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The Origins of Halloween Season

of the Crone

Halloween, Samhain, All Hallows, All Saints or Hallow-Eve is the season of the Crone. In
ancient paganism, the word Crone denoted an elder priestess or tribal matriarch; a cognate
word is "crown," the symbol of a leader. The word was made pejorative when the Christian
Church redefined all elder priestesses of the old religion as malevolent witches. Similarly,
the word "hag" was once derived from Greek hagiaa holy womanand also became a
Christianized term for a witch.
The divine Crone was originally a part of the trinitarian Goddess, who appeared in Maiden,
Mother and Crone forms, associated with the three phases of woman's life, the three phases
of the moon and the annual cycles of nature. Viewed as an underworld deity who cared for
the dead, the Goddess as Crone ruled autumnal harvest festivals, when the spirits of dead
ancestors could visit their descendants and share in the harvest feast. Among the Celts, the
well-known "death's head at the feast" used to be an actual skull of an ancestor, set at the
table to receive offerings, often with a candle set within it, to simulate the warmth of life
and the light of vision. Such was the origin of the jack-o-lantern.
Candy
"We still give children
candy at Halloween,
but we have forgotten
why."
In southeast Asia, harvest
customs still involve food
offerings to ancestors at the
holiday known as the Feast
of the Hungry Ghosts. In Mexico, it
is called the Day of the Dead,
characterized by honoring
the ancestors and feeding the
children little candy skulls as
the memento mori. Feeding
children treats on holy days
is a long-established human
habit, originally designed not only
to make such occasions
memorable for the children,
but also to show visiting tribal
spirits that the next generation is
here, needing their continued help
in maintaining the food supply
for the tribe. We still give
children candy at Halloween,
but we have forgotten why.
Skulls and Masks
The skull was an important symbol of the divine Crone, often envisioned as her true face,
veiled like everyones skull by the mask of flesh. Typically, she was also hidden behind a
black veil. Various traditions claimed that one might see her true visage only in ones final
moments of life, not as in a glass darkly, but then face to face....
Masks, covering the face, were used in sacred drama and
other ceremonies to represent the presence of deity. To put
on the mask, in ancient times, was often interpreted as a
literal assumption of the divine spirit that the mask
embodied. The animal-headed deities of ancient Egypt
began as priests and priestesses wearing totemic animal
masks. The wolf and bear clans of northern Europe wore
masks of the appropriate animals for religious rites and
considered themselves inwardly possessed by their sacred
beasts. Such traditions gave rise not only to common
surnames like Wolf and Baer, but also to legends of
werewolves ("man-wolves") and berserkers (warriors who
became possessed by battle-frenzy when wearing the "bear
sark" or bearskin).
"Mask wearing for religious purposes has
been common throughout history."
Mask wearing for religious purposes has been common
throughout history.... When mask-wearing was associated
with pagan ancestor worship and religious rituals of the
common people, it is hardly surprising to find it still extant
in the only pagan religious holiday that the Church never
managed to pre-empt and turn to its own use: Halloween.
Many versions of the Crone Goddess coalesced into the churchmens image of the "Queen of
Witches"... Up to the 19th century, it was an official Article of Faith of the Catholic Church to
believe in the existence of an underground "Queen of Witches," who usually had one of
three possible names: Hecate, Persephone or Lilith. All three of these were formerly Crone
figures of the original female Holy Trinity.
"Up to the 19th century, it was an official Article of Faith of the
Catholic Church to believe in the existence of an underground
'Queen of Witches'..."
Hecate and Persephone
A Greek version of the ancient trinity was made up of Hebe, the springtime maiden (Roman
Flora); Hera, the Queen of Heaven and mother of the gods; and Hecate, the Crone, ruler of
the underworld of the dead. Hecates male consort was Hades (Roman Pluto). Porphyry and
other classical writers sometimes considered Hecate the whole trinity, appearing as Hecate
Selene, the new moon in heaven; Hecate Artemis, the full-moon spirit of nature; and
Hecate Persephone, the waning moon representing death and the nether regions. She was
worshipped at three-way crossroads as Hecate Trevia, "Hecate of the Three Ways." Her
images stood at crossroads to receive offerings from travelers and gifts of gratitude for safe
journeys...
Though Hecate was popular in Greco-Roman
culture, she actually originated in Egypt as the
Crone Goddess Hekat, an amalgam of the
seven obstetrical Hathors who daily delivered
the newborn sun....
"She was sometimes perceived as
the Crone form of the Cat Goddess
Bast, whose priestesses were also
midwives and to whom black cats
were sacred. Hence, the still
recognizably familiar 'familiar' of
the witch."
Another of the Church's favorite witch-queens
was Proserpina, the Latin form of Etruscan
Persipnei and Greek Persephone. Classical
mythology confused her with Kore, the
springtime Virgin, because the trinity of Kore-
Demeter-Persephone was actually cyclic. In the
reworked myth, Persephone was the maiden
abducted by the underworld god (Hades or
Pluto) and unwillingly made Queen of the
Underworld and forced to live underground
during each winter season, when her mother
Demeter grieved for her and refused to let the
earth bear fruit or greenery until her daughters
return in spring....
Gnostics taught that newly dead souls would meet Persephone (or Proserpina) in the
underworld as soon as they crossed the River Styx. She would teach them the "words of
power" and magic rituals that they would need to insure a comfortable afterlife. Knowledge
of these matters was a primary purpose of Gnostic initiation, even among Christian
Gnostics, whose ideas were declared heretical during the fifth century. Nevertheless,
Gnostic traditions continued to influence ordinary folk in secret for at least a thousand years
more.
Lilith: Queen of Witches
The Semitic version of the Queen of Witches was Lilith or Lilit, known in apocryphal writings
as the first wife of Adam. It was said that she abandoned Adam because he was too bossy
and too crude in his sexual techniques. She defied God and sneered at the angels that God
sent to retrieve her. She went away to the Red Sea and found more compatible male
consorts, by whom she conceived thousands of children. This detail identifies her as one of
the primary Earth Mother figures, who possessed the title of Mother of All Living, later
transferred to Eve.
"Lilith [was] one of the primary Earth Mother figures, who
possessed the title of Mother of All Living, later transferred to Eve."
The name of Lilith first appears on a 4,000-year-old
tablet from Ur containing the "Sumerian version of the
Gilgamesh epic" called "Gilgamesh and the Huluppu-
Tree." She was known in Sumeria and Babylon as Belit-
Ili, the Lily Goddess.... Such she-demons were also
called Night-Hags or Night-Mares, recalling the black,
mare-headed form of Demeter/Persephone as Crone
(Demeter Chthonia, "Underground Demeter").
In northern Europe, the Night-Hags were witches
known as Volvas, who could shape-shift themselves
into the form of mares between sunset and dawn.
Lilith's constellation of myths gave rise to Christianitys
crudest notions about witches, not only their shape-
shifting abilities and their animal familiars but also their
occult power over men's genitals, their alleged sexual
insatiability and their magical induction in humans of
impotence or sexual enslavement. Such fears lay at the
root of the witch-hunting mania that took over Europe
in the 12th and 13th centuries, and still lurk behind many forms of male violence against
women.
"Lilith's myths gave rise to Christianity's crudest notions about
witches, not only their shape-shifting abilities and their animal
familiars but also their occult power over men's genitals."
Lilith's sacred totem was the owl, the Wise Bird of the Crone, which explains why owls still
appear in Halloween symbolism.... The idea of the Crone Goddess underlies all such
Halloween symbols as the wise owl, the black cat, the ancestral ghost, a glowing skull-
lantern, the mask and costume, the gifts of food to children, the sacred fires and the
harvest feast. Perhaps the most important symbol was the cauldron: a divine vessel, forever
churning forth temporary life forms and then reabsorbing them into its eternal stew....
The Cauldron and the Soul
Shakespeare's Macbeth shows the three Weird Sisters dancing around their sacred cauldron,
singing "Round About the Cauldron Go." They are none other than the old Saxon Triple-
Goddess Wyrd, whose name means "Fate" and who took all creatures into her fatal cauldron
to bring them forth again in new forms. That she was the death-bringing and life-giving
spirit of the earth is indisputable. Some form of the Cauldron seems to have accompanied
most of mythologys Crone figures.
"The cauldron stood for birth, nurture, destruction and death, cyclic
redistribution going on forever on a global scale, including
everything from bacteria to the largest organisms."
It was quite a different concept from the Judeo-Christian one. The cauldron symbolized the
idea that just as thought is inseparable from brain, so spirit is inseparable from body; the
one is a function of the other. Native American cultures, for example, viewed the whole
environment of earth, air, waters, plants and animals as sacred, because it was all part of
their totemic ancestor-worship. The spirits of all clan members became part of the
environment, just as the spirits of animals and plants that were eaten became part of the
eater. So in a spiritual sense as much as in a material one, there was constant interchange
between self and environment. Gods, ancestors, saviors, animal spirits and living humans
all were part of the same mix. Hidden in this concept lie the familiar superstitions that claim
gods or devils can take human form and vice versa, or that humans can be made into saints
or demigods simply by the use of human words and magical formulae....
The ancient view was somewhat more eco-logical, more egalitarian and certainly more
compatible with modern knowledge of natural processes. In the Crone's cauldron, "soul"
becomes synonymous with "life force," characteristic of all organisms rather than the
exclusive property of humans. Matter was one with its creatress and linguistic derivative,
Mater, Mother, the material of everything. Mother love, which the Hindus called karuna, was
the basis of all feeling and morality....
If this ancient view had stayed with us, instead of being condemned and obliterated by
patriarchal religion, we might have very different attitudes toward death and dying, body
and spirit, self and other, even good and evil. Since religion is, in large part, humanitys
effort to deal with the inevitability of death, the philosophical implications of this change
were enormous. Perhaps the earlier views were more sensible after all.
"What would churches be today, if they had not so profitably driven
the public mule with the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell?"
What would churches be today, if they had not so profitably driven the public mule with the
carrot of heaven and the stick of hell? Freed from its collective dream/nightmare of both
carrot and stick, the human creature might have gone in different directions and understood
Halloween, the Season of the Crone, in entirely different ways. The Crone reminds us that
religion-induced fear of death wastes our powers, while an honest acknowledgement that
life must end may be the best incentive to true enjoyment of being alive

"Halloween, Samhain, All Hallows, All Saints or Hallow-Eve is the season of the Crone. In ancient paganism, the
word Crone denoted an elder priestess or tribal matriarch; a cognate word is 'crown,' the symbol of a leader. The
word was made pejorative when the Christian Church redefined all elder priestesses of the old religion as malevolent
witches. Similarly, the word 'hag' was once derived from Greek hagiaa holy womanand also became a
Christianized term for a witch....

"In southeast Asia, harvest customs still involve food offerings to ancestors at the holiday known as the Feast of the
Hungry Ghosts. In Mexico, it is called the Day of the Dead, characterized by honoring the ancestors and feeding the
children little candy skulls as the memento mori. Feeding children treats on holy days is a long-established human
habit, originally designed not only to make such occasions memorable for the children, but also to show visiting tribal
spirits that the next generation is here, needing their continued help in maintaining the food supply for the tribe. We
still give children candy at Halloween, but we have forgotten why....

"Mask wearing for religious purposes has been common throughout history.... When mask-wearing was associated
with pagan ancestor worship and religious rituals of the common people, it is hardly surprising to find it still extant in
the only pagan religious holiday that the Church never managed to pre-empt and turn to its own use: Halloween...."