Halloween Postcards & Images (w/ a smidgen of history)

Halloween has a log history and to some scholars is likely to offer a lifetime of study and discovery.

I was just wondering how we went from a harvest/seasonal festival to kids traipsing around their neighborhoods dressed in polyester super heroes costume and begging for candy.

Samhain/Calan Gaeaf marked the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year. Like Beltane/Calan Mai, it was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits or fairies (the Aos Sí) could more easily come into our world and were particularly active. Most scholars see the Aos Sí as “degraded versions of ancient gods […] whose power remained active in the people’s minds even after they had been officially replaced by later religious beliefs”. The Aos Sí were both respected and feared, with individuals often invoking the protection of God when approaching their dwellings. At Samhain, it was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink, or portions of the crops, were left for the Aos Sí. The souls of the dead were also said to revisit their homes. Places were set at the dinner table or by the fire to welcome them. The belief that the souls of the dead return home on one night or day of the year seems to have ancient origins and is found in many cultures throughout the world.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween


The progression of the transition seems obvious to me along three lines: the increase of Christianity eclipsing the “old ways” — as well as the assimilation of Samhain into the Christian tradition.  At the same time, the idea of appeasing gods/fae/spirits was deeply ingrained enough that the idea remained part of the Western psyche. So, people would go out in costumes personifying the old gods, fae or whatever and visit the houses in their community like carolers or to gather food for a feast. As life became less rural, the village mentality of a celebration uniting a community and with increased secularization of society led to a decreased ceremonial/religious/spiritual component.  However the fae liked sweets, and so candy and other sweets became the norm for the early Trick or Treaters known as mummers or guisers. Over time the activity continued even as its meaning faded.

As they say above, Samhain was also a time when the veil between worlds was thinner, and what better time to be reminded of out own mortality.

Once I read a couple of articles I could see a distinct progression.

Hallloween has a fabulous visual record, at least.The pics below were all listed as public domain images on Wikimedia.

There are some older ways of  celebrating Samhain, All Hallows Eve, or Halloween:

Snap-Apple Night, shown above in the banner:

Snap-Apple_Night_globalphilosophypainted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise in 1833. It was inspired by a Halloween party he attended in Blarney, Ireland, in 1832. The caption in the first exhibit catalogue:
There Peggy was dancing with Dan
While Maureen the lead was melting,
To prove how their fortunes ran
With the Cards could Nancy dealt in;
There was Kate, and her sweet-heart Will,
In nuts their true-love burning,
And poor Norah, though smiling still
She’d missed the snap-apple turning.

On the Festival of Hallow Eve.  Date: 1833

Mummers Costume 1829 BritainA Mummer’s costume, c. 1829, probably made in Yorkshire, England. 3 pieces, newly acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1829_Mummer_costume_PMA.JPG




Winster   mummers
A most unusual group of masked mummers or guisers performing outside Winster Hall, Derbyshire, England, circa 1870, with three hobby horses (one of the “mast” type, made with a painted horse skull; the two others are of unusual construction). One performer, in a long dress, is sweeping with a besom broom; two others (extreme left and right) are playing bladder and string. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Winster_Hobby_horses_%26_mummers_%28small%29.jpg
Frans_Breydel_-_Mummers.tiffHere’s an earlier crowd, Mumming  by Frans Breydel from the early 1700s .  Somehow, I have always thought of “Mumming ” as having to do with New Years or Carnival, but I read that Samhain was regarded as the Celtic New Year so maybe it transferred.
Like today, people shared cards for Halloween. Some are cute and some go for the creepier aspect.

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The holiday was also represented in books, in items and then of course in costumes.

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Question MarkWhat was your favorite costume?


And here’s something we can all agree on!

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