A History of Halloween

Halloween is known by many names such as Samhain (pronounced sow-wen), Shadowfest, Old Hallowmas, All Hallows Eve and Festival of the Dead, among others.

This is the most important of all Pagan Sabbats.  It is a time when the veil between the world of the living and that of the dead is the thinnest.  It is a time when the spirits of deceased loved ones and friends are honored, as well as a time to look into the future and guide the dead into the world of Summerland.

The average non-Pagan person associates Halloween with only monsters and macabre, but there really is more to it than just that.

To Pagans, Halloween is, among other things a harvest festival, and a New Year’s Eve celebration.  Halloween is a very festive holiday that can be enjoyed by all persons, Pagan and non-Pagan alike.

Halloween has a long and rich history originating in Pagan Ireland as the festival of the dead.  It became All Hallows Eve during Christian times.

The word Samhain, means “summer’s end” and was a New Year celebration among those whose calendars used to end on October 31st.

The ancient Celts believed an invisible veil existed that separated the worlds of the living and the dead.  At sundown, on the last day of the year this veil waned to it’s thinnest point, allowing the living and the dead to make contact with each other.

Every Samhain, a deity known as the Lord of the Dead, was said to gather the souls of all the men, women and children, who died during the previous year, and and been confined the bodies of animals while waiting to enter the underworld with their sins expiated.  The would be set free to begin their journey to the Celtic Underworld.  (Gerina Dunwich: The Pagan Book of Halloween).

Homesick spirits were free to roam and visit their families, who prepared offerings of fruits and vegetables and hilltop bonfires which served as a guide for the souls of the dead.  the bonfires were kept lit all night and frightened away evil spirits.

“Halloween did not find a place on the North American calendar until after the great Irish immigration to the United States which followed the potato famine of the 1840’s.  With the arrival of the Irish to the new world came the old Gaelic traditions of carving Jack-o-lanterns, performing love divinations, and guising (which eventually evolved into the trick-or-treat custom as we know it today). They also brought with them their old Halloween folklore.”

*All above information is from Gerina Dunwich’s “The Pagan Book of Halloween.”