Samhain and the origin of Halloween

By Farah Bassyouni Oct 30, 2023

With Halloween just around the bloody, haunted alleyway, I decided to take a deep dive into the history of how it all began. Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, started as a Celtic pagan holiday known as Samhain. The holiday originated in Ireland and has been around for centuries, representing the Pagan New Year. According to History Education, “Celebrants believe that the barriers between the physical world and the spirit world break down during Samhain, allowing more interaction between humans and denizens of the Otherworld.”

A good old trick-or-treat was a very important ritual for the pagans. “” went on to say that “because the Celts believed that the barrier between worlds was breachable during Samhain, they prepared offerings that were left outside villages and fields for fairies, or Sidhs.” To not leave an offering was a slight against the beings and even the ancestors that crossed over from the Otherworld and the land of the dead. Terrible consequences would ensue if the pagans didn’t appease the denizens and the ancestors.

To ensure that they didn’t get kidnapped by beings of the Otherworld, mainly the fae, the pagans would dress up as animals or monsters, which became the inspiration for modern day Halloween costumes. Along with costumes, jack-o-lanterns were important to the Celtic pagans. They originally used turnips in an effort to scare away malevolent spirits and monsters.

Many pagans still celebrate Samhain in their own way today. Such celebrations can include building an altar for a loved one. Lighting a bonfire or a small fire in a firepit is another, as Samhain rituals of the past often included fire.

Another way to celebrate is to prepare a feast, which doesn’t have to be as large as it sounds; just enough for the host, and their dead loved ones. The feast should put “an emphasis on seasonal fruits and vegetables, foraged items, wild game, and dark breads,” says Reda Wigle, author of the article “What is Samhain? All about the Pagan holiday that inspired Halloween.” She went on to say that, “If you imbibe, pour cider or red wine. Eat by candlelight and consider that the life we live is as much a harvest as the crops we collect… Offer gratitude for the company you have around you and stories about the departed who no longer be called to the table. When you are finished with your meal, place your leftovers outside as an offering to the dead. As we welcome winter, remember that death is necessary, new life is imminent and honoring what has been ensures the arrival of what is yet to come.”

At its core, Samhain is not just about masks, treats and pumpkin lanterns, but about respecting dead loved ones and making sure the beings of the Otherworld feel honored. So, this All Hallows Eve, if you believe in the Otherworld and souls coming back, perhaps leave something out for them all. Otherwise they may find you in need of a bit of unlucky jinxing or pimple cursing.

If you’d like to see a pagan celebration on Samhain, the Pagan Society Association is having one October 29. Be on the lookout for flyers on campus and follow PSA on instagram.

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