Sure, during the festival of Samhain it was possible for malevolent spirits to travel the land and inflict harm on the living but there are far worse things to fear. Imagine the ghostly grandparents and their guilt trips now! What if you hadn’t visited their graves at all in the last year?! We are talking about weapons-grade guilt here. Guilt so strong it could level a city.

Samhain is scary.

Oh yeah, and it’s pronounced Sah-win. Why is it spelled Samhain in English? Because screw you, that’s why! At least, I imagine that’s the argument the jerk that came up with that spelling made.

The modern version of Halloween we celebrate today has its roots deep in Celtic history and has been influenced by Chrisitan sources as well. Of particular note is the Celtic harvest festival known as Samhain which played a key role in the development of Halloween, featuring many rituals that we still observe today and providing a framework upon which our modern holiday was built over time.

Samhain, being a harvest festival, was an immensely important time of the year for the Celtic world. It was a time of reflection and taking stock; a time to harvest the crops and to take the herds from their high summer pastures to lower pastures before the coming of winter. During this time, animals would be slaughtered and their meat preserved for the onset of the colder months. Warm clothing and stores of grains were set aside to help see people through the difficult winters.

Along with these practical concerns of life, there were many spiritual aspects of the festival. At this time of the year, it was thought that the veil that separates the world of the living from the world of spirits was at its weakest. Because of this, the spirits of the deceased, along with the fae people, were able to travel through the world of the living. As the veil weakened, helpful faeries and the spirits of deceased relatives could grant blessings and boons upon those that showed respect for them. It was common at this time for people to set a place at the table for the deceased and to tell stories about their ancestors. However, there were also many evil spirits or faeries that could interfere in human lives, causing ill luck or misfortune to befall anyone that happened to cross them. Many people avoided faerie mounds and chose to stay near to home in order to avoid any unwanted attention from the dangerous entities they thought waited for them in the darkness.

To help liven up the night, some people (particularly in Scotland) created bonfires and celebrated around them throughout the night, drinking and feasting. As the festival continued through the years, more rituals were added. Guising, the practice of wearing costumes and masks, was a popular custom during Samhain and was probably used to help trick any spirits that wished to do a person harm. Though guising and mumming were fairly common during festivals throughout Europe, it was seen as particularly appropriate in the case of Samhain. People even began playing pranks on one another and collecting treats, food, and firewood for Samhain festivities, practices which are believed to be the origin of today’s “Trick-or-Treating”. Even pumpkin carving was originally a custom observed during Samhain, though people used turnips instead of our preferred orange friend. These turnips, rather than being left on doorsteps, were usually carried around and used as lanterns to light the way through the darkness.

As Christianity made its way into the Celtic world, it clashed with traditional spiritual beliefs and festivals. Rather than being simply stamped out, the Christian world embraced many of Samhain’s rituals while setting aside its supernatural beliefs, eventually bringing these customs to other parts of Europe. Nowadays, the secular holiday of Halloween is quite a big deal in some places and we can see the echoes of the once great traditions of Samhain within it.

So if you’re a Halloween enthusiast, make sure to take a moment and thank those lovely Celts for helping to make this fun holiday!

I hope everyone has a lovely Halloween night! Enjoy yourselves and be safe!