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A Brief History of Halloween!

Ah, Halloween! The Spooky Costume Holiday, the Candy Christmas, the Freeloaders Favorite Celebration! But just what is it actually a celebration of? And how did this peculiar custom originate? Is it, as some claim, a kind of demon worship? Or is it just a harmless vestige of some ancient pagan ritual? Despite the fears of a small minority of religious extremists and deeply superstitious small town characters in Stephen King novels, scientists, folklorists and historians all agree; Halloween is indeed Demon Worship. The Fun Kind!

The word itself, "Halloween," like many terrifying words and practices, has its origins in the Catholic Church. It comes from a contracted corruption of "All Hallows Eve". November 1, "All Hollows Day" (or "All Saints Day"), is a Catholic day of observance in honor of saints, all of whom died in ways that make hideous car accidents look like a Sunday school Picnic. Unless there was a hideous car accident at or on the way to your Sunday school picnic, in which case, this paragraph has almost certainly touched off a post-traumatic stress flashback. Sorry.

In the 5th century BC, in Celtic Ireland, summer officially ended on October 31. The holiday was called Samhain (sow-en), a Celtic word meaning "New Year" or "Last Day Before the Season in Which, Statistically Speaking, You'll Probably Die of Starvation if you Don't Freeze to Death First."

We are winners!
Reenactments are a very sad thing.

One story says that on Samhain (sam-Raimi), the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. The Celts believed all laws of space and time were suspended during this period, allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living, so it was a shoe-in for a celebration.

Some stubborn or congenitally moronic 5th Century Celts clung to the idea that their miserable, diseased, frigid, filthy, short lives were preferable to possession. So on the night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes, to make them cold and undesirable. (I'm referring of course to the homes themselves, and not the Celts. 5th century Celts were already cold and undesirable, despite the fanciful depictions of fire haired, feisty maidens, strapping warriors and mysterious Druids often found in your finer Dungeons and Dragons related publications.) They would then dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily paraded around the neighborhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess, or so they claimed. Today, many archeologists believe there is strong evidence suggesting that this professed belief in spirit possession during Samhain (Skowhegan) was merely an excuse to get rip roaring drunk and vandalize the property of irritating neighbors.

Probably a better explanation of why the Celts extinguished their fires was not to discourage spirit possession, but so that all the Celtic tribes could relight their fires from a common source, the Druidic fire that was kept burning in the Middle of Ireland, at Usinach (Samhain). Unfortunately, the science of orienteering was poorly developed at best in the 5'th Century, and so there was a great deal of argument amongst Druid Priests as to where the exact middle of Ireland was. Many fire-seeking Celts succumbed to hypothermia and died still searching for the Druidic fire, thus increasing the population of disembodied spirits that would plague the souls of the living on the next Samhain (ham-salad).

Anybody got marshmallows?
These lucky Celts found the centrally located
"druid fire" in what is now modern day Portugal.

Some accounts tell of how the Celts would burn someone at the stake who was thought to have already been possessed, as sort of a lesson to the spirits. Other accounts of Celtic history debunk these stories as myth. Still other accounts say that indeed people were burned at the stake, but more to relieve the constant boredom of 5th century Celthood, and that the ancient precursors of S'mores were made around the pyre.

The Romans, who new a good boredom-relieving human sacrifice when they saw one, adopted the Celtic practices as their own, minus the part about wandering around Ireland, freezing cold, looking for the Druid Fire. Try wearing a steel chest plate in Ireland at the end of October and see if you walk even three feet from a fire, let alone put one out and go traipsing off looking for some central fire. Even so, in the first century AD, Samhain (Shania-twain) was assimilated into celebrations of some of the other Roman traditions that took place in October, such as their day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, and Pagan Torchin' Tuesdays.

I like soap :(
Pomona. Roman Goddess of lookin' at a soap dish.

The symbol of Pomona is the apple, which might explain the origin of our modern tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween. Also, when kids bob for apples no one is burned to death in the process, something modern day parents try to avoid.

The thrust of the practices also changed over time to become more ritualized. As belief in spirit possession waned, the practice of dressing up like hobgoblins, ghosts, and witches took on a more ceremonial role, and roasting someone alive was replaced by the more ritualistic practice of maiming with hot pokers.

Various versions of Halloween were practiced throughout Europe and Russia for the next several years, but never really took off, perhaps owing to the scarcity of affordable spooky costumes, but more likely due to the population-reducing mass killings often associated the holiday. Probably because the only "treats" on offer were liquor and wheat spoiled by hallucinogenic molds and fungi.

The custom of Halloween was brought to America in the 1840's by Irish immigrants fleeing their country's potato famine. At that time, the favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses, unhinging fence gates and terrifying children by dressing up as huge, starving potatoes hungry for child flesh.

The custom of trick-or-treating for candy is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes," made out of square pieces of bread with currants and the minced brains (believed to be the seat of the "soul") of debtors, convicted criminals and Huguenots.

If you like this, you're probably my grandma.
This ceramic is titled "Begging for Soul Cakes."
Another excellent title might be "Worthless Crappy-ass
Hummel Knock Off from Grandma's Estate Sale."

The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the brain donors. At the time, it was believed that torment of hell for debrained undesirables (particularly Huguenots) could be increased through prayer. In 1892, Pope Cletus the Fifth would declare debraining a heresy and replace "soul cakes" with the more acceptable but less fun "'Bag of Soul and Broken Glass You May Strike Huguenots With at Will."

The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, a notorious drunkard, trickster, and part-time Huguenot, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree's trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because he was a Huguenot, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer. Then, while Jack was entranced by the glowing Turnip, Satan bashed his head in, which is where the custom of smashing Jack-O-Lanterns comes from.

The Irish used turnips as their "Jack's lanterns" originally. But when the immigrants came to America, they were ridiculed by other immigrants for their "tiny, red pumpkins". Soon the Irish caught on that if they were ever to get by in the new world, they would have to make their Jack-o-lanterns out of pumpkins. And stop drinking so much. And brawl less. And dye their hair and bleach their skin of the hideous freckles rightly feared as "carrier's smallpox".

Halloween really took off in America in the late thirties when the Garment industry discovered that synthetic Polymers could be easily molded into cheap costumes and masks. Historians of Halloween note that the garment industry was, at this time, "Jew run".

Way to dress up as an advertisement for a movie!
A great costume, if you are dressing up as Planet of the Apes.
If however, you want to be a character from the Planet of the Apes
movie franchise, this costume is humiliating.

The Golden Age of Halloween took place in the early 1970's when affordable masks and plastic tunics bearing the name of popular icons could be purchased at the now extinct "Five and Dime" (fie-ven-dime). Sadly, this period ended in 1976 with the invention of the "fun size" candy bar.

Today, Halloween is once more endangered on multiple fronts. Fundamentalist Christian groups seek to portray Halloween as a recruiting tool for the Satanist Lobby. In fact, apart from royalties paid on Devil costumes and accessories (plastic pitchforks, plastic horns, army surplus flamethrowers) Satanists see little commercial income.

Suburban soccer moms seek to drain the fun out of Halloween by suggesting "costume parties", "school parades without weapons or gore" and worst of all, "daylight trick-or-treating." Some social theorists believe that once this demographic has drained a significant number of "fun units" they will use it to power their hyper-drives and death rays directly prior to the enslavement of the human race.

Perhaps most insidiously, modern day Pagans, or "Wiccans" (wih-cahns) insist Halloween is still Samhain (Soduku) and that all non-religious Halloween festivities constitute religious harassment. While this approach offers certain scholarly and legal interest, it completely ignores that modern Wiccans have as much as much actual historical connection with 5th century Celts ( Pro-to-hue-gen-awts) as I do with the Negro Baseball League.

Actual Wiccans can be pretty spooky.
NOTE: Near total absence of women makes for flappy sausage fest.

So we see that despite the adoption of Halloween as the favorite "holiday," of certain fringe groups and despite it's vilification by others, the day itself did not grow out of evil practices. Unless you call burning people to death "evil". It grew out of the rituals of Celts celebrating a new year, the Medieval prayer rituals of Europeans, and the thriving synthetic garment trade pioneered by the Jews. Today, many churches have Halloween parties or pumpkin carving events for the kids, which may well be listed in the community activities section of your local paper. Why not check them out and if you like, burn them down. After all, any so called "church" celebrating Halloween is probably Huguenot, and if not, have no one but themselves to blame for a case of mistaken arson. I'm sorry, identity.

-Max Burbank


You found Scary-Ass Trading Card #5!
*copy this URL down, you'll need it once you've found all 12 cards!*

Former circus sideshow contortionist turned actor, Tod Browning's directing career began in tragedy. A mysterious late night collision with a freight train left Browning confined to a hospital bed and his best friend dead. To while away the hours of tedious recuperation, he wrote scripts, which his friend and mentor D.W. Griffith encouraged him to direct. While perhaps best known for directing "Dracula" he also helmed the cult classic "Freaks" and the Silent Classic "The Unholy Three". Long time collaborator Lon Cheney stars as Dr. Echo, the evil ventriloquist, who launches a crime wave with henchmen circus strongman Hercules, and Twedledee, the twenty-inch man.

Find all 12 "Scary-Ass Trading Cards" this October (2006) and you'll not only get a special 13th card emailed to you, but you'll automatically be entered to win a Halloween prize pack from I-Mockery! Cards will be placed in random new I-Mockery articles during the month of October. Simply copy the URLs of each card down into a text file whenever you find them.

Once you have collected the URLs of all 12 cards, simply email them to webmaster@i-mockery.com with the subject line "I-Mockery's Scary-Assed Trading Cards!" and you will have the special 13th card emailed to you and you'll be entered to win a Halloween prize pack which may include masks, DVDs and more! You must send in your emails by November 5th, 2006 to qualify!

Do NOT email the actual card graphics to us. We only want you to email us the URLs of the 12 cards which you can find directly underneath them.

If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out:

My Daughter's Halloween-Themed Birthday Party!