Many holidays were begun by primitive tribes, were later Romanized, then Christianized, and eventually secularized. For instance, primitive tribes in Europe celebrated the Winter Solstice in order to call back the dying sun, and try to bring winter to an end. Later, this became the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, in honor of Saturn, the Roman name for Cronos, who was Zeus' father. Later this holiday was renamed "Christmas". Eventually, it was secularized in the 18th Century. The modern holiday of Christmas that we normally think of began in the 1870's. The Roman holiday of Lupercalia was renamed after two different men named Valentine, and then it was eventually secularized in the 14th Century, when it was associated with lovers. For millennia, people have celebrated harvests, and thanked the gods for their generosity. Most people in Europe had harvest festivals in the autumn. The Celts celebrated New Year on November 1, called Samhain, pronounced “sow-en”. New Year’s is always a transition, and during this transitional time, the barrier between the physical world and the spiritual world came down. Supposedly the dead would return to Earth on this day. Since they were about to enter the long difficult period of winter, people at this time were highly motivated to appease supernatural forces. Then the Romans declared November 1 to be the Roman harvest festival in honor of Pomona, goddess of fruit. Because of the overwhelming gratitude that underlies the holiday, Christians would thank, not just one saint, but all of them. Thus the Christian name for the harvest festival was "All Saints Day". All Saints' Day is first mentioned in the fourth century to honor Christian martyrs. In the early 7th Century A. D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated Hadrian’s Pantheon, the Roman temple with the giant dome, to the Virgin Mary and to Martyrs. For several hundred years, All Saints' Day was celebrated on May 13, the day of the Pantheon's dedication. In 835 A. D., Pope Gregory IV changed the date to November 1 probably for the purpose of Christianizing the superstitious pagan festivals of Pomona and Samhain. Pope Gregory IV declared November 1 to be "All Saints Day". Another name for All Saints Day was All Hollows Day, like the phrase "hallowed ground". It is also called All Soul’s Day. Because you had all of the Saints together, the holiday epitomized goodness and virtue. This was a day celebrating the triumph of good over evil. If you're going to have a day about the triumph of good over evil, it's logical to first have evil so good can triumph over it. If you have a holiday about goodness and light, it's logical to have darkness immediately beforehand to create greater contrast, so the goodness would seem better than it would otherwise. Thus people would demonstrate darkness immediately before All Hollows, which was a celebration of goodness and light. Halloween traces back to the ancient Celtic New Year called Samhain. Since ancient Celtic culture survived more intact in Ireland than anywhere else, Halloween was especially celebrated in Ireland. Since so many Irish immigrants came to America, it became a big holiday in the United States.
There is a parallel between Halloween and Mardi Gras, in that wanton abandon before the piety became much more popular. Lent is supposed to be a time of self-deprivation. Immediately before Lent is the last time in a long time that you're going to get to do stuff. Therefore, you're going to take advantage of this by doing as much as possible while you still can. People would have a wild party immediately before Lent. As time went on, this party became the main thing, and Lent itself became a minor thing. Eventually, people would do Fat Tuesday, and not even do Lent afterwards. Similarly, the purpose of thinking about darkness immediately before the goodness and light of All Saints Day, was to make the goodness seem more wonderful. However, if you want to be honest, the dark stuff is actually more interesting. For instance, the first book of "The Divine Comedy" by Dante, which is about Hell, is far more popular than the other two books. As time went on, people became more focused on the darkness immediately proceeding All Saints Day, than on All Saints Day itself. The day before All Saints Day became the main thing. Eventually, people would celebrate Hallow's Eve and not even celebrate All Hallows afterwards. Therefore, people would think about darkness and evil, and not continue on to think about goodness and light rising up and defeating evil. You end up with the ironic situation of a supposedly Christian holiday that involves nothing other than the demonic. You can understand the public fascination with evil, ghosts, demons, Satan, etc.
Much of mythology and religion throughout the world has involved appeasing supernatural forces, including the dead. In Ancient Greece, they would burn fat for the gods. In medieval Europe, they would leave table scraps for faeries. In many societies, they set a place at dinner for dead relatives. If they put food on the plate, they would probably eat it themselves, or they might leave the plate empty. The place setting might be for a specific person who died recently, or it might be for departed relatives in general. In many parts of the world, people leave food at graves. Presumably, the people who work at the cemetery eat it. We put flowers on graves, which is similar. In Japan, people burn money, or symbolic money in the form of paper strips, for dead relatives. All of this is to appease the dead. If you make the dead unhappy, they could give you bad luck, or make your life miserable. If there is someone in your daily life who is against you, you can deal with it. If there is someone in the supernatural realm who is against you, you can't deal with it. You don't want a supernatural person angry with you. You want to keep the dead happy. Therefore, people would give food and things to the dead. On Halloween, children dress up as ghosts and skeletons. They represent the dead. When you give them candy, it's like you're giving food to the dead. The phrase "trick-or-treat" means that if you don't give them a treat, they'll play a prank on you. This represents the idea that if you don't give food to the dead, they'll do something to you. Trick-or-treating is symbolic of the idea of you giving food to the dead, to try to appease them, because otherwise they'll do something to you.
Originally, children would only dress up as ghosts or the dead. Today, they aren't really threatening you, although in the past, it was very real extortion. In the village of Helston in Cornwall, England, once a year, they have the Fury Festival. Children would dress entirely in white and parade through the town, and then people would give them candy. The children represented spirits, and this was similar to Halloween. In Scandinavia, these trick-or-treat rituals are part of Christmas. Throughout Europe, there are dozens of holidays that Americans have never heard of, that incorporate trick-or-treat like rituals. During World War II, the British demolished the German city of Dresden during a holiday where children wore masks, and went door to door asking for candy. Halloween was associated with treat-or-treating in Britain, Ireland, and the United States. However, in the 19th Century, the British started Guy Fawkes Day, which involves children going door to door asking for money. You can only have so many holidays devoted to child door to door beggary. Once a year is cute. Once a month is less cute. Therefore, trick-or-treating went into a decline in Britain. Many Halloween traditions were shifted to Guy Fawkes Day so basically Guy Fawkes Day became their version of Halloween. Another holiday that is a version of Halloween is the Day of the Dead in Mexico on November 2. Today trick-or-treating on Halloween is primarily done in the United States and Canada. It's also done in Australia and New Zealand. In the 19th Century, vandalism was very common on Halloween, and included putting soap on windows, overturning outhouses, etc. By the 1920's, such vandalism had become so widespread, and involved such great destruction of property, that many groups including city councils, women's clubs, the boy scouts, etc. strongly encouraged treat-or-treating to provide children with an alternative to such behavior, and as a result, trick-or-treating became much more popular in the United States.
There is an Irish folktale about a man named Jack, as always. Jack met up with the Devil. Jack asked the Devil to climb a nearby apple tree and bring him down an apple. The Devil, for some reason, agreed. When the Devil was up in the tree, Jack carved a cross on the trunk. Since the Devil couldn't go near a cross, he couldn't climb down. He was furious. Jack said that he would tear off that piece of bark if the Devil swore that his soul wouldn't go to Hell. The Devil swore and Jack let him go. When Jack died, they wouldn't let him into Heaven since he had made a pact with the Devil. Jack begged the Devil to let him into Hell. The Devil said that he wished he could but that he was bound by his oath. Thus poor Jack, locked out of both Heaven and Hell, had to wander the Earth aimlessly forever. The Devil took pity on him and tossed him a hot coal. Jack put the coal in a turnip to light his way in his wanderings. Supposedly, he roams the Earth still. He is called Jack of the Lantern, or Jack-o-Lantern. In Ireland, children would put hot coals in turnips to commemorate him. This practice evolved into carving faces on pumpkins. This practice was brought to the U. S. by Irish immigrants.
The story of Jack can be extended to ghosts. Ghosts are the souls of people who aren't good enough for Heaven but aren't bad enough for Hell. According to strict Christianity, they're supposed to be in Purgatory. Many people, however, would imagine them wandering around among us, since Earth is half way between Heaven and Hell. There's never been a person who really thought there was life after death. In Babylonian Mythology, people in the Underworld did nothing but sit around and eat dust. In Egyptian Mythology, according to one version, the royal family went to paradise, but everyone else was chained to the wall in a cave in the Underworld, and was in total darkness except when the sun barge passed through on its way to the eastern horizon. In Greek Mythology, people in the Underworld are semiconscious bird-like creatures. It's a dream-like state. In Christianity, people don't really do anything in Heaven or Hell. Even if you imagine yourself in paradise, nothing really happens. It's a dream-like state. In all of these examples, life after death, isn't really life. Think of all the versions of a supposed afterlife in all the religions and mythologies of the world. Nothing actually happens. It's a semiexistence. Ghosts are another example of this sort of semiexistence. Ghosts have existed in most cultures throughout the world. According to Christianity, death is simply the separation of the soul and the body. A corpse is a body without a soul. A ghost is a soul without a body. Another idea is that if someone dies prematurely, their soul must remain in this world until they would have died otherwise. For instance, in Ireland, banshees are the ghosts of women who died in childbirth. The moaning of banshees derives from the fact that women moan when they're giving birth. Most ghosts are the spirits of people who were murdered, wrongfully executed, or died in sudden tragic accidents.
The Christian church was always against magic done outside the church. Of course, when a priest supposedly turned wafers into actual pieces of Christ's corpse and if you eat them you get powers, that was magic. However, the church wasn't against it since it was within the church. They were against all magic done outside the church. However, the average person was not against all magic done outside the church. There was sort of a contradiction in medieval and Renaissance society because on one hand, they would falsely accuse women of witchcraft and burn them at the stake, but on the other hand, most people were very superstitious, and believed in good luck charms, and curses, and that various herbs that properties that were magic. They were against magic done for evil on the side of the Devil. They were not against magic done for good or against the Devil. The average person was against black magic but not against white magic. Not only that, but whenever they used magic, they considered it to be for good. If a woman wanted to strike down another woman with sickness because she had cavorted with her husband, she believed herself entirely justified and on the side of righteousness. Whenever a person used magic, or hired someone to use magic, they perceived themselves as justified, and thus the magic was white magic and acceptable, whether or not someone else would agree. Therefore, witchcraft was rampant in medieval and Renaissance Europe. The church was against all witchcraft, and the average person was strongly against what they perceived as black witchcraft, but the average person was not against witchcraft itself, meaning magic not sanctioned by the church, per say.
In medieval and Renaissance Europe, in every household, the housewife possessed a vast store of supposed knowledge of herblore and folk medicine. Most of it was fraudulent and erroneous. Occasionally, by trial and error, they might stumble upon an actual medicinal herb. Usually, they would give someone an herb, they would happen to recover independently, and it would be attributed to the herb. In any case, they possessed a vast amount of what they thought was knowledge of herblore. You could give a man an herb that causes a fever to go down. Similarly, you could give a man an herb that would stop him from cheating on his wife. So witchcraft was just an extension or exaggeration of folk medicine and herblore. We would say that it's different because we don't think of medicine as involving the supernatural. In our world, if someone thinks that an herb has medicinal value, they think it contains chemicals that interact with chemicals of the body and enable it to fight off disease. However, people in the past knew nothing of this and didn't think in that way. From their point of view, you give someone an herb and they recover. There is no explanation as to how it happened. Another way of saying that there was no explanation is to say that it was magic. In that it wasn't different than much in their lives. They thought of medicinal herbs as supernatural. Once you accept that you can give someone herbs, or put oil on their chest or whatever, that have an effect on them, it's a small jump to say that you could give someone herbs, or do some other thing, that would have a very profound effect on them. Therefore, witchcraft is simply folk medicine taken to hyperbole. European witchcraft originated as folk medicine. That's why it was performed primarily by women. Plants had a supernatural thing about them. That's why faeries were often associated with plants, and why plants figured prominently in the faerie realm, or folklore concerning faeries. If things go wrong, the easiest person to blame is someone who caused things to go wrong with black magic. Thus very large numbers of people were executed for witchcraft. There were whole villages in the German states that were completely depopulated by mass executions of supposed witches. Almost everyone executed were women.
Halloween is associated with the world of darkness, such as the dead. When someone dies, the soul and body are separated. When people think of the dead, they usually think of the body. They often think of animated or living corpses, such as zombies or walking talking skeletons. One of the most famous types of animated corpses is the vampire. When someone dies, the blood drains from the arteries to the veins. Therefore, when you cut the arteries, only air comes out. Also, when someone dies, the blood coagulates, and so they don't bleed when they're cut. Therefore, there was a belief that dead bodies do not contain blood. This was so deeply ingrained in people's minds, they thought the only difference between someone that was alive and someone that was dead, is that if someone is alive, they have blood, and if someone's dead, they do not. Blood was the stuff of life, life energy, and was synonymous with life. If you stab someone with a sword, the only reason they die is because the precious life fluid escapes. If someone has blood they're alive, and if they don't have blood they're dead. Therefore, if you were to put blood back into someone that was dead, they would come back to life. All you have to do is replace your blood when you lose it and you'd live forever. This is the premise of vampirism. You have to take the blood from someone else, and without their blood, they'll die. You can achieve the holy grail of immortality at the price of becoming a parasite on humanity.
Someone has to lose their blood, meaning die, before they need their blood replaced. Thus even though the vampire is walking around like they're alive, they're really dead. Much of the myth of vampires was encouraged by a belief that people could come back to life after they've died. People would find evidence of this by finding characteristics of life in corpses. When someone dies, the blood coagulates, but after a while, it becomes liquid again. Thus if you cut someone who's been dead for a long time, they'll bleed. When someone dies they get rigormortis, but after a while they become flexible again. Flexibility was a characteristic of life. People would find these characteristics of life in corpses and it would lend credence to the belief that people could come back to life after they've died. Also, very rarely, they would bury someone who's only in a coma, that they thought was dead, and when grave robbers dug them up shortly after the funeral, they would leap out alive. These incidents, although very rare, went a long way in convincing people that corpses could come back to life, and thus in vampires. Also, when people would waste away from diseases, people would think that they were somehow being fed upon by the dead, or that the dead were stealing their life force to keep themselves alive. Also, when people would see a bloated corpse, they would think it was evidence that the corpse had recently fed upon the living. Also, if gases build up inside a corpse, it can force blood out the mouth, and people seeing the blood on the mouth would think the corpse had been feeding on someone's blood. One of the things that went a long way in establishing vampires as part of our popular culture was the novel "Dracula", written by Bram Stoker, and published in June 1897. It was based on Vlad the Impaler who lived in the Carpathian mountains in Romania in the 15th Century. Vlad was a cruel tyrant who regularly tortured people to death, but of course torture was common at that time. He regularly impaled his victims. Occasionally, he ate dinner among a forest of impaled victims. Occasionally, he would dip bread in their blood which he would then eat. Bram was the first person to associate him with vampirism. Vlad the Impaler had the nickname "Dracula". "Dracul" is like the word "dragon" and means "devil". "A" is a diminutive suffix. Thus his nickname "Dracula" meant "son of the Devil". With the novel "Dracula", people began thinking of vampires, not as walking rotting corpses, but as normal looking people. Vampires became associated with the villains of gothic novels, which had never before involved the supernatural, or traditional romantic comedy, and thus viewed as suave debonair European men who would lure young girls into their castles with charm and charisma.
Combinations of humans and animals are common in mythology and folklore. Examples include the centaur, minotaur, satyr, sphinx, and mermaid. Another example is the werewolf. "Wer" means "man", so werewolf means "man-wolf". Wolves are traditionally viewed as the most savage beasts. In reality, wolves aren't that aggressive, but people were absolutely terrified of them. There were stories such as "Little Red Riding Hood". One of the reasons people thought that wolves were evil was because occasionally they would dig up and eat corpses at graveyards. To associate men with wolves is not merely to associate them with animals but the most animal of all animals. A werewolf was simply a wild man of the untamed carnal world, as opposed to the civilized world that we live in. There is the idea of a werewolf being able to go back and forth between an animal state and a civilized state. This is like a normally rational person suddenly losing control, being seized by animal rage, committing murder, and then returning to normal afterwards. There's the idea that you might see a normal person but they're really a werewolf. This shows that animal darkness, or the potential for evil, is actually in all of us. There might be a string of murders in a town, people would hear wolves howling outside the town, and they would attribute it to a werewolf. There was also the belief that werewolfism was a disease called lycanthropsy. "Lukos" and "anthropos" are Greek for wolf and man respectively. If you're bitten by a werewolf you could contract lycanthropsy, the same way you could contract rabies if you're bitten by a normal wolf. Someone might contract rabies from a wolf, and people would say that they actually contracted lycanthropsy from a werewolf. Diseases that disfigured the face and hands were called "lupus" because people thought it was actually lycanthropsy. If someone has lycanthropsy, you could cure them with belladonna, which was called wolvesbane. Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484 B.C. - 425 B.C.) wrote about the Neuri people, who transform into wolves once a year. In Ancient Rome, they had the story of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf, and the symbol of Rome was the she-wolf. In folklore, werewolves went back and forth from man to wolf. Only recently would people envision a creature that was half man and half wolf. A Victorian story about a man that goes back and forth between a human state and an animal state is "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein". In 1814, then Mary Godwin visited a castle on the Rhine called "The rock of the Franks" or "Frankenstein". It had been inhabited by an alchemist named Dipple, who dug up corpses, ground them up, and did all kinds of experiments on them to try to find an elixir of life. He would then sell the resulting fluid, saying it would cure disease, etc. In 1816, Mary Godwin, her future husband, and several other people visited the famous poet Lord Byron. They had a contest telling ghost stories, and Mary told an early version of her famous story. Byron's doctor wrote a story about vampires that was one of the sources of inspiration for Bram Stoker. Later Mary wrote the novel "Frankenstein", published in 1818. It doesn't involve the supernatural. It's science-fiction. She uses a scientific thing, electricity, to explain away something impossible. When something is done by magic, that means there is no explanation. With science-fiction, there is still no explanation but you dress it up by saying ,"With this thing that we can't explain with our science, but we will explain in the future, we can do such and such." In the story, the doctor sews pieces of corpses together and then with revolutionary scientific electricity, he makes it come to life. Around that time, people often spoke of "the spark of life" as being what separates living things from nonliving things. It had been demonstrated that dead frogs could be made to jump when electricity was applied to them. In this context, the premise of Mary's story would seem more plausible than it would today. Mary initially envisioned the monster similar to Adam in that he was incredibly handsome, and the first of his kind. In the final version of the book, he was hideously deformed. It's ironic that vampires went from being animated corpses to handsome men, while Frankenstein's monster went from being a handsome man to an animated corpse.