I just saw someone arguing that Halloween comes from ancient Greece and commemorates the abduction of Persephone by Haides, which causes the shift into winter and the dead to roam the earth.
There are so many things wrong with that sentence — so many — but for sanity’s sake I’m going to limit myself to just one small correction.
Anyone remember what Persephone (or more accurately Kore) and her girlfriends were doing when Klymenos dropped by?
Apart from Demeter, lady of the golden sword and glorious fruits, she was playing with the deep-bosomed daughters of Okeanos and gathering flowers over a soft meadow, roses and crocuses and beautiful violets, irises also and hyacinths and the narcissus, which Gaia made to grow at the will of Zeus and to please Polydektor, to be a snare for the bloom-like girl – a marvelous, radiant flower. It was a thing of awe whether for deathless gods or mortal men to see: from its root grew a hundred blooms and it smelled most sweetly, so that all wide heaven above and the whole earth and the sea’s salt swell laughed for joy. And the girl was amazed and reached out with both hands to take the lovely toy: but the wide-pathed earth yawned there in the plain of Nysa, and the lord, Polydegmon, with his immortal horses sprang out upon her–the Son of Kronos, Polyonomos. (Homeric Hymn to Demeter)
I don’t know about you, but I generally consider prime flower-picking time to be in spring – not when it’s all cold and blustery out.
Granted, she was gathering flowers in a magical hyper-fertile land — which could either be round about Mount Nysa or Sicily, depending on which tradition you go by:
The spot lies near the city, a place of striking beauty for its violets and every other kind of flower and worthy of the goddess. And the story is told that, because of the sweet odour of the flowers growing there, trained hunting dogs are unable to hold the trail, because their natural sense of smell is balked. And the meadow we have mentioned is level in the centre and well watered throughout, but on its periphery it rises high and falls off with precipitous cliffs on every side. And it is conceived of as lying in the very centre of the island, which is the reason why certain writers call it the navel of Sicily. Near to it also are sacred groves, surrounded by marshy flats, and a huge grotto which contains a chasm which leads down into the earth and opens to the north, and through it, the myth relates, Pluton, coming out with his chariot, effected the Rape of Kore. And the violets, we are told, and the rest of the flowers which supply the sweet odour continue to bloom, to one’s amazement, throughout the entire year, and so the whole aspect of the place is one of flowers and delight. (Diodoros Sikeleiotes, Library of History 5.3.2)
However, this was the basis for one of the most important festivals in Sicily, the springtime Anthesphoria. No, not the Anthesteria – this:
William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, 1875
ANTHESPHO′RIA (ἀνθεσφόρια), a flower-festival, principally celebrated in Sicily. It consisted of gathering flowers and twining garlands, because Persephone had been carried off by Pluto while engaged in this occupation (Pollux, I.37). Strabo (VI p256) relates that at Hipponium the women celebrated a similar festival in honour of Demeter, which was probably called anthesphoria, since it was derived from Sicily. The women themselves gathered the flowers for the garlands which they wore on the occasion, and it would have been a disgrace to buy the flowers for that purpose. Anthesphoria were also solemnized in honour of other deities, especially in honour of Hera, surnamed Ἀνθεία, at Argos (Paus. II.22 § 1), where maidens, carrying baskets filled with flowers, went in procession, whilst a tune called ἱεράκιον was played on the flute (comp. Etym. Gud. p57). Aphrodite, too, was worshipped at Cnossus, under the name Ἀνθεία (Hesych. s.v.), and has therefore been compared with Flora, the Roman deity, as the anthesphoria have been with the Roman festival of the Florifertum, or Floralia.
Diodoros goes on to discuss other interesting Sicilian festivals:
Kore received as her portion the meadows round about Enna; but a great fountain was made sacred to her in the territory of Syracuse and given the name Cyane or “Azure Fount.” For the myth relates that it was near Syracuse that Pluton effected the Rape of Kore and took her away in his chariot, and that after cleaving the earth asunder he himself descended into Hades, taking along with him the bride whom he had seized, and that he caused the fountain named Cyane to gush forth, near which the Syracusans each year hold a notable festive gathering; and private individuals offer the lesser victims, but when the ceremony is on behalf of the community, bulls are plunged in the pool, this manner of sacrifice having been commanded by Heracles on the occasion when he made the circuit of all Sicily, while driving off the cattle of Geryones.
[Anyone starting to notice a theme here?]
And the inhabitants of Sicily (since by reason of the intimate relationship of Demeter and Kore with them, they were the first to share in the corn after its discovery) instituted to each one of the goddesses sacrifices and festive gatherings, which they named after them, and by the time chosen for these made acknowledgement of the gifts which had been conferred upon them. In the case of Kore, for instance, they established the celebration of her return at about the time when the fruit of the corn was found to come to maturity, and they celebrate this sacrifice and festive gathering with such strictness of observance and such zeal as we should reasonably expect those men to show who are returning thanks for having been selected before all mankind for the greatest possible gift; but in the case of Demeter they preferred that time for the sacrifice when the sowing of the corn is first begun, and for a period of ten days they hold a festive gathering which bears the name of this goddess and is most magnificent by reason of the brilliance of their preparation for it, while in the observance of it they imitate the ancient manner of life. And it is their custom during these days to indulge in coarse language as they associate one with another, the reason being that by such coarseness the goddess, grieved though she was at the Rape of Kore, burst into laughter.
Which just shows that Hegesilaos didn’t do the deed around Halloween because how can you return someone before you’ve abducted them?
Think, people. Think.
Believe what you want to, but don’t claim that the ancients believed it too. Because sources.