Revisiting old souls

Decided to re-post this piece from two years ago. I love this history…hope you do as well!

All Souls Day (November 1 or 2 depending on the time in history). The day of the dead. Time to visit cemeteries and pay respects to ancestors and loved ones, integrating the past with the present. Life is a cycle of birth, living, decline, and death. It is a gift to be cherished, and the dead are to be honored for the life they once gave.

An excerpt from my book, The Field Stones of Umbria, describes the history of this day, as well as Halloween:

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death.

Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth (in some countries, it is the Day of the Dead). In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the 400 years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The first was Feralla, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, and this probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints’ Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse, meaning All Saints Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve, and eventually, Halloween. In A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead.

2 responses to “Revisiting old souls

  1. Complimenti! Awful weather today, but hope to see you for a walk sometime. In the meantime keep warm and dry
    Maura

  2. Thank you, Maura! Still working on setting up the blog. I’ll be in touch soon!

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