Symbolic Meaning of Halloween

meaning of Halloween

Getting Spirited Away by Symbolic Meaning of Halloween

There is more to the symbolic meaning of Halloween than how much candy we get at the end of the night. It is a sacred holiday that originated from some very cool ancient folks. Before the days of grocery stores, people had to provide for themselves. Halloween is a time of harvesting those provisions, and celebrating the bounty of the earth.

Have you ever been taken up with the feeling of electric excitement, but you don’t know why? Ever been consumed by prickles of exuberant anticipation – but not sure about what? You just know something incredible is right around the corner.

For me, the meaning of Halloween brings about all these sensations. This time of year, there is magic crouched behind every frosty pumpkin, delicious anticipation waiting in every bite of fresh baked apple pie, and crazy delight dancing in the heart of every costumed child.

In other words, I heart Halloween – bigtime.

The whole month of October lends itself to the theme of potential because it’s a month of transition. Climates change, winds shift, leaves on trees begin their metamorphosis and days grow discernibly shorter.

I’m a transition-junkie, so this time of year launches me into a state of anticipation and complete wonder.

That prevalent awe is enhanced by the underlying themes and symbolic meaning of Halloween, which comes primarily from ancient European peoples whose lives were intimately connected with the earth, nature and the seasons.  We’re talking mostly about pagans.

Now, this is a no-freak-out-zone, so don’t blow a gasket over the word ‘pagan.’  If you don’t already know its true meaning, the, core translation of ‘pagan’ is: country folk. Pretty simple. Not scary. Not weird or funky at all.

So, country folk, or pagans such as ancient Celts, Picts, etc. held certain beliefs and traditions about Halloween.  Or, in their day, Halloween was referred to as Samhain. To further the point of this time being a moment of transition, the word  Samhain means”summers end.”

“Live each season as it passes.

Breathe the air, drink the drink, eat the fruits,

and resign yourself to the influences of each.”

~Henry David Thoreau

Past experience showed these country folk of the old days that this time of year was not to be fooled around with. It meant there were big changes ahead regarding weather, provisions, and lifestyle. It was a time to contemplate what was coming ahead, and prepare for the worst.   So, specific steps were taken to insure survival through the winter.

Warring tribes put down their weapons and halted disputes until the Spring. Grains, herbs, veggies and such were harvested and preserved. Cows, goats and pigs here slaughtered and also preserved. In other words, this time of year was all about hustle-bustle, boogie, and shuffle. All this hustle was meant to insure survival through the winter. Even still, this time of year required a great deal of faith for these colorful, ancient folks.

Why? Because this time of year, particularly around Samhain (Halloween) – October 31st – implied a lot of unknowns. Would there be enough meat to last the winter? What if the winter was longer than usual, and provisions run out? What if a sickness runs through the clan, and there aren’t enough dried herbs to cure everybody through the winter? Lots of question marks there.

So, you can see this was literally a time to face life-and-death issues. But our olde time country folk faced the unknown with bold, ballsy, brassiness.

Some examples of this bad-as* pagan attitude towards the scary unknowns in the future are as follows:

Some Traditions Tied to Samhain or Symbolic Meaning of Halloween

♦  Come on baby, light my fire!
Epic bonfires were lit on Samhain. This is partly to cook the fresh meats slaughtered during harvest time. Another reason for the massive fire was to thwart off the darkness.  It was the country folk way of thumbing their noses at the coming darkness of winter.  Samhain marked the beginning of a new year in the pagan calendar. So another purpose of the bonfire was to honor the new year – kind of like modern-day fireworks going off on New Year’s eve.

♦  What’s your offer?
The Old Ways of ancient country folk were extremely respectful of things unseen. Spirits, sprites, fairies, brownies…essentially energies that walk among us, but aren’t always recognized. Because Samhain was the darkest day of the year, it makes sense these ‘shadow beings’ had more power on this day than any other. So, with the approaching darkness, people paid tribute to all things in the shadow-realms. This meant giving offerings to spirits, fairies and other nature energies. This was partly to appease them. Why? Because if you don’t play nice, the spirits might put a pox on your pigs or a plague on your potatoes! Offerings were typically portions of the best grain, best cuts of meat, mead, herbs, oils…basically all the goodie goods that would make anybody super-happy.

♦  Never forgotten.
No witty jokes here. This was (and still is) a time to honor and celebrate the dead for our ancient European country folk. Because the veil of physical and spirit is so thin on Samhain, it’s a perfect time to pay extra special attention to clans-folk who’ve passed into the otherworld. Part of the symbolic meaning of Halloween, in case you haven’t noticed, is of a macabre nature. This is largely due to the strong connection with the dead on this day. In my opinion, Halloween should be a day devoted to celebrating our loved ones and comrades who are no longer with us. It’s not intended to be a creepy, haunting time – it’s supposed to be a time to remember the dead with respect, reverence and appreciation.

♦  A’mumming we will go!
I know, I just said this isn’t supposed to be a freaky, spooky time of year. But as mentioned, this is a time when spirits of all kinds have easier access to our physical realm than usual. Hence, enter the costume. Our very clever pagans took steps to protect themselves from mischievious pixies, sprites and spirits. In addition to leaving offerings, folks disguised themselves from the baddies that go bump in the night.  The idea was to walk about unnoticed by anything that might turn you into a toad or whatever. Commonly, clothes were turned inside out – but ornate costumes were also used to outwit nefarious spirits. This act of donning a disguise is referred to as ‘mumming.’  The origin of the word comes from ‘mum’ or ‘momo’ which in modern English means to go in silence – to go unnoticed, or to be disguised.  

To me, all this history and symbolic meaning of Halloween and Samhain points to surrendering to the void. Huh? Yeah. In my opinion Samhain is about:

What Samhain is all about Alphie…

♦  Embracing the unknown.

♦ Facing the scary, hairy thing under our beds.

♦  Not freaking out about death, but honoring it.

♦  Knowing our deepest renewal begins with surrender.

♦  Embracing the concept that both life requires the presence of both light and dark.

Samhain or Halloween is an annual celebration of renewal. The meaning of Halloween is all about the inherent potential all life holds for us. It is a profound moment in which we can we can transform darkness by pointing ourselves into the direction of our own guiding lights.

To be sure, the meaning of Halloween solidifies the presence of great transition in our midst. Our ancestors could viscerally feel shifts within nature, and so they anticipated internal shifts within spirit, mind and body too.

Halloween/Samhain was and still is a landmark way to embrace the changes in our lives and prepare ourselves to meet amazing transformation in the months that lay ahead.

There is tons more information attesting this way of thought, check out the links below for similar articles about this fascinating time of year.

Happy Samhain, and as always, thank you for reading. Avia

Take Away Tips About the Meaning of Halloween

Boo hoo hoo ?
Although Halloween is generally a day of celebration, it is also a day of sorrow. Why? Because this day marks farewell to the light. From Oct. 31st on, the days get shorter, and it’s “good bye sunshine” until the Spring equinox.

Party on!
Oct 31st marks the fade-out of daylight. The Old Ways stated there is no life without both dark and light. So, with darkness approaching, people paid honor to all things in shadow. This meant paying tribute to spirits, fairies and celebrating the dead.

Mum’s the word!
In the old days, Oct. 31st was a day when naughty gremlins and spirits were at their worst behavior. To walk about unnoticed by wicked pixies, people went “a’mumming.” That means folks disguised themselves to avoid getting bonked by the baddies of the spirit world.

What a haul!!
Today, the custom is harvesting candy on Halloween. But back in the old days, the harvest was goats, cows, grains, herbs, etc. So, for ancient folk, this was a time of finishing up the harvest, rejoicing in the fruits of labor, and being thankful for the bounty received from earth.

Other Articles Of Interest On This Site

Halloween Symbols and Meanings

This page is devoted to the meaning of Halloween symbols, but it should be understood these symbols come from a myriad of origins and traditions. From bats to black cats, you’ll get traditional meanings here. Click here to get the full list of Halloween symbols.

Symbolic Meaning of Death and Loss

This post is an invitation to take a look death or loss in a symbolic way. Why? Because when we experience a removal in our lives, what follows is often symbolic, enlightening and transformative. Get the whole article on symbolic meaning of death and loss here.

An Important Note About Signs, Symbols and Their Meanings

Signs and symbols cultivate their meanings according to culture, context, passage of time, and mass societal opinion. What’s cool and highly important is that signs and symbols earn their most powerful meanings from our own personal perspectives.

This website strives to provide you with the best, time-honored information when defining signs and symbols. However, in the final analysis, “Beauty (and symbolism) is in the eye of the beholder.”

Having said that, it’s in our best interest to invest the time to do personal research on symbolic events happening to us. This website is just one perspective in an ocean of variety and diversity in the realm of symbolism. So dive in! There is a whole universe of deeper meanings to explore! You can start your research by clicking on the links at the end or to the side of this page. Odds are good I’ve got a follow-up article about this symbolic topic. ?

As always, thanks for your willingness to learn more about the language of symbolism. It’s a language that is universal and everywhere. It’s super-groovy to travel with you on your symbolic path, and maybe offer a little translation along the way. Thanks for reading and exploring!