Halloween’s History

We have kicked off our Halloween celebrations with the launch of our new Skull collection, which features images from artists across the globe. Whether you like a ultra-bright colours such as the vibrant Colour Skull  by German artist Alejandro Alvarez.

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Or prefer the more muted tones of  url by Israeli artist Mark Ashkenazi,

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There is sure to be a perfect piece to really get you into the Halloween spirit.

History of Halloween

The festival of Halloween is one of the world’s oldest holidays and can be traced back to ancient Irish traditions and beliefs which were cultivated under Celtic rule. The Celts were an extremely religious people, who were very conscious of the existence of a spiritual world, and developed many practices and rituals in an effort to gain access to the spirits. The two main festivals or feasts were held at the beginning of the summer and at the end of the summer The Autumn feast – Samhein was believed to be a time when the divisions between the real world and the spiritual world became suspended and supernatural forces, ghosts and spirits were able to wander through the worlds as they wished.

The Celtic priests were called Druids, members of pagan orders in Britain, Ireland and Gaul, who generally performed their rituals by offering sacrifices, usually of crops and animals, but sometimes of humans, in order to placate the gods; ensuring that the sun would return after the winter; and frightening away evil spirits. To the Celtics, the bonfire represented the sun and was used to aid the Druid in his fight with dark powers.

druids-on-halloween
photo credit: conservativespirit.com

Interestingly, the term bonfire actually comes from the words “bone fire”. Thank goodness this practice of burning humans was stopped around 1600, and an effigy was often used instead.

As new ruling powers overthrew the Celts, instead of trying to abolish these pagan customs, people tried instead to blend together the new ideas with existing beliefs, so the festival of Halloween has become a confusing mixture of traditions and practices from pagan cultures and Christian tradition.

After the Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territories, the Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomona were combined with the traditional Samhein celebrations. Feralia was intended to give rest and peace to the departed and sacrifices were made to honour the dead,, and Pomona, honoured the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, which may explain the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

photo credit: kuow.org

During the 7th century, Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints’ Day, as a time to honour saints and martyrs, and to replace the pagan festival of the dead, Pope Gregory III moved All Saint’s Day to Nov. 1 and so Oct. 31 became All Hallows’ Eve (‘hallow’ means ‘saint’).

The origins of present day “trick-or-treat” could be linked directly back to Samhain as the belief that the spirits of the dead would rise out of their graves and wander the countryside, trying to return to the homes where they formerly lived was a frightening thought for the local villagers. To appease these wandering spirits they would offer gifts of fruit and nuts, beginning the tradition of placing plates of the finest food on their doorsteps, to appease the hunger of the ghostly wanderers.

Of course – if the souls of dead loved ones could return that night, then so could anything else whether it was human or not, nice or not-so-nice. To protect themselves the Celts would masquerade as one of the spirits, in order to blend in unnoticed among them, which has given rise to the tradition of dressing up as devils, imps, ogres, and other demonic creatures.

In many parts of Britain and Ireland this night became known as ‘Mischief Night’, enabling people to go around the village playing tricks and getting up to mischief without fear of being punished. Many of these different customs were then taken to the United States by Irish and Scottish immigrants in the nineteenth century as millions of emigrants poured into America as a result of the potato famine.

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photo credit: wikipedia.org

The  Jack-o-lantern is the festival light for Halloween and is the ancient symbol of a damned soul. Jack-o-lanterns were cut with faces representing demons and intended to frighten away evil spirits. It was said that if a demon or such were to encounter something as fiendish looking as themselves that they’d run away in terror, thus sparing the houses dwellers. They would have been carried around the village boundaries or left outside the home to burn through the night.

Originally the Irish would carve out turnips or beets as lanterns as representations of the souls of the dead or goblins freed from the dead. However when these immigrants arrived in America they could not find many turnips to carve into Jack O’Lanterns, but they did find an abundance of pumpkins, and so they have been an essential part of Halloween celebrations ever since.

jack-o-lantern
photo credit: jackolanternlouisville.com

Bats, owls and other nocturnal animals, are also popular symbols of Halloween, and were originally feared because people believed that these creatures could communicate with the spirits of the dead.

Witches and witchcraft are also dominant themes of the holiday. To witches, Halloween is a festival of the dead, and represents the “end and the beginning of the witches year.

The festival of Halloween is still celebrated today in a number of countries around the globe. In countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, adults and children alike enjoy partaking in the festive traditions.  In Mexico and other Latin American countries, they celebrate with the  Día de los Muertos— the Day of the Dead. It is commemorated with a three-day celebration that begins on the evening of October 31. We have a selection of Dia de los Meurtos artworks available such as the stunning Catrina by Mexican artist La Morsa

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The celebration is designed to honour the dead who, it is believed, return to their earthly homes on Halloween. Many families construct an altar to the dead in their homes to honour deceased relatives and decorate it with candy, flowers, photographs, samples of the deceased’s favourite foods and drinks, and fresh water. Often, a wash basin and towel are left out so that the spirit can wash before indulging in the feast.

However you choose to celebrate Halloween, we hope that our Skull collection will add a touch of “Spirit” to your walls.