Today we are going to be talking about halloween. It’s a time of year in North America and many other countries where people like to put on a costume. For children it’s a time to make the rounds of their neighbourhood and say ‘trick or treat’. They then go around and ask for candies and if they don’t get any they might just play a trick on the resident who refused to give them something. There is an air of mystique as nobody knows who anybody is behind the mask.Likewise, adults also love to go to costume parties so that they can put on a mask and at the same time pretend that they are someone they aren’t.Costumes range from simple masks to very elaborate and authentic. In fact, there are many stores now, even department stores that either sell or rent costumes as it has become big business.
So where did Halloween come from? Did it just pop out of nowhere several hundred years ago or is their some chain of events that led up to its beginning?
The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the other world became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family’s ancestors were honored and invited home while 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. In Scotland the spirits were impersonated by young men dressed in white with masked, veiled or blackened faces.
The word Halloween is first attested in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even (“evening”), that is, the night before All Hallows Day. Up through the early 20th century, the spelling “Hallowe’en” was frequently used, skipping the “v” and shortening the word. Although the phrase All Hallows is found in Old English(the feast of all saints), All-Hallows-Even is itself not attested until 1556. The imagery of Halloween is derived from many sources, including national customs, works of Gothic and horror literature (such as the novels Frankenstein and Dracula), and classic horror films (such as Frankenstein and The Mummy).Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks, and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween. Halloween imagery includes themes of death, evil, the occult, magic, or mythical monsters. Traditional characters include ghosts, witches, skeletons, vampires, werewolves,demons, bats, and black cats. The colours black and orange are associated with the celebrations, perhaps because of the darkness of night and the colour of fire, autumn leaves or pumpkins. So with all of these modern symbols of creatures and monsters from Frankenstein to Dracula added on, what is so appealing about halloween! For this, we have to go further back in time to the time of ancient Rome and Greece where wearing masks was also part of yearly festivities.
Greek and Roman Masks
So we can see that wearing masks, that is, to disguise ourselves for a festivity is nothing new. In the cases of the Romans, they wore masks for festivals of Bacchus and Dionysus.
Dionysus or Dionysos is the ancient Greek god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy, and was also the driving force behind Greek theater. This god who inspires joyful worship and ecstasy, festivals, and celebration is a major figure of Greek mythology and the religion of ancient Greece. He is included as one of the twelve Olympians in some lists. Dionysus is typical of the god of the epiphany, ”the god that comes”. He was also known as Bacchus, the name adopted by the Romans and the frenzy he induces, bakkheia. Hailed as an Asiatic foreigner, he was thought to have had strong ties to the East and to Ethiopia in the South. He was also known as the Liberator (Eleutherios), freeing one from one’s normal self, by madness, ecstasy or wine. The divine mission of Dionysus was to mingle the music of the aulos and to bring an end to care and worry. Scholars have discussed Dionysus’ relationship to the “cult of the souls” and his ability to preside over communication between the living and the dead.
But wait, doesn’t this sound similar to halloween in its origins. A festival of the dead? Indeed, so as they say, there’s nothing new under the sun.
Can you think of some situations in which you would like to wear a mask?
Is wearing a mask something that could be used symbolically?
Do we wear many masks depending on the people we are surrounded by?
In what environment do you feel it’s safe to take off your masks?
Throughout history we can see that humanity has an obsession with
communicating with the dead. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Celts and even
nowadays many people want to communicate with the other side. Why are they so
obsessed with it?
No doubt death and ghosts are one of the top listed items on people’s
phobias. Can you name some other things people are scared stiff of?
This is the kind of fear evoked by feeling trapped or restricted in small
spaces or when the sufferer gets the feeling of suffocation in an area. These
people avoid tunnels, small rooms, elevators, cellars, caves etc.
This is an extreme fear of heights. This type of phobia can be very dangerous
since if the sufferer gets a panic attack when he is in a high place, it will
not be possible for him to get down from there safely.
This is a very different kind of phobia in the way that the sufferer is not
afraid of an external entity here. Emetophobia is the kind of phobia in which
the person is afraid of vomiting or vomiting in public.
This is a fear of cancer – the disease. Any kind of physical discomfort
causes the sufferer to believe that he might have this disease. These people
also believe that if they come in contact with any cancer patient, they will
contract the disease despite the fact that cancer is not contagious.
This is a fear of thunder storms. The sufferer can get anxiety and panic
attacks even though he knows the thunder storm could not possibly hurt him.
Their anxiety can go to very high levels if they are outdoors during a thunder
storm and if indoors, they might hide under beds or desks, behind sofas or even
This is the phobia or fear of death as such or any dead objects. The sufferer
in this case is constantly afraid of the looming shadow of death. Such people
may not want to leave the safety of their homes since the probability of death
is greater outdoors than indoors. They might be afraid of violent attacks as
well. This kind of phobia may involve some other phobia as well like maybe
- We can see in the festivals of bachuss and Dionysus that wine played an important role in helping people to
open up to their perception to the invisible world? Can you name other
cultures that have tried to use substances from plants to alter their
- Is Halloween popular in your country? If not, do you have a similar festivity? Talk about it
- From our list of phobias we can see that there are some which are almost instinctual! Do you think there is
a way to overcome your phobias? Would you like to get rid of your phobias?