Updated: Oct 31
As the leaves begin to fall and the air grows crisp, Halloween approaches with its mix of themed decorations, creative costumes, and, of course, kids out trick-or-treating. Yet, few know that this seasonal holiday has deep roots in British Celtic traditions, dating back over 2,000 years. In this blog post, I will delve into the ancient origins of Halloween and explore how the Celtic people laid the foundation for this modern celebration and ways we can emulate our ancestors, when celebrating All Hallows' Eve.
Samhain: The Celtic Origins of Halloween
Halloween, as we celebrate it today, is a fascinating blend of Celtic customs, early Christian influences, and a touch of American creativity. The Irish emigrated to America in great numbers during the 19th century especially around the time of famine in Ireland during the 1840's. The Irish carried their Halloween traditions to America, where today it is one of the major holidays of the year. While it may have evolved significantly over the centuries, the Celtic roots of Samhain remain at its core. This October 31st, as you choose your costume for a Halloween party, or hand out sweets to local children on your doorstep, take a moment to appreciate the ancient traditions of the Celtic people, who unknowingly laid the foundations of many Halloween traditions.
At the heart of Halloween's Celtic connection is the festival of Samhain, a significant event in the Celtic calendar. Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It was a time when the Celts believed the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds was at its thinnest, allowing for communication with the departed.
Costumes and Masks: One of the most recognizable elements of Halloween is the tradition of dressing in costumes. The Celts, too, had a practice of donning disguises during Samhain. They believed that wearing masks and costumes would help protect them from malevolent spirits that roamed the earth during this time. This concept of disguise has evolved into the costumes worn by adults and children alike at this time of year.
Divination and Prophecy: The Celts believed that during Samhain, the boundaries between the living and the dead were blurred. This led to various divination practices, such as scrying (gazing into reflective surfaces like water or mirrors to see the future), reading the patterns of burnt nuts or grains, and using the behavior of animals to predict the future. These practices were attempts to gain insight into the coming year and make decisions based on the information received from the spirit world.
Sacrificial Offerings: While the historical evidence is limited, some accounts suggest that the Celts may have made sacrifices of animals during Samhain. These offerings were often intended to appease or honor the spirits and deities.
Feasting and Community Gatherings: Samhain was a time for communities to come together for feasting and celebration. The Celts would often hold grand feasts, share stories, and strengthen social bonds. The bounty from the recently harvested crops was a central focus of these gatherings, as it marked the transition into the harsher winter months. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into a communal fire, household fires were extinguished and started again from the main bonfire.
Protection Rituals: To ward off malevolent spirits that were believed to roam the earth during Samhain, the Celts engaged in protective rituals. Lighting bonfires and carving protective symbols into turnips (the precursor to modern pumpkins) were common practices. These symbols were meant to guide and protect the living and act as a deterrent to harmful entities.
Honouring Ancestors: Samhain was also a time to remember and honor deceased loved ones. The Celts believed that the spirits of the dead returned to visit their homes during this time. Offerings of food and drink were left out for these spirits, and people would sometimes set an extra place at their table to welcome the departed. Celtic people would also leave food out to appease the spirits coming to Earth on this night. Over time, people began to dress as these unearthly beings in exchange for similar offerings of food and drink. Today we have our trick or treaters,
Transitions and Renewal: Samhain marked the end of one Celtic year and the beginning of the next. It was a time for reflection on the past and a fresh start. The Celts viewed it as a time of transition, both in nature and in their lives, as they looked to the future.
While our understanding of ancient Celtic traditions during Samhain is limited, these practices are believed to have laid the foundation for many of the Halloween customs we observe today. They reflect a deep connection to nature, spirituality, and community that remains intertwined with the spirit of Halloween.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN THE CELTIC WAY?
Create a Halloween alter in your home. This doesn't have to take up a large space and you can have it anywhere in you home. Add to your alter seasonal flowers, a photo of a deceased loved one, a candle, objects from nature (seeds, leaves, feathers) you can add any items that have meaning for you or held meaning for the loved ones who have passed. You can put food offerings on your alter, postcards, oracle cards, anything! There are no rules. I like to set my intentions for the year ahead and put them in a gold envelope sealed on my alter.
Using Oracle Cards is a great way to practice divination like our Celtic ancestors. Choose a deck and select a card on the eve of Halloween when the veil is meant to be thin between us and the realm of Spirit. I like to ask for Spirit's guidance before choosing. I also like to use my Celtic Tree Ogham Staves an ancient form of divination.
Have friends over for dinner and get each one to bring a photo of or perhaps an object of meaning that belonged to a friend or family member who has died. It's wonderful way to bring loved ones near and to celebrate their lives. Each guest takes it in turns to introduce their loved one to the group. A great way to connect and share whilst keeping those we miss near.
Light a fire inside or outside if you can. Write down on paper that which you wish to let go of from the previous year and burn these on the fire. Letting go of the old and making way for the new. But also remember to look back over the previous year and congratulate yourself on all you have achieved. It's a time for celebration too.
Carve a pumpkin with a Celtic Symbol or a turnip! Try something different this Halloween there are lots of simple Celtic symbols out there you could use for inspiration. Smaller pumpkins carved with these images make lovely candle holders for your Halloween dinner party!
Set intentions, this way you are sowing seeds that can start to germinate and take root over the coming winter. Think about ways, in this quieter season to come you, can help these seeds prosper.
Use crystals for protection. Hematite, Smoky Quartz, Clear Crystal Quartz, Golden Tiger's Eye, Tourmaline, Snowflake Obsidian are considered master protection crystals for you or you home or for any situation you find yourself in. Put them on your alter, carry one with you, use them as table decorations with your pumpkins at your Halloween dinner.
Hopefully these suggestions can help you have a really magical Halloween where you can use the mystical energies to your advantage and harness the power of Spirit to comfort, connect and protect you.
I WORK WITH RITUAL, DIVINATION, MANIFESTATION AND CRYSTALS ON MY SOULFUL RETREAT DAYS. MY NEXT RETREAT DAY WILL BE ON THE SPRING EQUINOX. HERE WE WILL USE THIS POWERFUL TIME OF RENEWAL AND GROWTH TO SET INTENTIONS, LAUNCH OUR DREAMS AND ALLOW OURSELVES TO BLOSSOM. YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE HERE.