On Halloween night they say the veil between the world of the living and the spirit world becomes thin.
It’s a night with many names, celebrated in many cultures with a richer history than just sweet treats.
In his Anthropology class, Brian Andrews, an assistant professor of social sciences at Rogers State University, students discuss the origin and evolution of modern traditions, rituals and holidays.
Among those discussed is Samhain.
"Many cultures throughout the world celebrate some form of this holiday — in general it is an acknowledgement of the end of the productive season and the beginning of the dormant season. In other words, everything begins dying," Andrews said. "The celebrations tend to emphasize that death is a natural part of life, hence the association with ghosts and spirits."
Andrews said many cultures use this day — Samhain, Halloween or Dia De Los Muertos, as a time to remember and reflect on those who have died.
"It is often tied into rituals involving the last harvest of the year before winter sets in. These "day of the dead" type rituals are very common in many non-Western cultures. In the U.S., Halloween is most closely related to the Celtic tradition of Samhain, which is primarily a harvest festival—during which traditions like bobbing for apples or carving gourds were carried out," Andrews said.
The Smithsonian says the holiday honors its namesake, Samhain, “ the lord of the dead or winter.”
They say every winter he became locked in a six month struggle with Bael, the sun god. Every spring, Bael would win, marking a return to lightness, celebrated by Beltane or May Day. Though the people loved Bael, they also had affection for Samhain and honored the pagan god accordingly.
"For the Celts, who practiced an animist religion that viewed the physical world and the spiritual world as intricately linked, this time of year was also seen as a period of "liminality" - that is, a period during which the distinction between the physical world and the spiritual world became more fluid, allowing spirits to enter our physical world."
Andrews said these spirits were appeased, or celebrated, through offerings.
"Further, people would often disguise themselves as spirits to 'blend in' with the roaming spirits. These traditions became more prominent during the early period of Christianity in northern Europe when people believed that not only spirits, but demons and devils could also roam about," he continued.
“These two characteristics eventually led to the traditions we have in the west of dressing up in costumes, pretending to be spirits, and then using our disguise to get offerings, i.e. trick-or-treating candy, a tradition that was originally called 'mumming.'"
The Smithsonian suggests, “In an attempt to de-paganize Samhain, back in 835 A.D., the Roman Catholic Church turned November 1 into a holiday to honor saints, called All Saint’s Day. Later on, the church would add a second holiday, All Souls Day, on November 2, to honor the dead.”