A holiday by any other name…

Seasonal tides finds me once again in a bittersweet frame of mind. I have not written a blog for some time now, as this time of year often seems to be quite busy and taxing both mentally and physically. The changes in seasons effect everyone’s frame of mind to some extent, but it seems to have a stronger influence in the moods of certain people. This is especially challenging within our household and I hope writing will bring a bit of catharsis.

As I said, I’ve been quite busy as of late. We’ve filled quite a large number of custom jewelry orders in a short time frame. It seems to come in bursts, though I would never complain about the ability to vend my art. My husband also found it therapeutic, to improve his moods, to enter a wire wrapping contest: creating a pumpkin made solely from wire. No beads were allowed. He chose to make a 5 inch high, 5 inch wide jack-o-lantern style table decoration. In honor of the time of year, he also chose to use nothing but recycled electrical wire. With entry time to spare, a giant icky spider was added to sit along side it. Inspired by a simple jewelry order, a pair of pumpkin earrings were added as well.

(Due to the fact that it is a contest, the pumpkin picture as described above will not be posted here until Tuesday night after midnight as this is the deadline for submissions. By all means check back if you would like to see it.)

Our jewelry orders came in person, rather than over the www, but this is okay too. The trouble is that they came and went so fast I had no time for pictures. I only hope I can reproduce similar pieces. The earrings in the above picture are but one of the orders that were made in 925 sterling silver. I also made a bat pendant, and a skeleton pendant. My husband created a wire wrap skull ring as well.

This catches my writing up on all the jewelry created lately and I feel the drive to address the season. Its origins of celebration and the basis behind some of the symbolism are for nothing more than the sake of education and trivia. This may offend some of the more closed minded, but I will not apologize for offering well researched history. “All Hallows’ Day” left too many holes that lacked explanation for my mind long ago. The following is not some sort of effort to “convert” anyone to Paganism, nor is it meant to promote any one religion over another. It is simply a chronological account. Quite honestly, I don’t care if you choose to believe in nothing, God, Buddha, whomever, or whatever. I don’t even care if you paint yourself purple and run around in nothing but a grass hula skirt waiting for some alien mothership to take you home. I believe one must follow what is in one’s own heart.

Halloween is the name most may know, though this name has had many evolutions. It did not exist as such before circa 1745 and was derived from Hallowe’en before it was westernized. The Scottish were the first to actually give birth, so to speak, to this Christian holiday as western society knows it today. This came about by celebrating All Hallows’ Eve. In Scot “Eve” is even and contracted to e’en and later simply to een. The celebration did not come about until circa 1556 to commemorate the eve before All Hallows’ Day or All Saints Day. All Saints Day was officially established by the Byzantine Emperor, Leo VI “the Wise”. His wife, Empress Theophano, had led a devout life and after her death in 893, the Emperor had a church built in her honor. He wished to dedicate it to her, but the Catholic hierarchy forbade it, so he simply dedicated it to All Saints. Though there are whispers of All Saints Day’s existence as early as the year 609, this is a point of contention among theologists, as written entries by Pope Boniface IV appear to be entered after the fact, when he consecrated the Pantheon at Rome. This was on May 13, but later in a November synod in 731, Pope Gregory III arbitrarily changed the date of the feast to November 1 to coincide with the Pagan holiday feast of Samhain (pronounced Sow’ – wen).

Now, to travel further back in time answers many more questions than the Christians bastardization of yet another holiday that has been celebrated for thousands of years before. Since it’s manufacture, Christianity’s main objective was always to take over ALL of the Pagan’s seasonal celebrations in an effort to convert them. While the Pagans did, and still do, merely celebrate the changing of the seasons, the earth’s normal and natural cycle of life and death, the Christians have long since perverted these ideals and coerced its followers to believe it was some sort of devil worship. Nothing could be further from true, as the persona of a “devil” does not even exist for Pagans. There is only right and wrong!

The Pagan celebration of Samhain existed long before the written word, so even a vague idea of its beginnings are impossible. It also did not have a specific date on the calendar, it simply occurred at the time of the full moon nearest the end of what we now know as October. Not only is this time to celebrate the end of the harvest season, but is believed to have much stronger energies that link and break down the barriers between the world of the living and the spirit world. Hence, the perfect time of year to honor and commune with loved ones that have passed. Symbolism that remains to this day, that Christianity simply comes nowhere close to explaining, is easily answered by the Pagan celebration.

Spiders and their Webs: Symbolizes nothing more than the weaving of life and the cyclical ways of nature.

“Witches”, Cauldrons and Brooms:
These upstanding women of their communities were not always known as “witches” until Christianity came along. They believe(d) in the majical energies of the earth and the life that sprang forth from it, the cosmos, and within oneself. They are/were holistic healers with their many potions, poultices, tinctures, and distilled essences from all variety of herbs and plants. These concoctions most often stink, and are more often cooked outside in giant metal pots we now call cauldrons. In a frugal use of implements, the cauldrons were also often stirred by the handles of brooms. Since this was a “cooking” of sorts, and back then it was believed to be a woman’s jobs to cook and clean, the broom became synonymous. It was also believed that bad spirits could be whisked from the home with one’s trusty broom. This also served to introduce an everyday piece to every house…the threshold –  to thresh is to remove the seeds from harvested crops. Once swept from the house, the threshold was meant to keep the mess from returning indoors. This was believed to keep bad spirits from re-entering the home as well. This also promoted the idea of storing the broom above the entry door to the house for the same reason.

The Feast, Pointy Hats, Fire and Bats:
The pointy hats were not hats at all, but were simply the points on the hoods to the womens’ cold weather cloaks or robes. The season was turning cooler, after all. Samhain was an all day event for all in the community. The end of the harvest was signified by the men of the community burning the stalks that were left in the fields, while the women cooked for the evening’s celebratory feast. The fires helped to promote fertile ground for the next growing season. It was also believed to ward off bad spirits that could negatively influence the next year’s crops. When the cooking had been completed, the women would don their cloaks or robes to guard against the evening chill and join the men in the fields and joyously dance around the dwindling fires. They took their brooms with them in the belief it could help further ward off bad spirits from the impending growing season next spring. The fire’s light in the evening hours would draw insects, and bats would swoop to feed on the insects. Foods, joyous family time, and entertainment are believed to be not only for the living this night, but for loved ones who have passed as well.

Death, Dying, and the “Undead”:
The end of life’s cycle. The end of the growing season meant the earth was simply going to sleep, to awaken again in the spring to show new life. The idea of “undead” is that the earth does not truly die for the winter, but merely sleeps to arise anew in the spring. As the idea evolved through time, it was personified in the form of mummies by the Egyptians, who believed that one could be preserved and rise again spiritually to walk in the afterlife and take one’s possessions with them.

The Cats:
Throughout history, cats have been perceived as having some mystical connection. So-called “witches,” with their close connections to and love for nature, fed stray cats, which stayed around those particular homes for obvious reasons (nothing real mystical about a free meal to a cat). They also served a vital function to farming communities by keeping vermin population controlled. Here too, the Egyptians had a hand in the evolution of this ideal of mysticism. Cats, real (live and mummified) and in statue form, were placed in tombs, as it was believed that cats were the guardians to the underworld. The belief was that they kept the dead on their path and barred their return to the world of the living.

Last but certainly not least is the Jack-O-Lantern:
This is not as ancient as the rest of the symbolism connected with the holiday. It originates as an old Irish myth with links to the Christian belief system. The name is derived from the character in the myth, nicknamed “Stingy Jack”. It seems Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. Not wanting to pay, Jack convinced the Devil to change himself into a coin, with which he would use to pay for their drinks. When the Devil obliged, Jack pocketed the coin instead and kept it next to a silver cross to prevent the Devil from changing back. Eventually, Jack set the Devil free under the conditions that he would not bother Jack for one year and that if he were to die, the Devil would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil. This time, he convinced the Devil to climb a tree to retrieve a piece of fruit. While the Devil was up in the tree Jack carved a cross into the bark, preventing the Devil from descending the tree. The part about how the Devil is supposedly released from this predicament is not covered in the myth. It’s merely stated that Jack only agrees to release the Devil under the agreement that the Devil will not bother him for ten years this time. Shortly after, Jack dies and God denies such an unsavory character into heaven. In keeping with his promise not to claim his soul, and upset at Jack’s trickery, the Devil denies his entry into hell. The Devil simply sends Jack on his way with nothing more than a lump of burning coal to light his way. Jack placed the burning coal into a carved out turnip and has roamed the earth ever since. The Irish began to refer to this shadowy ghostly figure as Jack of the Lantern, and the term was shortened to Jack-O-Lantern. Eventually, this evolved into the Irish and Scots carving scary faces into their own Jack’s Lanterns from turnips and potatoes and placed them in windows or near doors to ward off Jack and any other wandering spirits. In England, large beets are used. It wasn’t until these people immigrated to America, brought their tradition, and discovered that the native gourd (the pumpkin) was better suited for this purpose, and provided ample room for a lit candle to be placed within.

So in the end, I hope that some might see that this upcoming holiday did not originate as some macabre or morbid festival. I urge all of you to celebrate and enjoy this time of year in it’s original spirit of fellowship of the holiday with living friends and family, as well as taking some time to remember those loved ones who have passed.


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