Heidi Trautmann

415 - Halloween – the fear of ghosts from the underworld


By Heidi Trautmann


It is said in Irish legends of 2000 years ago that on the night of October 31 the curtains between our world and the underworld is getting lifted or blurred so that the dead can return to earth and do damage to the crop or just trouble to us the living. Big fires were set alight to do sacrifices of crop and animals to pacify the evil minded ghosts. Prophecies were done by the initiated for the future. Thus protected the people started to face the long and cold winter months.

When the Romans came to the Celtic territory they took over or combined with their own traditions the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. These traditions have travelled with the Romans and have reached the rest of Europe, as on the Continent the Dead are honoured by the end of October, or on November 1. People decorate the graves and think of their beloved.

The Roman Church tried to make the Celtic fest a holy day and created all souls day on November 2, similarly celebrated with bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils. The All Saints Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas and, eventually,… Halloween. Today we have both because we always need a reason for celebrating. People were afraid to leave their homes, they feared the ghosts and they were wearing masks to be anonymous and thus protected. They would also leave food at the doorstep which later changed into the habit of beggars knocking at doors to beg for food or children going around and ask for sweets. In late autum you’ll find huge pumpkin markets along the streets for people to buy and carve them for their Halloween party. The most extraordinary displays, quite artistic and inventive, can be found at garden entrances and sitting in windows. In a dark night the masks lit from inside might well frighten all devils away.

People who visit the graveyard would always leave a light, so the dead wouldn’t be afraid of the ghosts let loose.


For parties people can today buy horror masks that look so ghastly that I doubt that a lot of fun can come out of it. You might find an old rag in your wardrobe, and as Demetra George Mustafaoglu, the American opera singer,  suggested, you dress as a gypsy for her Halloween party in Bellapais on Oct 27 with a rose behind your ear.


Other traditions at house parties were customary that is for example laying extra plates on the dinner table for the dead of the family to feel comfortable or telling the future by laying cards, or looking into a mirror to detect whose shadow is behind you, or throwing apple peels over your left shoulder to see what letter it forms, that would be the name of your lover. Or to sit in a darkened room and do parapsychological exercises such as table moving to speak to the dead. Huuaaa, frightening. 


However, whatever your traditions tell you to do, it is another reason to get together and celebrate that we are quite safe and healthy, that we have good friends to share something with and perhaps you try your hand to carve a pumpkin, there is still time, and with the inside you can prepare a lovely pumpkin soup with some ginger, garlic and some dill in it, a hot tip to frighten enemies away. Happy Halloween!





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