Archive for Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Comment: Haunted history

October 26, 2010

Fleeting figures slink through the darkness. Overhead, witches astride long black brooms crisscross the full, silver moon. Ghouls, goblins and fairies claw and scratch their way out of the deep, dark underworld. The air crawls with anticipation. It's Halloween.

Ever wonder how this creepy tradition started?

Halloween dates back to the Celtics, 5,000 years B.C. The Celtics believed on this day the fairy mounds in Ireland opened and fairies and other supernatural beings from the underworld came up into their world.

No doubt this was a time of anxiety for the Celtics, who believed their world was being invaded. They attempted to keep these creatures at bay.

The villagers built huge bonfires. They took all the first fruits and first-born sons and sacrificed them — in an attempt to ward off evil spirits.

Black cats are one Halloween tradition alive today. These creatures are associated with Faust, who sold his soul to the devil for knowledge and power.

A pumpkin or jack-o'-lantern is also a solid staple of Halloween. Jack-o'-lanterns also date back to the Irish and Scotch.

The pumpkin was the American replacement for the carved turnip of the Old World. After the Scotch and Irish sailed to this country, they carved a pumpkin instead.

Faces on the pumpkin were designed to keep spirits and other grotesque images from their door. A candle inside the jack-o'-lantern helped expel the darkness.

Orange and black remain the colors associated with Halloween. These same colors have long been linked with the dead.

Unbleached beeswax was used for candles surrounding caskets during the Middle Ages. The candles had an orangish buff color and of course black was always draped across the casket or hearse.

Blackness always conjures a deep fear in the human imagination. Darkness and evil are synonymous.

As for witches and broomsticks, the broomstick was a sign of a woman during primitive times. Naturally when women were branded witches, people believed they flew away by jumping on their brooms.

The Irish believed fairies, who came out of their mounds at Halloween, played pranks on the people who lived above ground. When the Irish came to this country they decided to emulate the fairies by going around and putting carriages on barns and turning over outhouses.

Dressing in costumes and going into the night has its roots in dressing up in animal skins and fertility rights. This tradition is also connected with the dark side and later adopted into the Halloween custom.

While the faces and costumes associated with Halloween continue to change, many of the customs remain the same. And while interpretation depends on the individual, the underlying theme remains the same - keep the evil spirits at bay.

Good luck and Happy Halloween.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas.


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