There are many myths about the holiday we call Halloween. Was Halloween about devil worship? Did people sacrifice black cats on Halloween? Why do kids go trick or treating on Halloween? Learn the truth about the holiday we now call Halloween.
Origins of Halloween
Ancient people celebrated the end of the harvest with a festival known as Samhain. Samhain had nothing to do with the devil (as these people did not believe in the devil). They slaughtered their old livestock and those that would probably not survive the winter rather than trying to keep them alive, they preserved their meat and often hung the skulls of special animals on posts to celebrate and honor them. They were not scared of their dead but did feel that at this time of the year the spirits of those that died during the year could return and walk among them, so it was one last chance to say “good-bye” to the dead. The only people who feared the dead were those that had earlier wronged somebody who had died that year. It consisted of a feast of foods gathered from neighbors by young men often dressed as women, who would “trick” people who did not contribute to the feast by leaving a gate open to allow livestock to escape.
Note that these fall festivals were common over much of Europe and not exactly the same in each area.
Christian Changes to Samhain – the Start of Halloween
Christians did not approve of any of the old holidays and celebrations. They changed Saturnalia/Mithras into Christmas, they left Easter with its’ pagan name but assigned a Christian meaning to everything, and they also changed Samhain into Halloween. They moved a Christian holiday (All Saints Day) to November 1, making October 31 All Hallows Eve. By 1745 the term had evolved into the name “Halloween”.
Early Christians perpetuated that Samhain was evil, about witchcraft and so forth. Even today some Christians who fail to understand the history of the fall celebrations still consider it to be an evil holiday, and spread myths that people dressed up to scare away their dead, engaged in animal sacrifice, and devil worship.
pumpkin and cat image by author
What About Witches?
In many areas part of the Samhain celebrations involved fortune telling type games. Bobbing for apples was one such game. The Christians thought that fortune telling games were associated with witchcraft.
What About Black Cat Sacrifice?
Black cat sacrifice was never a part of Samhain. In fact it was the early Christians who hated cats as they associated them with witches. Early Christians killed thousands of cats by throwing them into fires or off buildings (some cats survived, which is why they are said to have nine lives). The fact that so many cats were killed is actually a contributing factor to how the plague managed to spread so quickly throughout Europe, because it was spread by rats.
Note that although black cats were not historically associated with Samhain today black cats are often at risk of being stolen, or obtained for free, to be used as “props” at Halloween parties and then discarded. There are many risks to pets at Halloween and owners are advised to keep pets indoors.