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Hey! Autumn! What’s with the fascination with death?


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Autumn, with its shorter days and longer nights, has long been a month of mystery and reverence across various ancient civilizations. But why is it that so many cultures, separated by vast distances and diverse histories, chose this month to honour the dead? Let’s delve into the shadows and uncover the reasons behind these age-old traditions.


The Cycle of Nature


Autumn typically marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. As plants wither and days shorten, nature itself seems to be in decline, symbolizing the descent into the realm of death. This natural transition made it a fitting time for ancient civilizations to reflect on mortality and pay homage to the deceased.




The Thinning Veil


Many ancient cultures believed that the boundary between the living and the spirit world became more permeable during this time. The Celts, for instance, celebrated Samhain, believing that spirits could easily cross over on this night. This belief in a “thinning veil” is not exclusive to the Celts; similar notions can be found in various cultures worldwide.


Preparing for Winter


Winter was a challenging time for ancient civilizations. The cold months ahead meant potential food shortages and increased mortality rates. By honouring the dead in Autumn, communities sought protection and blessings for the challenging period ahead.


Ancient Egyptian Influence


The ancient Egyptians had a significant influence on many Mediterranean cultures. They celebrated the Isia festival in late Autumn, commemorating the death and rebirth of Osiris, the god of the afterlife. This festival, with its themes of death and resurrection, may have influenced other cultures’ death-related Autumn traditions.




Roman Traditions


The Romans had multiple festivals honouring the dead, including Lemuria in May and Feralia in late Autumn. Feralia was the culmination of Parentalia, a nine-day festival honouring deceased ancestors. The overlap of Roman and Celtic traditions, especially after the Roman conquest of Celtic lands, likely reinforced Autumn’s association with the dead.




The Spread of Christianity


As Christianity spread, it sought to integrate pagan traditions. All Saints’ Day (or All Hallows’ Day) on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd were Christian celebrations honouring the dead. The eve of All Saints’ Day, known as All Hallows’ Eve (and later Halloween), retained many pagan customs and further solidified Autumn’s association with commemorating the deceased.


Universal Human Experience


Death is a universal experience, and every culture has its way of grappling with the mysteries of life, death, and what lies beyond. Autumn, as a transitional time, naturally lends itself to such reflections. The shared human experience of loss and the quest for understanding might explain the cross-cultural similarities in death-related observances during this period.




The commemoration of the dead in Autumn is a testament to humanity’s shared experience and the profound impact of nature’s cycles on our collective psyche. Whether through the lens of spirituality, agriculture, or the changing seasons, Autumn’s dance with death is a tradition that resonates deeply across cultures and epochs. It’s a poignant reminder of our ancestors’ efforts to understand the great beyond and find meaning in the ever-turning wheel of life and death.

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