The Romans answer to Halloween

The 21st of February marks the end of an eight day Roman festival. The 21st is known as Feralia and it closes the eight days of honouring the dead.

Feralia is almost like our version of halloween today ~ historic accounts documenting the eight days running up to Feralia paint a picture of honouring family and ancestors who had passed. Visiting graves and tombs, preparing meals there as a family, and leaving food for those who had passed over. It all sounds very respectful. But don’t be fooled ~ the romans were very wary of death. Fearing their peril if they did not placate the souls.

The Romans believed that it was important to celebrate these eight days, as it was a time when the shades of the dead moved freely among the living. The closing festival on the 21st however, was about taking part in the rite to send the dead back to where they belonged, and make sure they stayed there. It wasn’t about helping them return, but in keeping them away from the living. Feralia was the day when the shades no longer wandered freely, but hovered over their graves. Little is known about the rites performed to send the dead back to Hades and lock them in the underworld. But it seemed to have something to do with beans… (make of that what you will.)

Halloween is a tradition that began as Samhain. (The ((very)) short story –) it’s a celtic practice of chasing the spirits back to where they came from, dressing in animal skins and horns so you weren’t dragged back with them. It was a rite that took place on the last day of the year; the 31st Of October. It was when the villages were heading into the darkest and coldest periods, and death was common. (Pope Gregory III brought in All Souls day on the 1st of November to honour the dead at a later date — 993 CE, as a way of placating the souls after being chased back.)

All cultures and religions honour the dead in some form. But the reasons for, and beliefs of, the Roman tradition bears a similarity to celtic Samhain, and celtic paganism is largely the framework of the modern neopaganism that we have today, and I thought it was interesting and decided to share.

Bright Blessings all.

Jo x

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