Tomorrow, Halloween, has a rich past.
Originally, the Celtic people believed that dead souls, fairies and other such entities roamed the Earth on this night, in advance of their new year, our November 1st, called Samhain. In order to placate them, people would leave little cakes out so that the creatures would be satisfied and leave them alone.
Eventually, the custom of regular people dressing up and asking for treats became popular. Of course, that’s how we celebrate the day today. Historically, however, we owe the entire Halloween custom to the Celtic people.
There may also be a darker, even more ancient connection which is astronomical in nature. It’s true that ancient calendars noted this time of year, October 31st to November 2nd, as a ‘cross-quarter’. That is, the mid-point between the beginning of autumn and the beginning of winter. October 31st has been traditionally regarded as the official ‘cross-quarter’ day. But, before the Gregorian calendar was devised, there was another way of marking this time of year.
The beautiful star cluster “the Pleiades” is at its zenith, meaning overhead, at about midnight on the 31st. This recognition of the Pleiades is noted globally and there are many ancient ceremonies designed to commemorate the event. But why?
A man named Robert Grant Haliburton researched the question in the late 1800s. He wondered why the honoring of the Pleiades in mid-autumn seemed to be a global happening. Further, he noted that the ceremonies centered on “the dead.” Additionally, the rituals often involved the lighting of bonfires. The very old customs seemed to recall something that had to do with death and the Pleiades.
Mexican natives told their Spanish invaders of a time when ‘falling hairs’ fell from heaven with the Lord of the Dead. This tale had been passed down to them for generations from the mists of ancient times.
Randall Carlson relates what might be the origin of this strange tale. He quotes an astronomer, Stansbury Hagar, who in 1931 speculated that the position of the Pleiades in late October was associated with a meteor shower. Specifically, the Taurid meteor shower. With a little imagination, the light streaks of a meteor shower can resemble falling hairs.
The Taurids are known to produce large, slow moving meteors and fireballs. The Taurids appear to come from a place in the sky associated with the constellation Taurus. And that’s where we find the Pleiades in late October.
The speculation is that sometime in the very ancient past, a very large meteor from the Taurid stream struck Earth and caused a tremendous cataclysm, widespread death and darkness. Perhaps nearly all human life on Earth came to an end.
Each year, the few survivors would look to the night sky, see Taurus and the Pleiades and watch the ‘falling hairs’ return. Filled with terror, they started fires to ward off darkness and remembered those who perished in the tragic event, praying that nothing like that long-ago devastation would ever happen again.
Is this the true origin of Halloween? It’s a fascinating story.