In the lead up to Halloween/Samhain/Day of the Dead I thought I would add a few posts addressing some of the more mysterious and sometimes disturbing symbols in our dreams, and hopefully help you understand these in a new light. This time of year has special significance to many people in many different ways, and I do not believe that any way is particularly right or wrong. For a view on a few different perspectives, you may wish to check out some of the links at the end of this post.
The history of this celebration is far more complex than most website summaries would have us believe. While many people are now aware that Samhain, the pagan festival at the end of summer was a precursor to Halloween, and that Christianity aligned their All Saints Day with the same time of year, much happened between and since then to influence our current traditions.
Notably, and prior to any concerted Christian effort, was the 400 year Roman Empire. Their festival of Pomona, goddess of fruits and trees (bobbing for apples, anyone?) and Feralia, a festival to honour the departed can both be seen as influences on current Halloween. It must also be remembered that while early traditions to honour the dead had a solemn and respectful element, it was also a time of harvest and great abundance, and knowing the scarcity of winter would soon be upon them, feasting and celebration were integral even at this time.
Trick or treating can be traced back to practices of “souling” – the giving of bread to save a soul from purgatory, later the practice of begging for a penny for Guy Fawkes night, and the rise of vandalism notably during the Depression. “Guising” is another element – the dressing up in costumes of saints, devils and departed souls throughout much of Europe – which perhaps may have been inspired by even earlier pagan traditions of smearing bonfire ash onto the face. We can see the organic evolution of festivals again with the role of bonfires in the UK, once an essential part of Samhain to celebrate the sun and pray for its return after winter, to shifting by a few days now to have “bonfire night” on Guy Fawkes day, the 5th of November instead.
Interestingly, there was also a Lutheran lead revival of the celebration of All Saints Day at the start of the 19th century in response to the massive loss of life in the Napoleonic Wars, with the 31st of October already being celebrated as the date of the Reformation, as that is when Luther published his theses…
The Mexican and South American celebration of “Day of the Dead” (Dia de Muertos, Dia Finados in Brazil) is another celebration of the departed, which has counterparts through-out the world, including Africa and Asia. The Day of the Dead also potentially has its roots in pagan festivals, such as for the Aztec goddess “Mictecacihuatl”, goddess of the underworld, known as “Lady of the Dead.” These celebrations echo many of the ones we see in Europe.
Why am I writing about all this on a dream website? Simply to explore that many symbols we either take for granted, or assume we understand, can have a far more complex history and therefore meaning than we may initially attribute them with. And recognising that a festival to honour the dead seems to is not confined to one single local culture, or a recent commercialised form, means that we may be tapping into universal archetypes, which has great significance for us in dreams, and our making of meaning in our lives.
It would be easy to dismiss any Halloween themed dreams we have at this time of year as simply because we are inundated with images in stores, decorated houses, and advertising. And while the subconscious does draw on imagery we are regularly exposed to, especially that is emotionally charged, it will only do so in a dream when the image itself resonates with us on some deep, meaningful level.
While it is beyond the scope of this website to examine the history of all these traditions or halloween symbols in detail, I can explore what it may mean when some of these symbols appear in our dreams. I would like to start my own Halloween festival with a follow up to the very popular post on wolves, and explore what it may mean when we become a wolf in our dream (werewolves or shape shifting or something else?) I will also add a post about cats, with a special mention for black ones, what it may mean when we or someone else dies in a dream, and a special post on visitations from the departed in dreams. I will finish up with a very special post which I reveal as surprise on Halloween.
So, stay tuned this week for a fun, spooky and hopefully revealing exploration of the Halloween symbols of dreams!
In the meantime, you may wish to review some of these previous posts:
Shamans, shape-shifters and spirit guides in dreams
Nightmares Part 1
Nightmares Part 2
Sleep Paralysis: A Special Kind of Nightmare
The Meaning of Monsters in a Dream
The Meaning of Wolves in a Dream
For more information about the history of Halloween and its traditions, see below:
For a pagan perspective, try Circle Sanctuary
For a brief description of Feralia
For an overview of Day of the Dead around the world
For information about All Souls Day and All Saints Day in the medieval times