All Hallows Eve – Halloween

On May 13, 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church. Pope Gregory IV through papal decree later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the observance from May 13th to November 1st in 835 A.D., throughout the Frankish Kingdom. November 1st was already known as an important day in the Celtic calendar – Samhain, placing a Christian feast day on November 1st would have made sense to Northern European Catholic Bishops to subvert pagan ideas and repurpose the pre-Christian pagan celebration.


All Saints Day 835


The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day) was established around 975 A.D. in the Cluniac Catholic Order in Switzerland and then extended to rest of Christendom, set on November 2nd.  All Souls’ Day is a time to pray for friends and family who have recently died. The date was placed next to All Saints Day to emphasize the idea that Saints could intercede on behalf of the dead. Praying for the dead and remembering the dead with food (e.g., the mass) are precedents for both the eerie and archaic relating to spirits beyond the grave and the ghostliness associated with Halloween.

Since the 9th century, Samhain, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day have peaceably coexisted in Irish literature and culture well into modern times. This became known as Allhallowtide which is the Triduum, encompassing the Western Christian observances of All Saints’ Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day (All Hallows’) and All Souls’ Day, which last from October 31 to November 2 annually.


November 1 – Pope Gregory IV promotes the celebration of the feast of All Saints, throughout the Frankish Empire.


By the end of the 12th century, Allhallowtide had become holy days of obligation in the Catholic Church. In Europe such traditions as ringing church bells for the souls in purgatory and “criers dressed in black to parade the streets, ringing a bell of mournful sound and calling on all good Christians to remember the poor souls,” became customary.


"All Souls' Day" by Jakub Schikaneder
“All Souls’ Day” by Jakub Schikaneder



Prior to the Reformation in England, a key doctrine taught to the people was that of Purgatory. Purgatory was seen as a real physical place where souls went between death and the Last Judgement. Purgatory was a place of darkness, where sins were purged and souls were burnished before being given passage to Heaven. It was a period of punishment which was proportional to the person’s amount of sins.


The image above is of “mummers,” revelers who dressed in costumes for parades and merry-making on holidays such as Allhallowtide in medieval Britain



“Souling” was a Christian practice carried out in many English towns on Allhallowtide – Halloween. “Souling”, the custom of baking and sharing soul cakes for all christened souls, has been suggested as the origin of trick-or-treating. The custom dates back at least as far as the 15th century and was found in parts of England, Flanders, Germany, and Austria. The poor went to prosperous houses on All Hallows Eve seeking aid in the form of food offering prayers in return to their dead. The practice became known as “souling”, when the poor and children – soulers – went door to door on Halloween begging for spiced “soul cakes.” Each soul cake was said to represent a soul in Purgatory and in exchange for a cake the souler would promise to pray for the dead of that household. Below is a traditional Soul Cake recipe to what was offered from prosperous medieval households during the High Middle Age (1250 – 1500).

Soul Cakes

Traditional Soul Cake Recipe

Recipe adapted from: recipewise
Makes about 24 large, 3 1/2-inch ‘cakes’

2 1/2 cups (340 grams) all-purpose flour, sifted
3/4 cup (170 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (170 grams) butter
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp of apple cider vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bow. Work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add the egg and white wine vinegar Thoroughly mix all the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl sifted flour, spices, and sugar. Rub in the diced butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add in the beaten egg and vinegar and mix with a wooden spoon until it comes together into a ball. The dough will be firm. Use your hands to press the dough together into a ball, if necessary. Cover the bowl and chill for 20 minutes.

3. Lightly flour a clean, flat surface and roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into large rounds using a cookie cutter. Use the end of a wooden spoon to press a cross shape into the cakes. Place the cakes onto the baking sheets and press raisins into the top of the cakes, if desired. Gather the scraps together and roll again until all the dough has been cut into cakes.

Bake, one sheet at a time, for 12-15 minutes, or until the cake tops are lightly golden. Can be eaten warm or at room temperature.

Store in an airtight container for about a week.

Note: The dough can also be made in a food processor. Pulse the dry ingredients, add the butter and pulse until it resembles cornmeal. With the motor running, pour the beaten egg and vinegar through the feed hole. Pulse until well combined. Turn out into a bowl and press together into a ball. Chill and proceed with rolling, cutting, and baking the cookies as directed above.

Two Gentlemen of Verona by Angelica Kauffman, 1789
Two Gentlemen of Verona by Angelica Kauffman, 1789


Shakespeare mentions souling in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593). On the custom of wearing costumes, Christian minister Prince Sorie Conteh wrote: “It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, and All Hallows’ Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities.”

In 1963, the American folk group Peter, Paul and Mary recorded this as “A’ Soalin.” Below are the lyrics:
Hey ho, nobody home, meat nor drink nor money have I none
Yet shall we be merry
Hey ho, nobody home, meat nor drink nor money have I none
Yet shall we be merry
Hey ho, nobody home, hey ho, nobody home
Soal, a soal, a soal cake, please good missus a soul cake
An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry
Any good thing to make us all merry
One for Peter, two for Paul, three for him who made us all

God bless the master of this house, and the mistress also
And all the little children that ’round your table grow
The cattle in your stable, the dog by your front door
And all that dwell within your gates
We wish you ten times more
Soal, a soal, a soal cake, please good missus a soul cake
An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry
Any good thing to make us all merry
One for Peter, two for Paul, three for him who made us all
Go down into the cellar and see what you can find
If the barrels are not empty we hope you will be kind
We hope you will be kind with your apple and strawberry
For we’ll come no more a ‘soalin’ till this time next year
Soal, a soal, a soal cake, please good missus a soul cake
An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry
Any good thing to make us all merry
One for Peter, two for Paul, three for him who made us all
The streets are very dirty, my shoes are very thin
I have a little pocket to put a penny in
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’ penny will do
If you haven’t got a ha’ penny then God bless you
Soal, a soal, a soal cake, please good missus a soul cake
An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry
Any good thing to make us all merry

Celtic Year Wheel
Celtic Year Wheel



Allhallowtide traditions originate from ancient Celtic harvest festivals, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain. Samhain (pronounced /ˈsaʊ.ɪn/ SOW-in) was the first and most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Gaelic calendar and was celebrated October 31st – November 1st in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year.

Samhain was also a festival to honor the dead. Like Beltane, it was seen as a liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld thinned. This meant the ‘spirits’ or ‘fairies’ could more easily come into our world and were particularly active. At Samhain, it was believed that the ‘spirits and fairies’ needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink, or portions of the crops, were left outside for them. Also, the souls of the dead were also said to revisit their homes seeking hospitality. Places were set at the dinner table and by the fire to welcome them. In 19th century Ireland, “candles would be lit and prayers formally offered for the souls of the dead. After this, the eating, drinking, and games would begin.”

Celtic Harvest Festival

The household festivities included rituals and games intended to foretell one’s future, especially regarding death and marriage. Apples and nuts were often used in these divination rituals. They included apple bobbing, nut roasting, scrying or mirror-gazing, pouring molten lead or egg whites into the water, dream interpretation, and others.

Samhain was considered a time when the veil between worlds was thinnest during which the air was rich with magick. Therefore, it was an ideal time to contact a deceased loved one. Below is a spell that one can perform on Samhain night to contact and speak with one’s ancestor are departed loved ones:

Samhain Night Spell
to contact and speak with ancestors or departed loved ones

  • A large wall-mounted mirror
  • Sprig of dried rosemary
  • Dry bay leaf
  • Dried patchouli herb
  • Patchouli oil
  • A photo or memento of the person you want to contact
  • Mugwort tea
  • 3 Black candles (as many as you like)

Use some string or thread to tie the rosemary and bay leaf to the top of the mirror, so they are hanging in front and can be seen in the reflection.

Dab patchouli oil on your thumb and draw a large circle on the glass. Then sprinkle a line of dried patchouli in front of the mirror. Now that your mirror is prepared, you can start your spell to communicate across the veil.

Setup your space with comfortable seating and a small table of pictures or mementos of the deceased and ancestors with whom you wish to communicate. Prepare a cup of Mugwort tea to help you relax and enhance your latent psychic abilities.

Light the 3 Black candles placed behind you, turn off all the lights and work only by the candlelight.

Sit down in your chair and take several deep breaths until you feel completely relaxed. Take a few sips of Mugwort tea from your cup, then hold the photo or other items in your hand and sit in front of your mirror, behind the line of dried patchouli. Turn the item so it’s reflected in the mirror and you can see it clearly. Focus your thoughts on that person, and send out thoughts that you want to contact them across the veil.

Then let your mind wander somewhat, and concentrate on the area of the mirror where you drew your circle again. A message will start to appear however it won’t be a literal image on the glass mirror, but more of an image in your own mind. The images emerging may be a somewhat confusing at first as this form of communication can be abstract or symbolic.

Samhain Divination

This is a pendulum divination spell is for the purpose of divining the future for the upcoming year, that is ideal for Halloween.

A Pendulum
Dried Mugwort

Let the pendulum hang from your fingers over the mugwort. Place your elbow on a flat, solid surface so that the pendulum is suspended from your hand without any vertical influence upon the swinging motion. Relax, and keep your elbow stationary. Wait until the pendulum is still before beginning.

Ask the pendulum for an answer to a question that you already know the answer to: for example, ask, “Am I male?” and watch to see which way the pendulum swings to answer yes or no. Motion can include swinging towards and away from you, from side to side, or a circular motion in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction, among other movements.

Ask several control questions of this sort to determine a consistent response for “yes”, “no”, and the always-necessary “I don’t know” answer. Once you have the answer motions for your pendulum set, ask your questions out loud or in your head, and observe which way the end of the pendulum swings.

Concentrate on the upcoming year and ask the pendulum a simple yes/no question that you already know the answer to. That will show you how the pendulum responds to you. It will spin or circle one way or the other to show you yes or no.

Once you figure out how your pendulum is talking to you, ask your yes or no questions about events coming up in the year out loud, and observe which way the end of the pendulum swings. Note that the pendulum may also be used like the Ouija board. A circle can be made of the alphabet with room for a pendulum to swing between the letters.


Special bonfires were lit and there were rituals involving them. Their flames, smoke, and ashes were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers and were also used for divination. In some places, torches lit from the bonfire were carried sunwise around homes and fields to protect them. It is suggested that the fires were a kind of imitative or sympathetic magic – they mimicked the Sun, helping the “powers of growth” and holding back the decay and darkness of winter. In Scotland, these bonfires and divination games became so popular, they were banned by the church elders in some parishes. In Wales, bonfires were lit to “prevent the souls of the dead from falling to earth.” Later, these bonfires served to keep “away from the devil.”


The First Halloween Ball

First Halloween Ball at the New York Plaza Hotel
First Halloween Ball at the New York Plaza Hotel


It was not until mass Irish and Scottish immigration in the late 19th century that Halloween became a celebrated holiday in America. The Gilded Age (1880 – 1913) of American Halloween crested in the early decades of the 20th century. The Vanderbilts and Rockefellers closed their summer homes in mid-October and headed back to the city, and Halloween parties were the signal society events of the winter season. Debutantes danced waltzes at Halloween balls at the Plaza Hotel in New York City to a backdrop of jack-o-lanterns and yellow chrysanthemums.

The Annual Houdini Séance

Harry Houdini
Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini, one of the world’s greatest stage magicians and sensational escape artist of the 20th century, died on October 31st, 1926 from peritonitis, secondary to a ruptured appendix, at age 52. On his deathbed, Houdini told his doctor that, even though he did not believe in spirit-communication, he would still try to send a prearranged message. Before his death, Houdini and his wife, Bess, had a prearranged secret coded message he could use to let her know his consciousness continued beyond the grave. Years prior Houdini and his wife created a secret code: “Rosabelle- answer- tell-pray, answer- look- tell- answer, answer- tell” which spelled out “BELIEVE” in their private stage language.

During a séance in January 1929, led by medium Arthur Ford and his spirit guide, Fletcher, a message purportedly from Houdini to Bess was decoded. It read simply “Rosabelle believe.” Bess declared it an authentic afterlife communication from her late husband. The name “Rosabelle” was Harry’s most private and personal pet name for Bess, for her wedding ring had the entire song inscribed on the inside of the band of the ring. Here are the words of the song: “Rosabelle, sweet Rosabelle, I love you more than I can tell. Over me, you cast a spell. I love you, my sweet Rosabelle.”

On Wednesday, January 9, 1929, 26 months after Harry Houdini’s death, his wife Bess signed a brief document, which appears to be on Houdini letterhead, that clearly states the message is accurate:

Bess Houdini Statement
On Wednesday, January 9, 1929, 26 months after Harry Houdini’s death, his wife Bess signed a brief document, which appears to be on Houdini letterhead, that clearly states the message is accurate.
Bess, Houdini Seance.jpg
Bess Houdini Seance  – October 31, 1929


Bess continued to have public seances every year on October 31st, the anniversary of Harry’s death, which served as a genuine attempt at contact Harry as well as a powerful tool for continuing to promote the Houdini name after the magician’s death.

The ritual was attended throughout the years by celebrities and writers, but Houdini never again whispered in her ear as promised—then, nor during the hour a week she would sit along with his photo and wait. She held the séances for a decade; her last one was in 1936, on the 10th anniversary of his death, on the roof of The Knickerbocker hotel in Los Angeles. After years of silence, Bess decided gave up hope and wished Harry a good night. Later she proclaimed to the press, “Ten years is long enough to wait for any man.”

These are the final words of Harry Houdini as brought forth by psychic medium Arthur Ford and his spirit guide, Fletcher at the end of that successful mediumship session on  January 8, 1929:

“Tell the whole world that Harry Houdini still lives and he will prove it a thousand times and more. In my life, I was perfectly honest and sincere in trying to disprove the survival of consciousness, and I resorted to tricks to prove my point for the simple reason that I did not believe communication was possible. I am now sincere in my desire to undo this mistake. Tell all those who lost faith because of my mistake to lay hold again of hope, and to live with the knowledge that life is continuous. That is my message to the world, through my wife and through this psychic medium.”

Halloween in the 21st Century



For the early church bishops during the Medieval Era 800 – 1500, All Hallows was about the redemption of the soul. In the Renaissance era 1500 – 1600, it was about redistributing the wealth to the lower classes. In the first decades of the American 20th century, Halloween became a big secular community-wide celebration that was about assimilating the thousands of European immigrants into American town life. By the 1950s, it was about all the post-war babyboomer generation of kids: complete with horror movies, pumpkin-carving and trick-or-treating became synonymous with Halloween. On Halloween in 2001, six weeks after 9/11, the New York City Village Halloween parade (the parade is the second-largest Halloween parade in the country according to The Guinness Book of World Records) was lead by a giant phoenix puppet symbolizing death followed by rebirth.

Incandescent baby phoenix puppet for New York’s Village Halloween Parade on October 31, 2001


4 thoughts on “All Hallows Eve – Halloween”

  1. William, as always you have outdone yourself. I love the soulcake section and plan to make them. Thank you for all the wonderful information. Arleen

      1. The soul cakes were fantastic! I made a pot of dark roast coffee and we ate quite a few of them. My husband loved them. I had never heard of soul cakes, so thanks for the recipe. Arleen

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