Trick or Treat!
Ask a child: who rides a broom on Halloween night? Of course, she’ll
Then ask: but why are witches associated with Halloween? You’ll get a
Because she’d have to look back thousands of years... to when on Yule
night in Norway, goddess Reisarova and her witch hordes mounted their
black steeds with eyes of shining ember, and during the wild ride would
cast down saddles onto roofs, foretelling death for the occupant.
Or when the troll witch giantess Hyrrokin rode through her Swedish
skies on a wolf bridled with snakes.
Or when on Lithuania’s midsummer night, all magicians and witches
flew to the top of Mt. Szatria to revel with their mighty sorceress
Or when in the Scottish highlands at summer’s end, with a wand of
power in her hand, grey-cloaked crone Nicnevin led her witch fairies and
goblins astride animal spirits in a great celebratory Parade. Or when in
Ireland, the beings and souls of the Otherworld—some of them human
who’d been turned into cats for evil deeds—assembled at the sacrificial
bonfire of the Druids among the people to honor the dying natural world
in the presence of the aged Crone, the Hag, the Cailleach... all knew
would re-emerge in spring as a beautiful, powerful maiden. For it was on
Samhain night that the barrier between the worlds was so thin, spirits who
were homesick could re-enter this mortal world and commune with and
visit their loved ones.
In the German-speaking countries of Eastern Europe,
the Old Goddess might appear at harvest’s end as an ugly, long-nosed
spinster. On this Ember Night, she’d bring treats or play tricks: spindles
of finished thread for industrious girls, dirtying or tangling the unspun
flax of lazy spinners. Sometimes she’d sport a tooth or nose of iron, or
carry live coals in her pitcher for burning their distaffs. Her job was to
reward and punish children. Often she took the form of a pig.
In time, she became a myth... as did her namesakes.
“At the end of the middle ages an international myth of the Old Goddess
stretched from the Slavic east to the Celtic west and from Italy to
Scandanavia. People said that a vibrant, powerful crone flew in the midst
of a cavalcade of spirits dead and unborn, joined by witches of all lands.
On the eves of pagan holy days the spirit hosts set out for high
mountaintops or other sacred places. At these animist sanctuaries the
witches dance, play music and games, feast and celebrate their mysteries.
The divine “Mistress of the Night” presides over the gathering, giving
cures and revealing the future. Often she miraculously revives the
animals the witches have been feasting on.” (The Tregenda of the Old
Goddess, Witches, and Spirits; Max Dashu (2000))
In these seemingly unrelated populations of pre-Roman, pre-Christian
times, the Old Goddess’ names and manifestations were many. She was
secure in her recurring reverence... until in the 1st Century B.C, the
Romans invaded Northern Europe and brought their own festivals and
goddesses with them.
Over the next four centuries, old and new customs merged, until by the
4th Century A.D., Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity
everyone’s lawful religion and launched a holy war against Paganism and
its symbols. The old practices were “Christianized,” and the old names,
rites, meanings, symbols were recast.
By the 8th Century A.D., the Pagan holy day of Samhaim was celebrated
as Hallowmas: a triple Christian holiday comprised of All Hallow’s Eve
or Hallowe’en (October 31), All Saints Day or All Hallows Day
(November 1), and All Souls Day (November 2). This was still the time of
year to remember the dead... but now the dead included martyrs and
saints, and all faithful departed Christians.
As for the rest of us, it is the night when witches ride brooms, ghosts
come a’haunting, and skeletons rise from graves... to shout in every
doorway: “Trick or treat!”