Halloween - Calendar of Revelry and Sacred Days

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Calendar of Revelry and Sacred Days

See also Festivals of the Dead and Samhain.

Also known as All Hallows, All Hallowmas, All Saints’ Day, Hallowtide, and November Eve.

No night is more identified with witchcraft, magic, spirits, and ghosts. This is the night when the veil between realms is so thin as to be nonexistent. It is thus the perfect night for divination, magical ritual and spells, petitions to spirits and communication with the dead. The Wild Hunt rides on Halloween and the fairy mounds open up. This is one of the few nights when the trooping of the fairy folk is visible and changelings can be rescued. (See DICTIONARY: Wild Hunt.)

Hallow” derives from an Old English word for “holy.” Until the early sixteenth century, the word was usually applied only to saints and so it is essentially an archaic word for “saint.” All Hallows Eve is the vigil preceding All Saints’ Day, the Roman Catholic festival corresponding to ancient feasts of the dead. “Hallow” however has since gained the meaning of “holy” or ”sacred,” as in “hallowed ground,” so Halloween may also be understood as “Sacred” or “Holy Night”—which for witches and those who love them, it is. (Those who fear them, on the other hand, would say that this is a night for staying inside because witches, demons, ghosts, and fairies are at the height of their powers!)

The Feast of All Hallows is thus synonymous with the Feast of All Saints. All Hallows’ Even became Hallowe’en, which eventually became Halloween when the apostrophe was lost sometime during the mid-twentieth century.

In some areas (particularly those where witches are most active on May Eve or Midsummer’s) the Feast of All Saints is a serious, solemn, devout festival completely devoted to Christian prayer. In other areas, historically in Ireland and the British Isles, Halloween retained its anarchic associations with witchcraft festivities and as such is a holiday devoted to fun, pranks, magic, and divination, to varying degrees, depending upon individual orientation. Maybe some witches still fly off on their broomsticks to deserted mountain peaks. Others attend Halloween parties, witches’ balls, and dumb suppers. It is a sacred night for witches, the perfect moment for spells, rituals, and devotions to the spirits. For others, it’s the night to dress up as witches and go out and revel in the spirit of fun and freedom that witches allegedly always enjoy.

Halloween is a time for making wishes and for rituals to obtain good fortune.

This entire ritual, from the moment you leave your home until the handkerchief filled with graveyard dust is safely hidden, must be done in complete silence. Not a peep or your wishes allegedly won’t come true!

1. Purchase a new cotton handkerchief before Halloween begins. Don’t use it; keep it clean and reserve it for the following ritual.

2. As early as possible on November 1st, as early as one minute past midnight, leave home, taking the handkerchief, and go to a cemetery, entering by the main gate.

3. Walk along the path to the wall opposite the main gate. At some point on this walk, pick up a little dirt, put it in a corner of the handkerchief and make a wish while knotting that corner shut.

4. Retrace your steps exactly (or even walk backwards!) out the main gate.

5. Go to a second cemetery and repeat steps 2, 3, and 4, knotting the pinch of dirt up in a different corner of the hanky.

6. Go to a third cemetery and again repeat steps 2, 3, and 4. At this point you will have gathered three pinches of dirt and formed three knots in the handkerchief.

7. Go home and hide your handkerchief on a high shelf or within the rafters or somewhere where it won’t be disturbed. Your wishes will allegedly come true.

Halloween is a complex festival with many roots. In its present form it is an amalgamation of the Celtic festival Samhain with the Roman celebration of Pomona, the spirit of crops, fruit, nuts, and seeds, and with assorted other Pagan festivals of the dead, including those devoted to the Corn Mother, as well as of magic power and women’s “witch power.” It is no accident that Halloween (and many festivals of the dead) fall within the zodiac sign of Scorpio, which has dominion over reproduction, the mysteries of sex, and the portals of birth and death.

Pomona, the Apple Queen, was the Roman deity of fresh fruit and fruit trees, especially apples. Her name derives from the Latin pomum, similar to the French word pomme or “apple.” Pomona was a wood-nymph whose attribute is a pruning knife. (The Romans were responsible for domesticating wild apples, transforming the sour fruit into the juicy, delicious one of today.) The beautiful Pomona was sought after by many, including the goat-god Pan, but rejected them all, preferring to remain independent. She was finally wooed and won by Vertumnus, the male deity of the shifting seasons, who became her consort. Vertumnus represents the year in its guise as shape-shifter. Pomona initially rejected him too, until he gained her trust by approaching her in the form of an old woman—a classic bit of ancient Halloween masquerading.

Halloween also falls within the period when the dead are understood to return to their old haunts. Traditionally at Halloween, children costumed as spirits of the dead or ghosts went begging from door to door, where they were given the seeds of life in the form of nuts and fruits, especially apples and hazelnuts.

Recently Halloween has become characterized by the grotesque and gross in the same manner that once suspenseful “horror” films have been replaced by gore. In Victorian days, Halloween was a romantic holiday to rival St Valentine’s Day. (Both days may derive from similar roots; see Lupercalia, page 209.) Halloween cards were given to one’s beloved in the way that one may now receive a Valentine’s card. (Cards were frequently decorated with images of witches, more often beautiful and seductive than grotesque.) It is also the perfect night to engage in romantic divination and love magic.

Halloween is traditionally a time for games and fortune-telling. Many techniques are reserved for this night alone:

A Simple Halloween Divination: Go to a crossroads on Halloween and make an invocation to the deity, angel or ancestor of your choice. Listen to the wind or any words you hear at midnight (e.g., passing car radio or human voices) to hear your oracle for the next year.