This is a repost from OCTOBER 28, 2011.
Halloween is one of the oldest holidays still celebrated in modern times, and can be traced back to the Druids, a Celtic culture in Ireland, Britain and Northern Europe. Its roots lay in the feast of Samhain (pronounced SA-WIN), which was annually held on October 31st to honor the dead. Much like Christmas, the pagan traditions of Samhain were later co-opted by the Christian church and replaced by All Saints Day (Nov. 1) as a means to align the Christian feast with the already well-established pagan festival. According to Wikipedia, “The word Halloween is first attested in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even (“evening”), that is, the night before All Hallows Day.” Hence, we have the modern day Hallowe’en.
In keeping with its pagan origins, a belief arose that during Halloween the barrier between the realms of the living and the dead are at their most permeable, allowing for dead spirits to enter our world. A corollary of this belief is the traditional Scottish practice of Halloween-night divination. Though little known these days, the practice of various forms of “divination games” during Halloween was wildly popular in the late 19th-century and early 20th-century, a popularity commemorated in the divination-themed Halloween greeting cards above. One of the most popular of these was a form of scrying or mirror divination, in which an unmarried woman was instructed to sit before a mirror in a darkened room on Halloween night. Purportedly, if she gazed long enough, she would see a vision of her future husband reflected in the mirror. If, however, she was to die unmarried, a skull would appear instead — which just seems incredibly creepy. A common thread exists between this Halloween practice and the Bloody Mary game, in which the participants dare each other to look into a mirror and repeat Mary’s name three times, thus possibly summoning the folkloric witch.