Halloween and Mongolian Shamanism

By P.Leon

The word “Halloween” is a compound word composed of two words: “Hallowed,” which means holy and “Evening”. So, why do so many people think that it is the day of the devils, witches, and monsters? Well, that’s a common misconception perpetuated by people who don’t know the history of Halloween. Actually, Halloween is a very benign holiday (holy day), and one that millions of children love in the United States of America. This being the first day of October and since Halloween occurs on the last day of October, this article will endeavour to set the record straight about Halloween. If you are a Mongolian, you may be surprised to find out that Halloween is not so different from your own Shamanistic heritage.
History of Halloween
Halloween actually started millennia ago, no one really knows when. In fact, no one really knows who started Halloween. It is generally accepted that a particular tribe of Celts emigrated from Europe to the British Isles around 600 B.C. They were a shamanistic people, in touch with nature and very aware of the cycles of the Earth, the planets, the stars, and the seasons. Halloween is attributed to those people, led by a priestly class, called the Druids.
It was believed that on the last day of the year, which was October 31st by our Gregorian calendar, that all the spirits of the departed souls were allowed to leave the underworld to visit the mortal realm when the sun went down. It was a Holy Day, a veritable Hallowed Evening. However, any person of the time was fully aware that if the gates to the underworld were opened, that meant that all the bad spirits were free to roam the Earth as well. Perhaps some would come back seeking revenge for an ancient wrong. Perhaps some would wreak havoc just for the fun of it. Precautions had to be taken.
Similarities with Mongolian Shamanism
According to researcher and writer Heike Michel, many Mongolians, like the Celts of the British Isles, have believed that the soul of the deceased could return to this realm; And, like the Celts, the ancient Mongolians took precautions against impure and evil spirits that might return. Let us, now, compare these ancient beliefs and we shall see that there are ancient ties between the East and the West.
Fire to Combat Evil
Anciently, bon fires were set just prior to sundown to scare away evil spirits. Americans do not do this, but England seems to have carried on the tradition, only changing the name to Guy Fawkes Day, and therefore changing the meaning of the holiday all together.
In Mongolia, fire has been considered sacred. It was, by the ancients, considered to be a gift from the God-King Khormasta. Fire has even been personified as “Fire-Mother” in Mongolia and traditionally only women were keepers of the fire in the ger (Mongolian yurt). Because of the sacredness of fire, it has been forbidden to stamp out or smother a fire with dirt or water. Furthermore, it has been taboo to pollute a fire with rubbish. Despite that traditional belief, many people in the countryside will burn their rubbish today. Yet, while many modern Mongolians discard the ancient beliefs, fire still remains sacred to a few rouge shamans in Mongolia. According to several sources, fire is a tool used to purify things and ward off evil spirits in Mongolia. For instance, researcher and writer, Heike Michel, wrote that when a Mongolian funeral procession returned home, it had to walk between two fires, burning just opposite the entrance to the deceased’s yurt. These fires were believed to drive evil spirits away from the procession participants and their animals. If the fire cleansing rite wasn’t performed, Mongolians believed that epidemics and other misfortunes could result.
Jack-o-lanterns & Mirrors
In order to prevent evil spirits from entering one’s home, Celtic people made jack-o-lanterns out of pumpkin shells. First, they cut open the top. Then, they took out all the seeds. Next, they carved a scary face into the shell. Lastly, they put a candle inside and set the jack-o-lantern on the porch in front of the door. This tradition is carried on to this day in America. However, the reason for the tradition has been lost, and many modern-day jack-o-lanterns have cute or funny faces.
Mongolian traditions are quite similar in the aspect that materials have been used to keep evil spirits away. My favourite example comes from the Blue Mongolia Tour guides. They say that all Mongolian shamans (even those who have abandoned the rest of their ceremonial dress) wear a special apron, which is a belt of leather hung with mirrors. Altaic shamans wear nine mirrors. The mirrors are called toli and this apron has several names, like: “blue cloud-bee” and also boge-yin kulug the “mount of the shaman”. The mirrors are believed to frightened evil spirits away, protecting the shaman.
Masks and Costumes
If one had to leave his/her home on Halloween, one would have worn a scary mask. This served a dual purpose. Firstly, it hid the individual from would-be-molesting spirits. Secondly, it would frighten away evil spirits. In America, children still dress up in costumes; but as the original purpose of such an activity has been totally forgotten, many children choose to dress up in cute or funny costumes, such as princesses, animals, or super heroes.
Mongolian shamans also have used masks and costumes to disguise themselves from evil spirits. Blue Mongolia Tour guides describe the Mongolian shamans’ costumes thusly:
“For Mongol shamans, metal hung about their persons was essential, and some of them wore up to forty pounds of it. These material objects represent the shaman’s ancestors and her spirit helpers. They wore a kaftan ornamented with small pieces of metal and bells, each of which is trimmed with little strips of cloth or leather in snake form – which may represent a bird’s feathers. The name of this formal shaman’s dress is quyay (armour) or else eriyen debel, (spotted dress). Over this is worn an apron of tapering strips about 32 inches long, hanging down from a band 8 inches wide; the colour and number of the strips varies. The mirror apron was worn over that. Mongolian shamans sometimes wear helmets with horns. Eastern Mongolian shamans wear silk head-cloths, usually red.”
In conclusion, to call Halloween a day/night of evil, is like calling Mongolian shamanism evil. In fact, neither is evil. Actually, they are both ways to combat evil. It is interesting to me that people on different sides of the world would have such similar traditions. Both the Mongols and the British Celts used fire to combat evil. Both used masks and costumes to disguise the living from evil spirits, and both used material objects to scare away evil spirits. Even the timing of some of the rites is similar. For instance, Mongolian female shamans conducted the “Fire-Cleansing” ritual on the twenty-ninth day of the last month of the year. How’s that for similarity?

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Posted by on Oct 1 2012. Filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

4 Comments for “Halloween and Mongolian Shamanism”

  1. Great article – I’ve done shamanism work in Britain for almost 30 years and have published the world’s leading magazine about shamanism since 1993. We had so many traditions here in Britain that we have lost. All around where I live are the sacred sites of the ancestors – 5000 years old – they look like the sacred sites and stones in the Altai.

    I have learned the old ways from Native American and Mongolian teachers – the shamanism I do is mostly like Mongolian, but it is not exactly like that because the spirits and ancestors we work with are from these ancient islands.

    Blessings to all the brothers and sisters in Mongolia and all those who keep the ancient sacred ways

  2. [...] View article: Halloween and Mongolian Shamanism | Ubpost News [...]

  3. What a load of rubbish. Halloween meeans the eve of All Hallow’s Day or All Saint’s Day which is celebrated on 1st November. It was on the Celtic festival of Samhain, celebrateing the Harvest and the Dead. Bone fires were lit for purification of livestock. The bones of slaughtered animals were cast into the fires.The Celts of Britain did not carve out pumpkins as pumpkins were not native to the British Isles. In my childhood we carved out turnips to resemble the skulls of the druid ghost fences which conjured up the dead for protection against enemies. Jack o’lantern is american. To us brits/irish, before american halloween invaded our culture, it’s a name we give to marsh lights that entice lonely travellers into the bogs on dark nights.

  4. Good article, interesting parallels drawn between shamanism and paganism.

    Just one thing, Guy Fawkes Day has no relation to Halloween at all. It is in fact a celebration of the failed “gunpowder plot of 1605″ where a Mr. Guido Fawkes tried to blow up the British House of Lords and assassinate King James I.

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