A brief history of Halloween.
'Fires dotted the hillside. Dancers in masks adorned with blood and ash, sketched a living wall between burning men and the dead. On Samhain, empty eyes watched from silent shadows... craving a break in that bright mortal line.' -- 'The Innisfail Cycle', by L.M. Riviere.
What's the first thing that pops into your head when you think of Halloween? Candy? Parties featuring skimpy clothing and copious libations? Neighborhood kids dressed as Thor or Wonder Woman, cruising the block with pillowcases and manic grins? Maybe you see houses draped with black and orange streamers, peppered with ghoulish lawn decorations and grinning jack o'lanterns. Perhaps, instead, you're the type to focus more on the chill in the air, the flash of red and yellow foliage.
If you stop to think about Halloween seriously, you'll realize all of this seems like a hot mess of death worship, monster fantasy, naughty treats and thrills, and yes... sex. How does any of that remotely fit together?
Well, pull up a chair.
To begin, one must understand where this crazy 'holiday' came from.
Ireland during the Dark Ages, was just that... dark.
Picture a world cloaked in clouds most of every day, battered by inexplicable summer frosts and freezing autumn rains. The land was often stony and hard, unyielding for crops in most places and inundated by rich, menacing forests from shore to shore. In this place, the only lights shone from a frequently absent sun, or the blaze of a torch or campfire.
Shadows stretch tall in such a world; the darkness, deep.
Ireland and the British Isles, after the last Ice Age. The Ireland of 2000-1000B.C. lacked much of prehistoric Doggerland, but featured much narrower seas and inlets than our modern waterways. The English Channel, for example, would not grow to its present size and depth until the last warming period of the Celtic age, around 750 B.C.- 200 A.D. By the time of the Vikings, from 900-1200 A.D., Doggerland, with its hidden lakes, rivers, and grasslands, had been entirely forgotten.
Thousands of years ago, Northern Europe was in the grip of a receding ice age. At the time, the British Isles and Ireland were largely one landmass, divided only by narrow channels and inlets. Indeed, much of Scotland and Ireland were once connected by a swath of plains and swamps, while the bulk of the English Channel held large tracts of hearty grassland.
What was also true, was the cold. Winters were long and brutal and summers were short, mild, and often unproductive. To live during such a time would be a challenge for our modern societies, regardless of our conveniences and comforts. For our ancestors, it must have been harrowing.
The ancient Irish divided the year into seemingly equal parts: the light half, and the dark half. Though, at the time, is important to note that the light 'half' of the year truly lasted a mere three months from thaw to frost, allowing the dark half free reign for nearly nine. Can you imagine? You and your family would have just three months out of each year to sow and harvest the crops you needed to survive, three months to build shelter or improve your land, and just three months to ensure everyone was set for nine months of blistering cold and deprivation. Now, also imagine, you did most of this in the dark.
It should come as no surprise that the average lifespan during this era was about 38 years of age.
If you spent a brief, brutal life shivering and starving alongside a creepy forest, you might also develop an inordinate fascination with death. So much so, that it could become an omnipresent god to be flattered and appeased.
With regard to this subject, the Irish have always been fine storytellers. Thanks to a meticulous oral history passed down through countless generations, some of their ancient myths and fables have survived. According to the tales, Irish gods were cantankerous, greedy, and fierce... and death ruled the land with an iron fist.
'"I'm not ready," Gael Said.
Malan patted a bound wrist. "You were born for this."
Gael's kinfolk gathered around his bier-- torchlight leaping from zealotous eyes. His heart bled. "To burn for the ungrateful?"
"Born to die a hero, rather than starve in the mud, my son," Malan replied.'-- 'The Innisfail Cycle', L.M. Riviere