Home Page

Stefan's Florilegium


This document is also available in: text or RTF formats.

Halloween-art - 9/14/00


"Halloween, Medieval Style" by Lady Muireann ni Riordain (Jessica Wilbur).


NOTE: See also the files: Halloween-lnks, holidays-msg, Yule-msg, Candlemas-msg, 12th-nite-msg, wassail-msg, burials-msg, punishments-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



Subject: Re: Halloween

Date: Thu, 22 Oct 1998 12:19:43 -0400

From: Kevin of Thornbury <kevin at maxson.com>

Organization: Kingdom of Atlantia

To: The Merry Rose Tavern at Cheapside <atlantia at atlantia.sca.org>


jsrechts at imap.unc.edu wrote:

> Anyone know about Halloween traditions during the Middle Ages? I also

> wonder if it's celebrated in Europe.

> Just curious as I know nothing about this topic!


> Lyanna




by Lady Muireann ni Riordain, MOAS Ponte Alto, Silver Nautilus

(From "Il Tempo", October 1997)


Actually, the title of this article is something of a misnomer. Many of

our modern Halloween customs have continued from the Middle Ages

virtually unchanged. Activities that were practiced then are still

carried on today, though the spiritual emphasis is no longer as

important to us. All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day, the two days

following Halloween, are not as widely celebrated now, while in the

Middle Ages they were just as or  more important. In fact, during the

Reformation, the feast of All Souls was removed from the Church

calendar, since many of its activities were considered distinctly

unChristian. It was placed back on the calendar in 1928; by that time

the general feeling was that it was no longer a superstitious danger.

Halloween has its origins in ancient Celtic culture. It was the end of

the Celtic year, the end of the harvest season and the beginning of



It was believed that on this night demons, witches and evil spirits

roamed about, playing tricks on unsuspecting humans. One could avoid

being the victim of such pranks by either offering sweets or other

foods, or by disguising oneself as a demon and roaming the night

alongside them.


Hence, our modern custom of trick-or-treating in costume. The theory was

that the demons would take the human for one of their own and not

disturb him.


There is also a Roman influence on the holiday. The custom of eating

apples, or giving them away, or bobbing for them stems from a

celebration of the Roman goddess Pomona. Children still bob for apples

by floating them in a large tub of water and attempting to grasp one

with their teeth and pull it out. In the Middle Ages, it was a

divination game. Each apple would be given the name of a potential

lover, and the number of tries it took to bite the apple foretold how

long the love would last. There is another, somewhat alarming in my

opinion, tradition that did not survive, or at least not as widely, in

which an apple was placed on one end of a stick, and a lighted candle on

the other. The stick was spun about at the end of a string, and children

standing in a circle had to try to grab the apple with their teeth as it

went past. They were often splattered with flying wax and grease from

the candle.


Other divination games were played on Halloween night. Nutcracking was

very popular for this purpose. A couple soon to be married would place

two whole walnuts or hazelnuts in the embers of a fire. When the nuts

burst, if they make a loud crackling noise, it was considered a sign

that the love between the couple would be strong. If the nuts only

burned, that meant the love would soon fade and die. Guests at Halloween

revels would crack walnuts to foretell their future. If the shells

cracked cleanly and the halves remained whole, the person would have

good luck in love. If the shells shattered into pieces, so would the

love.  Another interesting medieval tradition was a type of mummer's

play that was performed at night. One person dressed as King Crispin,

who was actually Saint Crispin, the patron of Cordwainers, or shoemakers

who used Cordovan leather from Spain. He wore regal robes and a gold

chain, and carried a scepter. After the feast, a person acting as the

Surveyor asked King Crispin whether the mummers were allowed in.


Then the St. George's Play would commence. Afterwards, seven people

acting as "soulers" would collect soul cakes, which were small

shortbread cookies with currants, cinnamon and nutmeg. These were

considered to be refreshment for the souls of the dead, who were thought

to walk among the living on All Hallows Eve.


The day after Halloween, November 1, was All Saints Day. This was a day

to remember all of the saints, whether known or unknown by the Church.

It was a day of contemplation and pious devotion. At this time it was

recognised that there were any number of Christians who were worthy of

sainthood but for whatever reason were not sanctified by the Church. All

Souls Day, on November 2, all people who have died are remembered. A

legend has it that a pilgrim returning from the Holy Land was

shipwrecked on an island that was inhabited by a hermit, who told the

pilgrim that a cleft in the rocks led to Purgatory. The monk said that

he could hear voices of the souls claiming that Christians did not pray

hard enough for them to make a quicker journey to heaven. Apparently

they particularly wanted to monks of Cluny to pray for them. So the

pilgrim went to Cluny and told his tale to Abbot Odilo, who immediately

declared All Souls Day as a day of prayer and commemoration of those who

have passed before us.


So while the origins of Halloween and its religious emphasis have lost

some of their significance in our modern society, many of the practices

and customs have continued on in unbroken tradition. Many people no

longer believe in demons and evil spirits who roam the night, but our

school children still disguise themselves as such and are offered sweets

and  candy in exchange for exemption from pranks. And we still take at

least a moment or two to remember our loved ones who have gone before

us, in silent commemoration.



Cosner, Madeleine Pelner, _Medieval Holidays and Festivals: A Calendar

of Celebrations_. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York; 1981. ISBN:



Green, Victor J., _Festivals and Saints Days: A Calendar of Festivals

for School and Home_.  Blandford Press, Poole, Dorset; 1978. ISBN:



Weiser, Francis X., _Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs: The Year

of the Lord in Liturgy and Folklore_. Harcourt, Brace &amp; World, Inc.,

New York; 1958.


Muireann ni Riordain / Jessica Wilbur <jessica at pop.net> 10/98

        Bone Carver.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org