|'Arawn' - Ruler of Annwn |
(the Underworld), illustration
by Ioan Einion, © Alys Einion, Y Lolfa
All Hallows' Eve has been celebrated across the Christian World since the formation of a structured church. Calan Gaeaf (Kal-ahn GEYE-ahv), as it is known in Wales celebrating the start of winter, has been a festival since earliest pagan Celtic times. In Ireland, the festival is known as Samhain (SOW-en), celebrating the decay of life and is derived from an ancient cult of the dead.
Hallowe’en as we know it today, did not exist in America, or for that matter anywhere in the world, until the great influx of Irish immigrants in the 19th Century. This day of ghouls and goblins would not exist now if not for Irish children extorting food and money from their neighbors at the behest of their parents, with threats of tricks if the better-off neighbors refused to submit to giving treats.
Although the Irish were Roman Catholic, the religious holiday melded with the pagan to facilitate the youthful blackmailers’ chicanery.
During my childhood, Hallowe’en was a children’s event, anticipated throughout the early Fall with intricate plans for costumes. Gypsy or witch, princess or fairy were the choices we girls preferred. Boys chose Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula or headless ghosts.
From the moment the sun dropped below Twin Peaks, we were out in packs of threes, fives or tens running from one house to the next, ringing every doorbell. I lived in the Haight-Ashbury and our territory for our night of extortion was as far as we could go without getting lost.
|Ceridwen, the Witch,|
illustration by Ioan Einion,
© Alys Einion, Y Lolfa
If we breached the entry of an apartment complex, we had access to every resident. Once in a while, there was a party going on at which we caught glimpses of Hallowe’en Future: adults behaving like … us! The only difference was that the adults were not subject to extreme sugar highs – theirs was a high of a different kind.
The total world domination of Hallowe’en as experienced in the USA was not achieved until the appearance of the film, E. T. Phone Home, in which the opening scene was the epitome of my childhood escapades. Even then, fully three decades passed before “Trick or Treat” on October 31st became the norm in the six countries of Britain, five of which are Celtic.
We cannot go back to the innocent times of our childhood. In this city, Hallowe’en is not an event in which children can participate with any sense of the safety, excitement and freedom that I and my fellow witches and monsters enjoyed. Adults have reclaimed the ancient cult of the dead and any aspect of the religious meaning is subsumed by Bacchanalian excesses.