Note: although all the following is backed by research, it is by no account a full blown scientific research. It just serves as an inspiration. Romanticised possible history, if you want.
Halloween is a genuine historic cocktail
As we all know, the name comes from All Hallow’s Eve and derives probably from 17th Century Catholic sources celebrating All Saints. Then again, every aspect of it, the dressing up, asking for gifts and the scary connections don’t have a lot to do with the boring saints, do they? Actually it’s a cocktail having it’s origin in an ancient tradition, that translated itself in a lot of different feasts, celebrated over the years.
Halloween, as well as Samhain, is a cut up of the original pagan ’12 days festival’ at the end of the year (we all know Twelfth Night, don’t we). It is actually: Christmas, 12th Night, St-Martin, St-Nicolas, Halloween, Carnival and others mixed together. St-Nicolas (6th of December) is the same as Santa Claus (24th of December) and actually no different from St-Martin (11th of November). Basically everything involving a guy with a beard on a horse, with a staff or spear, who delivers and takes gifts and also occasionally robs children. Remember that last part, that’s were it gets scary. You see it’s not the Good Man bringing gifts to obedient children, it’s actually an ancient Norse god of war, magic and death who comes to claim his offerings and if you didn’t give any, he took your children to serve in his Army Of The Dead to fight at Ragnarok.
12 Holy Nights
A long, long time ago, the end of the year was “celebrated” in a 12 night long festival, aptly named the 12 Holy Nights. It started by remembering the dead and ended with a feast of light. They made huge fires, hoping that the Sun would defeat the winter darkness swiftly. That’s very basically what is was all about: surviving the winter. So it was a huge festival of death – fertility – life, a very natural cycle.
At that time also the “Wild Hunt” roamed over the lands, straight from hell, to snatch people away. There’s a lot of folk stories about that, you’ve probably heard them, but the funny thing is that people tended to “reenact” them from ancient times to – apparently – well into the 19th century.
When you list up the comparisons between the many different ritual reenactments over Old Europe you get to this:
- a group of men
- dress up (as animals or in animal skin) and mask themself (or paint their faces black)
- they ride out to the villages and farms
- making a lot of noise (jul-yell feast)
- demand gifts (trick or treat)
- if none are given they do something to you (from destroying your house or furniture,kidknapping your children to give you a kiss and dance with you – things got softer over the years)
- after their ride, they gather at a place and feast on their gifts
Rite of Passage
It’s actually a very complicated mix up of initiation rites and young warrior castes. You see, it was on the ‘Concilia of Leptines’ in 743, that the Christians decided to cut up the pagan ’12 Nights’ into several festivals (All Souls’ Day amongst others), because it was a little bit too popular in the Old World (and also the people involved had too much power, so it had to be dealt with).
In the ancient days, the old tribes had young warrior castes, who did nothing but defend the villages and enforce justice on criminals. They were also the organising crew for religious feasts (like spring and summer solstice), even burials. These young men were not considered part of society, but something outside it and sometimes above it. They had the right of scolding and even “stealing”. In a certain way they were the standing army of small communities or rather the good posse like we know from wild west movies.
It is important to remember that in this martial role they were outside of society, not part of it. They were actually considered ‘dead’.
It were the Dead that rode out those nights, hunting for fresh meat. This caste was limited by age (warrior iuventus) and needed fresh members every year. The ‘old ones’ returned to their life (or were sometimes sacrificed) and the young ones entered…by “dying“, carried away to the ‘underworld’, ritual death. It’s a scary initiation rite, executed on the feast of the dead…which they logically considered as their own feast.
The Wild Hunt Of The Army Of The Dead
You know, Santa Claus or St-Martin, in folklore, is nobody else than Odin or Wotan. The old hooded God with the long beard, carrying a spear, riding his eight-legged horse Sleipnir. The leader of the Horde. Often accompanied by a ‘demonic’ servant called ‘Krampus‘, which later evolved into Black Peter. There’s a lot of confusion considering Black Peter, nowadays he is represented as a ‘moorish’ servant. But that is wrong, the Horde in many places blackened their faces to disguise themselves (night time camouflage) and to emphasise their status as being dead or from the underworld. We later see that secrecy was very important for these people – probably because they were robbing your children – so they needed masks or camouflage in some way or another.
Here’s what happened:
12 members of the horde, plus the leader (the evil 13) and sometimes a warner that rode in front, disguised themselves in animal skins and blackened their faces and/or wore masks. Then they rode out towards the villages making a lot of noise to announce their arrival. They needed 2 or 3 things: supplies to sustain themselves for the next year and/or food to celebrate. They also needed new members: promising youths, who could serve in the Army Of The Dead.
“Children or Treat?”
So they invaded the houses of families which had strong, promising children and demanded an offering. Now, if the parents didn’t want to give away one of their children, they offered food to the Horde. You should also consider that food was extremely important in those days, especially in the harsh winter times. And when you had several children, but not enough food…well you can guess what happened then. If you refused, they would destroy your house. So they ‘bagged’ one or two children on their ride and returned to a place where they held a great feast and initiated the youngsters into their new family: the warrior caste. To their old family they were considered dead. The initiation rite probably consisted of some kind of ritualised dead also: hanging from a tree and/or being stabbed with a spear (Odin-wise).
Naturally, the people started putting out food beforehand and the whole thing became ritualised folklore, untill the young warrior caste ceased to be and it became a child’s play. That’s what your christmas tree is al about, by the way. It’s actually a big Pinata. It used to be a tree in the centre of the village, in which they hang (sugared) apples, then children were allowed to shake or hit the tree and pick up the apples. The by then so called horde, “kidknapped” the children to bring them to the tree. Even later we begin to recognise it as the Halloween we know, now it are the children themselves who go from door to door to demand offerings and scold you on your cheap candy.
The Horde’s Mission
Let’s focus again on the mission of these young men. They were there to defend the community as an organised and trained squadron against invaders and bandits. But also, and very interesting, to safeguard moral and sexual justice. They had the right to punish rapists, child molesters, fornicators, or any other pervert. Later this evolved into scolding and public shaming. Above that, they protected servants’ rights and even slaves on some accounts. If it was known in the community that one particular landlord/farmer exploited his servants or abused them. The Horde rode out to punish him.
They also had the right of ‘stealing’, or rather, you were to give to them what they demanded at any time. After all, they were guarding you against evil bandits and the like…ahum.
In a logical way, you were considerd lucky, when you were on good terms with these guys. And indeed after a while they were considered bringers of luck. Especially considering fertility. Some were asked by farmers (after the offering was given) if they could dance on his field for good crops. Some even think that the horde “solved” fertility “problems” with certain couples not being able to bear children. I don’t need to draw a picture to explain that (or maybe I should). Also fertility and the dead from the underworld have a strong connection.
So if your kid and his buddies return late at night with a child you’ve never seen before and after they tortured him al little bit, they all start eating the candy in your garage, don’t be alarmed… It’s just a very ancient tradition.