The origins of Halloween is based on an old pre Christian Celtic belief; Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween) which was a day that the Celts believed that the dead could walk amongst the living, amongst other important rituals.
The origins of Samhain can be traced back to Ireland and Scotland over 2000 years ago and was culturally important as it marked the day that animal herders would move their animals into barns and pens, crops were harvested and stored, to prepare to wait out the winter season.
Samhain was celebrated on the 31st October with the 1st of November marking the New Year for the Celts. Due to the end of the Calendar year for the Celts, the day of Samhain was believed to be a day that was neither in the year past or the year to come, marking it as a day of in-between where chaos ruled.
During this time, there was a strong belief that the spirits of the dead wandered amongst the living, looking for bodies to inhabit. To ward away spirits, sacrifices were held, usually animals, fruits and vegetables, to appease the spirits.
Bonfires were lit to honour the dead and aid them in their journey, and to keep them away from the living. The Celtic people would also dress up in costumes and make loud noises to confuse and frighten spirits away.
Samhain eventually morphed into what is recognised as Halloween today when Catholic Missionaries attempted to change the religious beliefs of the Celts, and bring them into the folds of Christianity.
The first major breakthrough by Missionaries to eradicate Celtic ‘pagan’ beliefs was through a concept created in 601 AD by Pope Gregory the First who issued an edict.
Rather than obliterate the beliefs and customs of the native people they wished to convert, missionaries were instructed to use the beliefs. For example if a group of people worshipped a tree (Christmas), missionaries were advised to consecrate it to Christ and allow it’s continued worship.
Church holy days were then purposefully set to collide with Celtic holy days with November the 1st becoming “All Hallows Day” (hallowed means sanctified or holy) where all the saints of the Catholic Church were honoured, and October the 31st became “All Hallows Eve” in the 9th Century.
With Samhain centered on the strong beliefs of supernatural activities by the Celts, Catholics deemed this as paganism, and the Catholics branded Celtic Deities as evil, and attempted to define them as dangerous and malicious.
Followers of Samhain were branded as witches and were forced into hiding. Meanwhile the Catholics used the 31st October as a “Feast Day” to substitute for Samhain Iin an attempt to gain the devotion of the Celts, and to try and replace Samhain completely.
This of course never worked, but the former deities from the Celtic belief system diminished, and turned into the recent traditions of leprechauns and fairies.
Belief in the supernatural continued under the Catholics, however the supernatural was now treated as evil, and a thing to be feared.
People continued to celebrate the event, and attempted to appease these spirits and masked impersonators by setting out gifts of food and drink (trick or treating).
Eventually Hallows Eve, became Hallow Evening, which became Hallowe’en which is an ancient Celtic, pre-Christian New Year’s Day in contemporary dress.
Featured Image: Snap-Apple Night (1833), painted by Daniel Maclise, shows people playing divination games on 31 October in Ireland