What Are We Celebrating On Halloween?

By Neenah Payne

Halloween is a celebration almost everyone likes — especially kids. Getting dressed up in costumes is exciting. As a child, I enjoyed going door to door “Trick or Treating” to get candies. Carving pumpkins (Jack O’Lanterns) and bobbing for apples was fun and the pumpkin pies were delicious.

When I first moved to New York City, I lived in Westbeth, a building in the West Village for artists. The Village Halloween Parade starts there and winds its way through the streets of Manhattan to Sixth Avenue, Canal Street, and 16th Street. It is a very colorful, entertaining spectacle.

New York’s 48th Annual Village Halloween Parade WILL take place on October 31, 2021

What Is The Meaning of Halloween?

However, as an adult, I have wondered what we are celebrating on Halloween since it is not mentioned. Adults spend a lot of time and money on costumes for their kids — and sometimes for themselves. What would most people say this holiday is really all about? It is just fun  or have we forgotten the meaning of what we’re doing? If so, when, how, and why did we forget? Why is it so important now to remember?

The Britannica says:

Halloween, contraction of All Hallows’ Eve, a holiday observed on October 31, the evening before All Saints’ (or All Hallows’) Day. The celebration marks the day before the Western Christian feast of All Saints and initiates the season of Allhallowtide, which lasts three days and concludes with All Souls’ Day. In much of Europe and most of North America, observance of Halloween is largely nonreligious. Halloween is celebrated on Sunday, October 31, 2021.

Halloween had its origins in the festival of Samhain among the Celts of ancient Britain and Ireland. On the day corresponding to November 1 on contemporary calendars, the new year was believed to begin. That date was considered the beginning of the winter period, the date on which the herds were returned from pasture and land tenures were renewed.

During the Samhain festival the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes, and those who had died during the year were believed to journey to the otherworld. People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present. It was in those ways that beings such as witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day.

The period was also thought to be favourable for divination on matters such as marriage, health, and death. When the Romans conquered the Celts in the 1st century CE, they added their own festivals of Feralia, commemorating the passing of the dead, and of Pomona, the goddess of the harvest.

In the 7th century CE Pope Boniface IV established All Saints’ Day, originally on May 13, and in the following century, perhaps in an effort to supplant the pagan holiday with a Christian observance, it was moved to November 1. The evening before All Saints’ Day became a holy, or hallowed, eve and thus Halloween. By the end of the Middle Ages, the secular and the sacred days had merged.

The Reformation essentially put an end to the religious holiday among Protestants, although in Britain especially Halloween continued to be celebrated as a secular holiday. Along with other festivities, the celebration of Halloween was largely forbidden among the early American colonists, although in the 1800s there developed festivals that marked the harvest and incorporated elements of Halloween.

When large numbers of immigrants, including the Irish, went to the United States beginning in the mid 19th century, they took their Halloween customs with them, and in the 20th century Halloween became one of the principal U.S. holidays, particularly among children.”

All Hallows (Saints) Eve

Britannica adds:

“As a secular holiday, Halloween has come to be associated with a number of activities. One is the practice of pulling usually harmless pranks. Celebrants wear masks and costumes for parties and for trick-or-treating, thought to have derived from the British practice of allowing the poor to beg for food, called ‘soul cakes.’ Trick-or-treaters go from house to house with the threat that they will pull a trick if they do not receive a treat, usually candy.

Halloween parties often include games such as bobbing for apples, perhaps derived from the Roman celebration of Pomona. Along with skeletons and black cats, the holiday has incorporated scary beings such as ghosts, witches, and vampires into the celebration. Another symbol is the jack-o’-lantern, a hollowed-out pumpkin, originally a turnip, carved into a demonic face and lit with a candle inside.”

Suppression of Our Tribal/Pagan/Earth Connections

So, in Halloween, we have the form of the holiday derived from long-forgotten pagan traditions — but have lost the meaning. With Halloween, we have the sense of being devilish, ghoulish, mischievous, having permission to break the rules. What rules are we breaking? Why does it feel so delightful to dress up as a character and parade through the streets?

On Halloween, many people choose to dress as witches. Yet, the Catholic Church waged a very brutal Inquisition for 300 years during which anyone accused of being a witch risked being tortured and burned at the stake. The Church condemned pagan religions as devil-worshipping witchcraft.

FREE Homesteading and Community Building Seminar November 6th

Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English details the horrors of the Inquisition from which we have still not recovered. The Inquisition was not only an assault on people (especially women healers), but on pagan traditions, knowledge, the intuitive Right Brain, freedom, the rule of law, our connection to the Earth, and on common humanity.

The Catholic Church put the Knights Templar, who had built the great Gothic Cathedrals of Europe, to death in 1307.  The date was Friday, the 13th — a date we consider frightening even today without remembering why. The Church slaughtered thousands of Cathars of France — Christians who had retained some of the forbidden teachings of the Egyptian gnostics.

Inquisition Against the Cathars of the Languedoc says:

The activities of the Medieval Inquisition were so terrible that the memory of them has survived throughout Europe to the present day. Some Christians acknowledge that this body was one of the most sinister that the world has ever known, and now attribute its work to satanic forces.

The bloodbath which began in Europe was later extended to the Americas, Africa, and much of the rest of the world. It returned to Europe in WWI and WWII. The abuse of power continues with the endless War on Terror that is bankrupting America and destroying the Middle East. Now the COVID mass psychosis is destroying the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. So, the West still needs to recover from the centuries of extreme physical, emotional, mental, and psychological abuse of power.

Indulging Our Unconscious Tribal/Pagan/Earth Roots

However, we reconnect to our tribal heritage in a various ways. Film is one way.

Wikipedia describes Braveheart:

“1995 American epic historical war drama film directed and co-produced by Mel Gibson, who portrays Sir William Wallace, a late-13th-century Scottish warrior. The film depicts the life of Wallace leading the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England. Braveheart was filmed in Scotland and Ireland  At the 68th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five: Best PictureBest DirectorBest CinematographyBest Makeup, and Best Sound Effects Editing. A spin-off sequelRobert the Bruce, was released in 2019, with Angus Macfadyen reprising his role.”

What We Are Celebrating on Halloween

The real meaning of Halloween is that it is an acknowledgement of the end of summer as the trees begin to turn beautiful colors and the leaves begin to fall. It is a season in which the plant world dies back and the Earth takes a long rest. It is a time of dying for rebirth in the spring. So, in dressing in colorful costumes and as skeleton, we are in harmony with the Earth. For farmers, this is the time of harvest.

We are letting go of the warm weather and acknowledging the growing short days and coming cold and darkness. Halloween marks this transition between seasons. We put on costumes just as the trees dress for fall in great displays. Halloween is a time of acceptance of loss, and a readiness for harder times. Having fun bolsters our spirits as we have to surrender the summer to the fall and winter.

Halloween puts us in sync with the Earth changes, in harmony with the Earth without our realizing that consciously. We take on new identities with our costumes just as the Earth dresses in new outfits for the fall. Halloween allows us to feel part of and in harmony with the rhythm of Earth — without being conscious of that forbidden connection. It allows us to celebrate our pagan roots while denying them.

As the trees die back, we dress up as skeletons to acknowledge the “death” of the Earth. It is a time of reconciliation with the loss of many outdoor pleasures. It allows us to laugh and play as we face the short cold days and the difficult times ahead for several months. As Earth dresses ups for fall, we dress up for Halloween. We are acknowledging that we are one with the Earth — without admitting it.

Our Tribal/Pagan Christmas and Easter Traditions

Why We Celebrate Christmas The Indigenous Way explains that most of our Christmas traditions are based on the traditions of the Saami, an indigenous people in Scandinavia, who dress in red and white to honor the mushroom that brings them Enlightenment on December 31, the Winter Solstice. The mushroom causes their reindeer “to fly”. We maintain a connection to our indigenous roots — while hiding them.

Easter bunnies and coloring Easter eggs allow us to unconsciously celebrate the reawakening fertility of the Earth in Spring. The NYC Easter Parade in which people show off their new clothes likewise is tied to the Earth putting on new clothes as the flowers and trees began to bloom.

Where did the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs come from?

What Happened To The Tribes of Europe?

As the legendary John Trudell (1946-2015), Chairman of the American Indian Movement  from 1973-1979, pointed out, we are all descendants of tribal peoples. Most Westerners have just forgotten that — at least on a conscious level. So, our connection to our tribal roots is not so easily erased because it is many thousands of years older than Christianity and resides in our subconscious.

What Happened to the Tribes of Europe

Trudell explains that Columbus was carrying the “virus” of cruelty Europeans had suffered for 300 years during the Inquisition. When most Europeans lost their tribal roots, they lost their connection to their humanity, wisdom, compassion, and the Earth. So, they could not understand the tribal cultures of the Americas.

John Trudell on Becoming Human : “In the race to midnight, it is well after 11.

In Take Back The Earth (Video), Trudell called all peoples from the brink of destruction. His words ring prophetic as COVID is used to introduce a “new normal” in which the World Economic Forum  warns us that by 2030, “You will own nothing”.

Our Responsibility Now: Reconnect To Mother Earth

Although we were forced to hide our tribal roots and connections to the Earth, we succeeded in maintaining them in disguise. Our job now is to re-connect consciously.

Although many of our states, cities, and rivers carry Native names, most Americans ignore the existence of the 500 Native Nations. Yet, we are closely connected. Even the name “American” was used only for the peoples of this hemisphere until the US colonists separated from England. We are impoverished by ignoring these profound ancient cultures and greatly enriched when we take the time to learn more.

Dr. Zach Bush warns that we are in the Sixth Great Extinction and human survival depends on the urgent restoration of our soils (earth) to provide foods to maintain our health.  So, the world — led by the West — is in very grave trouble now. Where will we find the inspiration to change our relationship to the Earth on which we depend for survival?

There are 500 Native Nations in this hemisphere — many of which have been here tens of thousands of years. However, although many of our states, cities, and rivers carry Native names, most Americans ignore the existence of Native America and thus know little about these cultures. However, our own survival may now depend on our understanding them. Can these ancient wisdom keepers guide us now? Many Americans think so as they flock to the Amazon to drink ayahuasca with shamans.

Native America’s Gifts To The World shows some of the profound gifts Native America has given the world over the last 500 years. It discusses the profundity of their languages and worldview. Philip P. Arnold, a member of Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON) and associate professor of indigenous religions at Syracuse University, says:  “How we in the larger society regard indigenous peoples — who have an ongoing relationship with the living earth — will determine our ability to survive.”

Indian Givers: How Native Americans Transformed the World by Jack Weatherford explains the great debt the world owes Native America for foods, medicines, concepts of religious and political freedom, philosophy, etc. Now, we turn to them to reconnect with the Earth and to learn how to survive.

Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth

Evo Morales, the first president to come from an indigenous population, served as the 65th President of Bolivia from 2006-2019.


In April 2009,  the United Nations proclaimed April 22 to be International Mother Earth Day.

There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” – Victor Hugo.

November: Native American Heritage Month

Trudell pointed out that Americans talk about our rights, but not about our responsibilities. Chief Oren Lyons of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) which inspired the US Constitution, provides insights in Oren Lyons on the Indigenous View of the World. He explains the role of ceremonies in ensuring our survival.

Chief Lyons points out that the US Founding Fathers forgot the most important thing. In being forced to deny the meaning of our ceremonies, we lost our connection to the Earth. We must become conscious of that connection and responsibility now to survive.

November is Native American Heritage Month. It is a good time to learn more from these ancient Wisdom Keepers who have maintained their tribal roots and can help show us how to fulfill our responsibilities to the Earth now to help ensure our survival.

As Trudell said: “In the race to midnight, it is well after 11.”

See Celebrating Native American Heritage Month.

Neenah Payne writes for Natural Blaze and Activist Post

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