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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Yours Faithfully: When human sacrifices were made on Halloween

Across multiple civilisations and spanning many eras, similar rituals existed or are still being practised where the dead are worshipped. However, the origins of Halloween pass through some primitive and bit of gory history. Read here to know more.

Written by Dhritiman Biswas | New Delhi |
Updated: October 31, 2017 9:59:10 am
halloween, halloween history, halloween origin, why do we celebrate halloween, halloween irish tradition, halloween worshipping the dead, pagan rituals, halloween shaman, lifestyle news, indian express The spirit of Halloween is to celebrate a sacred night in the whole year, when the ‘veil’, between the world of living and the world of dead. (Representational image; Source: AP)

Halloween is an industry. With projected sales of about $9.1 billion this year (and by the way this figure is just for USA, according to the US National Retail Federation), it is anything but a spiritual moment in a person’s life. The whole world has also fallen for the marketing glitz of this event. It is hard to see this flashy fun event as a spiritual moment.

This is a good time, like any, to pause and peek behind the glamour and connect to its original roots. (Also read: Spooky Halloween traditions and how they started; find out)

The spirit of Halloween (pun intended) is to celebrate a sacred night in the whole year, when the ‘veil’, between the world of living and the world of dead, lifts and the spirits (including our dead ancestors) come over to spend the night with the living.

This is not a unique tradition. Across multiple civilisations and spanning many eras, similar rituals existed or are still being practised, where the dead are worshipped. Both ancient Egypt and Rome had festivals where ancestors were remembered. In fact, the Roman one was called Parentalia. (Also read: Halloween special — From grinning skeletons to dressing up as cows, how the world honours the dead)

“The Flyer: Indian (Native American) conjuror” engraving by G Veen after a watercolour by John White (Printed 1590). White and others distinguish between Native priests and conjurors. The latter seem to be more associated with trances. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In India, we all know that each year we observe Pitru Paksha, where families remember their ancestors and offering is given to them.

Veneration of ancestors in African culture is very strong. They believe that ancestors mediate between God and humans. They even become a minor deity. Various native Indian Americans have elaborate rituals to connect with their ancestors, which brings out a pride in their own family, tribe and greater community.

Shamans (or healers, who interact with the spirit world in an altered state of consciousness) across the world (and more specifically in Brazil, Africa and central Asia) connect with ancestors often to ‘heal’ their patients.

Ainu bear sacrifice. Japanese scroll painting, circa 1870. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

However, the origins of Halloween pass through some primitive and bit of gory history. It is believed that the Irish labourers who came to North America to work brought with them the tradition of Halloween. They also discovered the large pumpkins in the new land and started to use it in the ritual. The brightly lit pumpkin outside the door or the window is supposed to guide one’s dead ancestor to the correct house for the night.

Thereafter, other popular legends also got cultivated in America like the “Jack o’ Lantern” story.

The Irish, in turn, adopted Halloween from the pagan (before the arrival of Christianity) festival of Samhain. Samhain marks the end of harvest season and farmers would celebrate and call on their deities to protect the farm produce. (Also see: Halloween inspiration? Celebs show us how to be stylishly spooky!)

Snap-Apple Night, painted by Daniel Maclise in 1833, shows people feasting and playing divination games on Halloween in Ireland. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

Research shows that this, in turn, may have been picked up from the ancient Roman festival of Pomona. However, during later pagan years, human and animal sacrifices were also done on the night of Samhain. It is from this cauldron of ancient history that modern day Halloween takes birth.

Though we have left behind the evil of human and animal sacrifices, yet, we have fallen prey to the new evil of money-spinning festivals for corporations. (Also read: Happy Halloween 2017 — The quirkiest Halloween costumes winning hearts on the Internet)

It is time, we light a candle in our hearts (instead of inside the pumpkin) and pray to our ancestors to guide us to become a better human being.

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