‘I was born on the night of Samhain, when the barrier between the worlds is whisper-thin and when magic, old magic, sings its heady and sweet song to anyone who cares to hear it.’ ― Carolyn MacCullough, Once a Witch.
Halloween, a much lauded celebration, which has become massively commercialised over the years, particularly in North America, although there is a certain irony here as Halloween’s roots are steeped in Celtic and Gaelic culture. So what are its origins? What makes it real and keeps it so alive and vibrant now? I for one always insist on knowing why I am celebrating any international festival; it gives context and background to ‘special days’ and at times otherwise unaccountable behavior. In this case, why are we dressing up in all manner of weird and wonderful costumes, allowing our children to consume their weight in sweets whilst encouraging them to roam the streets in the dark? Some answers to these questions are briefly discussed in this article, many of which I found fascinating, covering the history and origins, and the reasons for pumpkins, trick or treating and dressing up and why it appears acceptable for boundaries to be pushed to their limits in every sense at this time! Recommendations for the use of homeopathic remedies to heal, before, during or after the festivities are given, should this be necessary, followed by adjunctive advice on how to avoid potentially dangerous behaviours which are known hazards at this time.
Brief History of Halloween, to put things into context
Commonly known as Halloween, it can also be ‘Hallowe'en’ (which is a contraction of All Hallows' Evening), Allhalloween, All Hallows' Eve, or All Saints' Eve which is the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows' Day, also known as All Saints' Day. The Halloween we experience today actually originated in the Celtic fringes of Britain, and was adapted over the decades by Christian traditions, immigrants' conventions and latterly, an unquenchable desire for confectionaries.
The origin of the festival is disputed. It appears there is ‘no right’ definition’ and as is often the case, people interpret as they wish. Many people believe it hails from the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, which literally translates as ‘Summer's End' signifying the end of the harvest season. There are no original written accounts of this festival in existence from the ancient Celts, but there is some reference to it in Roman records from when the Romans conquered Celtic lands around AD 43. The Gaels believed that it was a time when the walls between our world and the next became thin and porous, allowing spirits to pass through, come back to life on the day and damage their crops. In order to welcome and calm the spirits, food and drink would be offered by the Gaels and bonfires lit to ward off the evil spirits. Christians who did not want to celebrate pagan festivals honoured the saints and martyrs, which encouraged positive spiritual values.
Trick or treating
Trick or treating is said to have its origins in a tradition called ‘souling.’ This dates back to the 11th century and was adapted from the Celts idea of dressing up with black and white faces during the festival of Samhain to trick the evil spirits they believed to be roaming the earth before All Saints day on Nov 1st. The children would go door-to-door, asking for soul cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of friends and relatives; at this time they dressed up as angels, demons or saints. The soul cakes were sweet, with a cross marked on top and when eaten they represented a soul being freed from purgatory. In the 19th century, ‘souling’ gave way to guising or mumming, when children would offer songs, poetry and jokes, instead of prayer, all in exchange for fruit or money. This gives us a great basis for why we trick or treat, and why sweet foods are involved. The actual phrase was first used in America in 1927, with the traditions brought over to America by immigrants. Guising gave way to threatening pranks in exchange for sweets.
Dressing up - The ‘Mask.’
Most experts believe that the tradition of wearing costumes on Halloween hails from the Celtic festival of Samhain, where participants lit fires and wore costumes which would be ghoulish and terrifying in nature, to scare away the ghosts and evil spirits. Since then, costumes have evolved; a ‘mask’ has become a way of dressing up to take on a different persona, often a way of giving oneself permission to indulge in a look or behavior which would otherwise be taboo or conventionally unacceptable on a ‘normal’ day. This evolution has occurred since Victorian times from the exotic dressing up as Egyptian pharaoh’s, to pop idols and more recently has become sexualized. Any thing goes, it would appear, to express identity and allow for freedom of expression. Halloween has always been synonymous with the unknown which invites a wonderfully creative, liberating approach.
Why do we carve pumpkins?
The carving of pumpkins once more hails from the Samhain festival, when the Gaels would carve turnips to ward off spirits and stop fairies from settling in houses. With the influx of Irish immigrants in the 1840s to North America, turnips could not be found so they used the more readily available pumpkin into which they carved scary faces.
Clearly, from what has been described above, there are many potential situations surrounding the festivities which could be helped by homeopathic remedies, not least, fear, anticipation, anxiety and overindulgence
- Stramonium is a great remedy for fear and terror. Children in particular can easily be upset and become anxious from being exposed to the dark, with frightening figures or monsters looming ahead of them. It is also useful in anxious restlessness and any violence, even witnessed in a playful way that affects a person emotionally. Often indicated where a person is literally paralysed by fear.
- Arsenicum album: Arsenicum is particularly useful at this time, for those who become anxious, particularly at night and alone. It is indicated for those that find their safety and security threatened.
- Phosphorus: Phosphorous is always indicated for those who are normally sensitive, emotional and friendly. They fear the dark, ghosts and thunderstorms and have vivid imaginations together with being highly suggestible. Loud noises such as thunderstorms and fireworks can be terrifying. Recommended for those who are easily vexed, fear that something is creeping out of every corner and sensitive to external stimulus, with a great tendency to start; meaning Halloween could prove to be overwhelming for them.
- Aconite: For acute situations when sudden fears overtake us, if we are in shock. Intense fear (or presentiment) of death, as well as palpitations, shortness of breath, flushed face, and trembling.
- Carbo veg: For those who already have an aversion to darkness and a fear of ghosts, with a disposition towards being easily frightened.
- Pulsatilla: Generally, sensitive, easily upset, changeable people who thrive on consolation and reassurance. Children in particular often have over active minds with a fear of ghosts, which can trigger nightmares. Together with the physical symptoms shown in those requiring this remedy such as worse for rich foods, this could easily be an indicated remedy at Halloween.
- Nux Vomica: For those that have digestive problems caused by overindulgence, whatever the source, but in this case probably sweet foods. It can restore harmony to an irritable bowel and many of the problems associated with a ‘sugar high.’ It is hugely helpful in calming the mind as well as the body thus helping to promote a deep, calm sleep.
- Sulphur: Where there is abdominal pain following overindulgence, generally worse on the left side, extending to the stomach, chest and back, making breathing difficult. Often worse at night time and better for bending forwards.
- Lycopodium: People who need lycopodium generally crave sweet foods and suffer the consequences in the form of bloating and indigestion, accompanied frequently by anxiety. There is also dyspepsia due to farinaceous and fermentable food with excessive hunger. Sour eructations are often a feature and the person is easily full, much flatulence and burning sensations in the pharynx and stomach.
Some tips to make for a smoother Halloween experience:
- Pedestrian deaths. According to statistics in the US, by far the most dangerous day of the year for pedestrians is Halloween. New analysis of U.S. government data shows that 115 pedestrians under 18 were killed on Oct. 31 over a 21 year period from 1990 to 2010. That's an average of 5.5 deaths each Halloween, compared with an average of 2.6 on other days. Clearly, children need to be highly supervised.
- Accompany your young child. A responsible adult should accompany young children on the neighbourhood rounds
- Check the route. If your older children are going alone, plan and review a route acceptable to you all.
- Timings. Agree on a specific time your child should return home.
- Stranger awareness. Teach your children to never enter a stranger's home or car.
- Security in numbers. Instruct children to travel only in familiar, well-lit areas and stick with their friends.
- Food safety. Tell your children not to eat any treats until they return home.
- Fire resistant clothing. All costumes, wigs and accessories should be fire-resistant.
- Be seen. If children are allowed out after dark, fasten reflective tape to their costumes and bags, or give them glow sticks.
- Non toxic make u When buying Halloween makeup, make sure it is nontoxic and always test it in a small area first.
- Pumpkins. Use candles with care. Place candlelit pumpkins on a sturdy surface away from curtains and other flammable objects. Never leave candlelit pumpkins unattended.
Hopefully, the above advice and information has been helpful in giving a comprehensive guide to a safe and healthy Halloween. Should you wish to contact a homeopath to discuss homeopathy further for you or your family, search www.findahomeopath.org.uk.
“Tis the night—the night
Of the grave's delight,
And the warlocks are at their play;
Ye think that without,
The wild winds shout,
But no, it is they—it is they!”
― Arthur Cleveland Coxe, Halloween: A Romaunt
Gill Graham: www.consultanthomepath.com