to the earth as ghosts. Whilst it was thought that the ghosts tended to cause trouble, the Celts used this evening to their advantage, with the presence of the spirits making it easier for priests to make predictions about the coming year ahead. For many, the predictions of that evening were a source of comfort, enabling them to brave through the cold winter knowing that better things were in store for them ahead.
As part of the Samhain celebrations, it was common practice to light huge bonfires, where people from all over the village gathered; often bringing with them special crops or even animals to burn, designed as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. Extravagant costumes made up of animal heads and skin were typically worn during the event, where the villagers would attempt to tell each other’s fortune. As the celebrations began to come to an end, they often re-lit the burned out bonfires, throwing on anything else they could find in a ritual of final sacrifice; this practice was thought to protect them during the cold, dark winter, with the hope of keeping away death.
Once the Romans had conquered almost all of the Celtic land, they decided to bring together two traditional Roman festivals, celebrating them both in unison on a single day in the celebration of Samhain. The first festival was known as Feralia, a time to traditionally commemorate those that had passed away in the previous year. The second festival was designed to honour the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees, formally known as Pomona. The traditional symbol of Pomona is the apple, which explains why apple bobbing is still widely practised on Halloween, even to this day.
Years later, in 609 A.D, Pope Boniface IV decided to dedicate the extravagant building known today as the Pantheon, to the honour of Christian martyrs; shortly after this, the festival of ‘All Martyrs Day’ was established, traditionally holding a Catholic feast within the Western church. As time went by, the next Pope made the decision to expand the festival, with the intention of it including all saints in addition to martyrs; it was at this time that the festival was moved to November 1st. In 1000 A.D, November 2nd was officially made ‘All Souls’ Day”, a day specifically designed to honour the deceased. While All Souls’ Day was similar to Samhain, it was thought that the key difference was that it was a church-sanctioned holiday, unlike the traditional Samhain festival. Though marginally different, All Souls’ Day was celebrated in a similar fashion; with the use of big bonfires and extravagant costumes still being popular. The All Souls Day celebrations were also referred to as All-hallows, and it became a tradition to celebrate the holiday the night before; this day quickly became known as All-hallows Eve, translating over time to Halloween.
There is no question that traditional Catholic cultures hold some creepy traditions. With a wide array of honoured saints body parts being housed in golden containers, a selection of severed fingers, feet and even heads can be found displayed in some of the worlds most important churches. Furthermore, it is not unheard of for the body parts to visit other churches around the world for individuals to view, almost like the deceased saint going on tour. As if that is not creepy enough, there are places of worship that are commonly known as “bone churches” due to their selection of home decor existing entirely of human bones. With a famous chandelier crafted entirely from such material, the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic is famous for the elaborate light fixture containing at least one of every type of bone from the human body. But what is it that makes the creepy traditions of the Catholic church and vampires so connected?
The famous myth and legend of vampires and Catholic iconography is thought to originate from the 1897 novel, Dracula. Written by Bram Stoker, the author illustrates vampires in such a way that the readers associate great power between them and the crucifix. Full of myth, lore and legend, Dracula is believed to be one of the main reasons that Halloween, vampires and all things creepy are still associated with the cross and other catholic jewellery to this day. Years later, the most influential Dracula of all time was released starring Christopher Lee, originally produced for England’s Hammer Films. This film was the first horror of it’s time to display the cross as more than just a repellant; from this moment on the catholic cross began to be seen as a weapon of offensive power. Since then, many films have been released with the same kind of ideas, with vampires appearing to burst into flames with the mere touch of the Catholic cross, and candlesticks being used at specific angles to drive Dracula directly into the sun.
Image source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTV10Hm4V9w
While Dracula may be the vampire that most people are familiar with today, the idea of vampirism arose way before the release of the famous novel. Although most people think of vampires as being revenants – human bodies that return from the dead to harm the living – the initial versions of the vampire were believed to not be human at all, but instead supernatural beings that couldn’t be further from the human form. A book published in 2008 titled “From Demons to Dracula: The Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth” by Matthew Beresford, explains how the modern vampire came to be. “There are clear foundations for the vampire in the ancient world, and it is impossible to prove when the myth first came about. There are suggestions that the vampire was born out of sorcery in ancient Egypt, a demon summoned into this world from some other.” Explains Beresford. With different variations of vampire appearing all over the world, it appears to remain unknown when the myth first became apparent; although, in the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’, vampires are thought to make an appearance, being depicted as the blood-drinking ghouls that they are thought of in modern society.
Ever since the initial release of the first Dracula novel, the compelling storyline has been highly relatable to the iconic Catholic cross and Halloween, with All Souls Day and the festival of Samhain both remaining strong commemorations of the deceased, where ghouls, ghosts, and mythic vampires are still thought by some to be released into the world for one night only, on the creepy eve of the 1st of November.