Friday, October 31, 2014

All Saint's Day, All Hallows, Samhein, Dia de los Muertos


The origins of Halloween, may have begun with Roman festivals of harvest, but is typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)",which is derived from the Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end."

The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the "lighter half" of the year, and beginning of the "darker half", and is sometimes regarded as the Celtic New Year. It is believed that the border between this world and the otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family's ancestors were honored and invited home whilst harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks. Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm.

All Saints Day, or All Hallows or Hallowmas, is a Christian feast day celebrated on November 1, or the first Sunday after Pentecost. It a day meant to honor all of the saints, both known and unknown. Because Halloween preceded this feast day, that day actually took it's name from this feast day and thus became "The Eve of All Hallows', and eventually 'Hallowe'en'.

In the Christian West, All Saints Day honors those who have attained beatific vision in heaven, while November 2, All Soul's Day, commemorates the departed faithful who have not been so purified and entered heaven. In the tradition of using holy names taken from the Greek, early names such as All Hallowmas referred to hallowed or saintly, and mas, to the early Christian mass.


The Day of the Dead (Día de los Difuntos or Día de los Muertos) is a holiday celebrated mainly in Mexico and the Mexican immigrant community living in the United States. The holiday is based on the complicated blended cultures of their ancestors, the Aztec and Maya, and the Spanish invaders, layered with Catholicism.

For more than 500 years, the goddess Mictecacihuatl (Lady of the Dead) presided over Aztec harvest rituals using fires and incense, costumes of animal skins, images of their dead and offerings of ceramics, personal goods, flowers and foods, drink and flowers.

The Aztec, Mayan and other indigenous traditions have enriched the Mexican's attitude about death. From these ancestors has come the knowledge that souls continue to exist after death, resting placidly in Mictlan, the land of the dead, not for judgment or resurrection; but for the day each year when they could return home to visit their loved ones.

Los Dias de Los Muertos is a time for remembering friends, family and ancestors. In the Mexican tradition, people die three deaths. The first death is when our bodies cease to function; when our hearts no longer beat of their own accord, when our gaze no longer has depth or weight, when the space we occupy slowly loses its meaning. The second death comes when the body is lowered into the ground, returned to mother earth, out of sight. The third death, the most definitive death, is "when there is no one left alive to remember us."

The act of preparing an altar by placing photographs, flowers, candles, favorite foods and drink of the loved one provides a special time to remember, and to transform grief into acceptance. The living invite the spirits of the family to return home for a few hours of laughter, tears and memories.

Once the night has passed, and the spirits have returned to their world, the ones remaining know that for another year they have triumphed in the struggle of life and that the only way to celebrate death is to live with courage.


Beware of the following superstitions of olde!

• Many people used to consider that owls would dive down to eat the souls of the dying on Halloween. They believed that if you pulled your own pockets out, and left them hanging, the dying would be safe. (Good to know, especially the next time you get caught with your pockets hanging out from the dryer!)

• To ward off evil spirits on Halloween, bury all the animal bones in your front yard, or even put a picture of an animal very close to your doorway. (I'll assume they mean collected wishbones and leftovers from Thanksgiving for the burials, and not those of anyone else, for the photos.)

• People used to believe you could walk around your house three times backwards before sunset on Halloween, and that would take care of all evil. (Next time you can't find the kids for dinner, remember you're keeping your family safe at the same time.)

• It has been said if a bat flies into your house on Halloween, it is a sign that ghosts or spirits are very nearer, and maybe they are in your home and let the bat in. (Living in the country, I've had bats in my house on several occasions. My friends claim they live in my own 'belfry', as well.)

• People used to believe that if bats are out early on Halloween, and they fly around playfully, then good weather is to come. (The bats in my belfry are beyond playful. I've been known to be borderline manic.)

• If a bat flies around your house three times on Halloween, death is very soon to come. (Doesn't this negate the good luck of the above?)

• It could be the spirit of a dead loved one watching you, if you watch a spider on Halloween. (And if you're watching, do so respectfully, and don't squish them!)

• Going in for what was once called a 'dumb' supper, meaning that nobody will talk while having supper, encourages the spirits to come to the table. (Well, not only is that term antiquated and not p.c., most families today with teenagers suffer from this predicament, so it's no wonder that most teenagers appear possessed.)

• It is believed that if an unmarried girl keeps a rosemary herb and a silver sixpence under her pillow on Halloween night, it is quite likely that on that very night, she would dream of her future husband. (If you have young daughter's, check their pillows tonight and remove those sixpence.)

• It is said that if you hear someone's footsteps behind you on the Halloween night, you should not turn back because it may be a dead following you. And if you commit the mistake of looking back, it is likely that you might join the dead very soon. (You just can't win on this one. I'm staying home and wearing ear plugs.)

• People believe that if on the Halloween night, a girl carrying a lamp in her hand goes to a spring of water, she will see the reflection of her life partner in water. (This sounds dangerous to me, especially if you believe in the superstition just above, and the one following you is already dead. Sure wouldn't want him for my life partner.)

• People have a superstition that if an unmarried girl carries a broken egg in a glass and takes it to a spring of water, she will be able to catch the glimpse of not just her future husband, by mixing some spring water in the glass, but also she can see the reflection of her future kids.

(OK, this is just too much. Now we are being followed by the dead, stuck with them for life and sharing common ghouls.)

• There is the old saying that "black cats are bad luck". It was once believed that black cats were the devil, or consumed by evil spirits. (I 've had several black cats, I loved them dearly, they slept with me every night. Time for an exorcism. Now, do I exorcise all black cats or just me?)

• People used to believe that Satan was a nut-gatherer. Nuts were also used as magic charms on the day of Halloween festival. (At this point, I'm feeling nutty. I think the exorcism has to be on me.)

• If you put your clothes on inside out as well as outside walk backwards on Halloween night. At midnight you will see a witch in the sky. People used to believe witches were the devil, or that they were consumed by evil. (I've been known to do both, on a fairly consistent basis. No wonder I run into so many witchy people and was gifted with a sign that says "If the broom fits, ride it"! It fit and I do.

• There is also an old saying "if the flame on your candle goes out on Halloween celebration; it gives you the meaning that you are with a ghost". (Stocking up on matches, lighters, and battery powered lanterns)

• If you ring a bell on Halloween it will frighten evil spirits away. (Ding!)

shown at top:
My newest little trio of holiday flags, given as an October gift.  These simple burlap and felt banners can be seen as prayer flags for those in their colorful costumes and festive spirit and not those darker aspects of this season that so many shy away from.



Michele Bilyeu blogs With Heart and Hands as she shares a quilting journey through her life in Salem, Oregon and Douglas, Alaska. Sewing, quilting, and wildcrafting, with small format art quilts, prayer flags, and comfort quilts for a variety of charitable programs. And best of all, sharing thousands of links to Free Quilt and Quilt Block Patterns and encouraging others to join her and make and donate quilts to charitable causes.   Help us change the world, one little quilt, art quilt, and prayer flag at a time!