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Halloween in the Middle Ages

Medieval HalloweenThe modern notion that Halloween should be banned because of 'evil and satanic' influences - is, at best, a misconception.

Let's check the historical facts:

Although the holiday's roots can be traced back to pagan practices, the name 'Halloween' is purely a Christian tradition that began in the early Middle Ages.

In fact, permitting pagan traditions to survive was a stroke of genius by the early christian Church.

Pope Gregory the Great, in fact, sent his missionaries abroad with the advice that if a pagan community worshiped a sacred tree, for example, Christians were to attribute its mystical power to Christ - and allow the tree to stand.

The papal directive also lent itself to flip-flopping the spring festival of Eastre - honoring a Saxon mother goddess - into a holiday now known as Easter. The winter solstice celebration centering around pagan sun gods now celebrates the Son of God's birth at Christmas.

The festival of Samahain marked the Celtic New Year when dead souls were believed to walk the earth...

Halloween is a descendent of the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sah-een) or 'summer's end' in the original Scots Gaelic.

The celebration held on November 1 marked the Celtic New Year when dead souls were believed to walk the earth. 'Soul cakes' were left out for good spirits and lanterns were customarily lit - the modern version of the Halloween pumpkin* - to ward off stray evil spirits that also happened to pierce the thin veil of the underworld during this time of year. So deeply imbedded was the Samhain tradition in the human psyche that it survived for centuries.

In the eighth century, the church finally named November 1 All Hallows Day (or the day of the holy ones) in honor of the saints. However, two centuries later, the Church followed the Samhain festival more closely by naming November 2 All Souls Day in honor of the dead.

Owing to the medieval custom of beginning observances the night before, the collective holiday began on All Hallows Evening, or Halloween.

*The native American pumpkin was unknown in medieval Europe. The original European version of the jack-o'-lantern was a turnip.

More related resources to this article on the Web:

The Fantasy & Folklore of All Hallows

The History Channel: The History of Halloween

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