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The Real Origins of Halloween discusses the history of Halloween, the origins of trick-or-treating, reasons behind some

of the symbols of the season, and why the holiday is well worth keeping and celebrating. Previous versions of this essay specifically contrasted the historical evidence with the absurd claims and urban legends used in most anti-Halloween propaganda. I have now put those latter materials into their own essay, Halloween Errors and Lies, since it seems that many people have never seen or heard those fearmongering tales and could not understand why I would spend so much space discussing them within an historical essay. This is a work of amateur scholarship. If you wish to quote me in an academic environment, you may wish to first verify my statements by consulting the books linked within my text. A more formal Bibliography will appear in a future book, Some Truths About Halloween. If you prefer black text on white, you can click here for a more easily printed (or for some folks, more easily read) edition of this specific essay. For a Spanish translation with graphics, go to Los Verdaderos Orígenes de Halloween or here for the easy printing/reading Spanish text without most of the graphics. For information about the specific topic of Witchcraft, consider obtaining my book, Bonewits's Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca.

There appear to have been four major holy days celebrated by the Paleopagan Druids, possibly throughout the Celtic territories: Samhain, Oimelc, Beltane & Lughnasadh (in one set of Irish-based modern spellings). Four additional holy (or “High”) days (Winter Solstice or “Midwinter,” Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice or “Midsummer,” and Fall Equinox), which are based on Germanic or other Indo-European cultures, are also celebrated in the Neopagan Druid calendar, along with others based on mainstream holidays (visit the linked essay for details). The most common practice for the calculation of Samhain, Oimelc, Beltane and Lughnasadh has been, for the last several centuries, to use the civil calendar days or eves of November 1st, February 1st, May 1st and August 1st, respectively. Since we have conflicting evidence on how the Paleopagan Druids calculated these dates, modern Neopagans just use whichever method is most convenient. This means, of

and in Manx as Laa Houney (Hollantide Day). The day before Samhain is the last day of . that we aren‟t all doing anything uniformly on any given night. because (according to most Celtic scholars) it may have marked the Celtic New Year. holiness. These four major holy days have been referred to as “fire festivals” for at least the last hundred years or so. among Eastern Orthodox and Western Winter Calends”). sacred fires were apparently kindled by the IndoEuropean Paleopagans on every important religious occasion.” It doesn‟t match the Evil Conspiracy theories — which have us all marching to a strict drumbeat in perfect Satanic unison — at all. it‟s just Irish). Samhain is often said to have been the most important of the fire festivals.course.” Whether it was the Celtic New Year or not. “organizing Pagans is like herding cats. and beauty. the “Night of the from Amazon. like many cultures. as with all the Indo-European Paleopagans. fire was a physical symbol of divinity. you can‟t have a satisfying ritual without a few candles being lit — of course. because (1) to the ancient Celts. Samhain was the beginning of the Winter or Dark Half of the Year (the seasons of Geimredh=Winter and Earrach=Spring) as Beltane was the beginning of the Summer or Light Half of the Year (the seasons of Samradh=Summer and Foghamhar=Fall). the Fundamentalists consider them Heathen too! Samhain or “Samhuinn” is pronounced “sow-” (as in female pig) “-en” (with the neutral vowel sound) — not “Sam Hain” — because “mh” in the middle of an Irish word is a “w” sound (don‟t ask me why. which fits perfectly with the Neopagan saying that. as the Roman Christians had originally). Known in Modern Irish as Lá Click here to order it Samhna. Sauin or Souney. Samhain was equal in importance to Beltane and shared many symbolic characteristics. To this very day. Whether in Ireland or India. Samhain was the original festival that the Western Christian calendar moved its “All Saints‟ Day” to (Eastern Christians continue to celebrate All Saints‟ Day in the spring. (2) fires play important roles in the traditional customs associated with these festivals. among the Germans or the Hittites. in Welsh as Nos Galen-Gaeaf (that is. Samhain became the “evening” of “All Hallows” (“hallowed” = “holy” = “saint”) which was eventually contracted into “Hallow-e‟en” or the modern “Halloween. truth. and (3) several early Celtic scholars called them that. At the least. started every day at sunset of the night before. Since the Celts.

With the coming of Christianity. The veil between this world and the World of the Ancestors was drawn aside on these nights. speaking of both Paleopagan and Mesopagan Druids in England. that the Tuatha De Danann later defeated the Formors once and for all. Philip Carr-Gomm. were concerned with making contact with the spirits of the departed. journeys could be made in safety to the ‟other side‟. in the custom of trick-or-treating on Hallowe‟en. everyone knew their place. in a watered down way. like all early societies. The dead are honoured and feasted. There is some evidence to indicate that three days were spent celebrating this festival. Time was abolished for the three days of this festival and people did crazy things. was highly structured and organised. [This happened at Beltane too — IB] Farmers‟ gates were unhinged and left in ditches. The Druid rites. Many of these events had to do with the temporary victory of the forces of darkness over those of light. who were seen as sources of guidance and inspiration rather than as sources of dread. and children would knock on neighbours‟ doors for food and treats in a way that we still find today. lay a deeper meaning. Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards. from 31 October to 2 November was a time of no-time. It was on a Samhain that the Nemedians captured the terrible Tower of Glass built by the evil Formorians. Being “between” seasons or years. when the dead walk among the living and the veils between past. Samhain was (and is) considered a very magical time. signaling the beginning of the cold and dark half of the year. The dark moon. the Celts knew that there had to be a time when order and structure were abolished. men dressed as women and women as men. therefore.summer (or the old year) and the day after Samhain is the first day of winter (or of the new year). peoples‟ horses were moved to different fields. was the phase of the moon which ruled this time. because it represents a time in which our mortal sight needs to be obscured in order for us to see into the other worlds. Here we can see most . and for those who were prepared. the time when no moon can be seen in the sky. when chaos could reign. this festival was turned into Hallowe‟en (31 October). but as the living spirits of loved ones and of guardians who hold the root-wisdom of the tribe. and that many other events of a dramatic or prophetic nature in Celtic myth happened. Ovates and Druids. But to allow that order to be psychologically comfortable. not as the dead. All Hallows [All Saints Day] (1 November). present and future may be lifted in prophecy and divination. The Druids knew that these three days had a special quality about them. was such a time. and All Souls Day (2 November). Celtic society. But behind this apparent lunacy. Many important mythological events are said to have occured on that day. had this to say about it in his Elements of the Druid Tradition: Samhuinn. And Samhuinn.

” “Hell Night” (boy does that push the Fundamentalists‟ buttons!). as they had Paleopagan sacred places (most if not all of the great cathedrals of Europe were built on top of earlier Paleopagan shrines and sacred groves). co-opting Paleopagan sacred times. This then nicely covers the Indo-European pattern of the “Three Kindreds” of Deities. there won‟t be many left for the kids to enjoy. or simply “Mischief Night” (which used to be April 30th — the night before May Day — in Germany — there‟s that Beltane/Samhain connection again) would correspond to a celebration of the often mischievous Nature Spirits. Ancestors. This was a form of calendrical imperialism. a few centuries old. including pranks on neighbors. and Nature Spirits. Where does the custom of “trick or treating” come from? Is it really ancient. Easter/Eostre. then the modern “Cabbage Night. The Christian Church was unable to get the people to stop celebrating this holiday. has a long discussion of the traditional Irish celebrations of this festival. so they simply sprinkled a little holy water on it and gave it new names. So when Fundamentalists come to your local school board and try to get Halloween removed from the public schools because “it‟s a Pagan holiday.” they are perfectly correct. as they did with other Paleopagan holidays and customs. Of course. So if we decide to rid the public schools of all holidays that have Pagan aspects to them. one on which they commit various acts of harmless (or unfortunately not) vandalism. and Christmas/Yule also have many Paleopagan elements associated with their dating and/or symbols. and All Souls Day was supposed to co-opt the worship of the Ancestors. If we assume that All Saints Day was moved to co-opt the central day of Samhain which was associated originally with the Gods and Goddesses of the Celts. I find it amusing that American teens and pre-teens seem to have instinctively expanded their seasonal celebrations to add another night before Halloween. as the Jehovah‟s Witnesses and others have pointed out for decades. Valentine‟s Day/Lupercalia. or relatively modern? Let‟s look at the evidence: Kevin Danaher. Not only does the purpose of the festival match with the earlier one. In one section on “Hallow-E‟en . in his remarkable book The Year in Ireland.clearly the way in which Christianity built on the Pagan foundations it found rooted in these isles. but even the unusual length of the festival is the same.

and as cheerfully given.” with music. Tabhair leat ceapaire aráin agus ime ar dhath do leacain fhéin. the groups would have consisted of young men and grown boys. When the distant winding of the horns was heard. They afterward met at some rendezvous. intoning it with a strong nasal twang to conceal his identity. a mbeidh léim ghirrfiadh dhe aoirde ann ages ciscéim choiligh dhe im air. arrayed in grotesque garments and with faces masked or painted. 5. and in merry revelry celebrated the festival of Samhain in their own way. incidentally.” he says: A familiar sight in Dublin city on and about October 31 is that of small groups of children. gives a example of these verses. the bean a’ tigh [woman of the house] prepared for their reception. milis a mbeidh leawhnach ’n-a chosa agus uachtar ’n-a mhullaigh. go mbeidh sé ag imtheacht ’n-a chnocaibh agus ag teacht Ôn-a shléibhtibh. agus mo chreach fhada níor . with consequently greater reward. dúntar na díirse. to visit all the farmers‟ houses in the district and levy a sort of blackmail. “The night of mischief or con. A couple of generations ago. agus badh ó leat go dtachtfadh sé mé. and. from Ring. states that in parts of Count Waterford. good humouredly asked for. The leader of the band chaunted a sort of recitative in Gaelic. and got ready the money or builín (white bread) to be handed to them through the half-opened door. Hallow E‟en is called oidhche na h-aimléise. The proceeds were usually expended on a “Hallow E‟en party. accosting the passers-by or knocking on house doors with the request: “Help the Hallow E‟en party! Any apples or nuts?” in the expectation of being given small presents. County Waterford: „Anocht Oidhche Shamhna. Tabhair chugham peigín de bhainne righin. Téirigh siar go banamhail. in parts of Dublin and in other areas of Ireland. mín. 15 Dec. Whoever heard the wild scurry of their rush through a farm-yard to the kitchen-door — there was always a race amongst them to get possession of the latch — will not question the propriety of the word aimiléis [mischief] applied to their proceedings. is all the more remarkable as it is the only folk custom of the kind which has survived in the metropolis. Sop is na fuinneogaibh.” It was a custom in the county — it survives still in places — for the “boys” to assemble in gangs. Eirigh id’ shuidhe. 1906. a bhean an tighe. in which the good-wife was called upon to do honour to Samhain… “A contributor to An Claidheamh Soluis. tar aniar go flaitheamhail. ii. this. and not merely consumed on the spot as with the children nowadays… Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge.Guisers. 370. a Mhongo Mango. at some chosen house. who often travelled considerable distances in their quest. feasting and so on. headed by a few horn-blowers who were always selected for their strength of lungs. dancing.

So where does “trick or treating” come in? According to Tad Tuleja‟s essay.bhaoghal dom. with new milk below and cream above. singing and dancing at May Day.‟ „(“Oh Mongo Mango. Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life. Bring us a measure of thick fine sweet milk. as a blend of several ancient and modern influences. or mortals (ditto?) were thought to be more easily able to pass from This World to the This space for Other World and vice versa. you may think it would choke me. Before and after the arrival of Christianity. asking for “soul cakes” on All Souls Day. and Yule (with different themes. begging for candy) began fairly recently. “Trick or Treat: Pre-Texts and Contexts. I‟m mixing Tuleja‟s material here with my own insights. Rise up housewife. Straw in the windows and close the doors.” most religions in human history have considered them perfectly normal. At some other Medieval times and places. that chant sure sounds scary. as high as a hare‟s jump with a cock‟s step of butter on it. coming in hills and going in mountains. see his essay for details of his opinions. decorated family graves. return hospitably. butchered their excess stock (so the surviving animals would have enough food to make it through the winter). bring with you a slice of bread and butter the colour of your own cheek.” in Jack Santino‟s anthology. doesn‟t it? As I mentioned before. It was also a perfect time for rent! divination or “fortune telling” (Danaher talks about all of this at great length). which I’ll mark with italics to separate from mine:  At various times and places in the Middle Ages. such as the “Hobby Horse”)  . but. because it was an “in-between” kind of holiday. costumed holiday parading.”)‟ Wow. ancestors (ditto). They invited their ancestors to join them. but which hardly seems “evil” — and many modern polytheists do much the same (though few of us have herds to thin). early November was when people in Western and Northern Europe finished the last of their harvesting. though sometimes with similar characters. While some monotheists may consider these activities to be “evil. Halloween. spirits (nice or nasty). go inside womanly. then children. modern trick or treating (primarily children going door-to-door. and held great feasts. Hallow E‟en tonight. customs developed of beggers. of course. and told ghost stories — all of which may strike some monotheists today as spiritually erroneous. alas! I am in no danger.

but any references to such are fairly modern. This is not surprising. Guy Fawkes’ abortive effort to blow up the British Parliament on November 5th. Adults began casting about for ways to control the previously harmless but now increasingly expensive and dangerous vandalism of the “boys. Perhaps there were some inebriated paraders who might have decided to come back later in the night and play tricks upon those who hadn‟t rewarded them properly. In 1605 c. The ragamuffins disappeared or switched their date to     . of course. Also in mid-19th Century New York. this became thoroughly entwined with Halloween celebrations and customs.” Towns and cities began organizing “safe” Halloween events and householders began giving out bribes to the neighborhood kids as a way to distract them away from their previous anarchy. being thought stingy (especially in front of the visiting ancestors and faery folk at Halloween) would be very bad luck. considering that bonfires were a central part of the old Samhain/Halloween tradition. as it would violate the ancient laws of hospitality. rural immigrants from Ireland and Scotland kept gender-specific Halloween customs from their homelands: girls stayed indoors and did divination games. 5th was actually closer to the astrological date for Samhain (thought by some Neopagans to be the original dating method) than Nov. led to the creation of “Guy Fawkes Day. which their elders “blamed” on the spirits being abroad that night. While many Neopagans may think these folk customs go all the way back to Paleopagan times. children called “ragamuffins” would dress in costumes and beg for pennies from adults on Thanksgiving Day. while the boys roamed outdoors engaging in almost equally ritualized pranks. and that Nov.e. As the decades rolled by. In 19th Century America.. Things got nastier with increased urbanization and poverty in the 1930’s.became popular in Ireland and the British Isles. they are actually fairly modern (see Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in England. which mixed Pagan and Christian symbols and themes. by Ronald Hutton). the movie V for Vendetta introduced the image of Guy Fawkes to millions of Americans.” celebrated by the burning of effigies of Fawkes in bonfires and children dressing in rags to beg for money for fireworks. Originally these costumed celebrants were adults and older teens. 1st was! In the year 2006. who would go from house to house (as Danaher describes above) demanding beer and munchies in exchange for their performances.  To the medieval householders.

humor. as criminologists. and to compete a bit with others in beauty. the costumes worn by modern trick-or-treaters represent. an effort to entertain. do little performances. Why Bother to save Halloween? is an essay by Richard Seltzer. Unfortunately. the true value and importance of Halloween comes not from parading in costumes in front of close friends and family. if ever. . And adults buy the candy and overcome their distrust of strange children in exchange for the pleasure of seeing their wild outfits and vicariously reliving their own adventures as children. it seems only the smaller children would dress up and parade to the neighbors‟ houses. as they might have in older times. exorcising our fears of strangers. scariness. but from this interchange with strangers. In other words. What was Halloween in America like forty years ago? Read Lady Phae‟s Halloween and Me essay on my website for some heartwarming memories. The term “trick or treat. American kids seem to remember this with their chants of “Jingle bells.” To a great extent. Blaming Halloween for this is rather like blaming the Fourth of July for the many firecracker injuries that happen every year (and which are also combatted by publicly sponsored events). see the rest of the year. reaffirming our social bond with the people of the neighborhood who we rarely. with widespread poverty existing side-byside with obscene greed. military recruiters and historians know. Bored kids in a violence-saturated culture slip all too easily from harmless “decoration” of their neighbors‟ houses with shaving cream and toilet paper to serious vandalism and assaults. amuse and/or scare the neighbors. the most dangerous animals on our planet are unemployed teenaged males. Children go to lengths to dress up and overcome their fear of strangers in exchange for candy. Robin laid an egg.20th century in Ireland and Britain.” and other classic tunes done for no reason other than because “it‟s traditional. ugliness. By the mid.” finally appears in print around 1939! Pranks became even nastier in the 1980‟s.Halloween. which has yet more reasons why it‟s important to keep the custom of trick or treating alive: Halloween is a time that reconfirms the social bond of a neighborhood (particularly the bond between strangers of different generations) by a ritual act of trade. and costuming skill. then ask for a reward. Batman smells.

skeletons. As I mentioned earlier. The only ones who would cower in fear would be people who had wronged someone dead and who therefore feared retribution of some sort. so is probably fairly modern.Several correspondents have said. “If the holiday isn‟t evil why are there so many evil images associated with it” such as ghosts. and Jack O‟Lanterns? The answer. The often repeated tale that the dead roamed the earth after dying until the next Samhain. as well as others they didn‟t think would make it through the winter with that year‟s available food. where the holiday is known as Los dias de los Muertos. of course.” (combining All Saints Day with All Souls Day) skeleton and skull toys and even candies are made and enjoyed by the millions. That means that farmers and herders killed the old. or “Days of the Dead. Samhain became imbued with symbolism of these annual deaths. sick or weak animals. black cats. Ghosts have always made perfect sense. It is possible that any “earth-bound” spirits needing assistance to pass over might have received it at this time. ugly witches. no doubt causing much food to be wasted. and especially feared black cats who could sneak “invisibly” around at night. Medieval Christians feared cats. at least to the innocent in heart. is that most of these images aren’t evil. Prior to the last few centuries in the West. most people lived with death as a common part of life. in Mexico. many by and for devout Roman Catholics. Indeed. when they could then pass over to the afterlife. and the ones that are negative were added by people opposed to the holiday. for reasons as yet unclear. monsters. It‟s ironic that they feared cats so much that they killed tens of thousands of them. Samhain was the time of year when the herds were culled. leaving their granaries open to rats and mice. for Samhain was the festival where the Gates Between the Worlds were open wide and departed friends and family could cross over in either direction. people invited their ancestors to join them in celebration. but this wouldn‟t have been considered necessary for most of the dead. and leaving Europe as a . especially since most of them lived on farms. So skeletons and skulls joined the ghosts as symbols of the holiday. Again. makes no sense in either Celtic Paleopagan or Medieval Christian beliefs. there‟s nothing evil here. demons.

I know of no formal association of witches with Samhain until the late Middle Ages. see my book. which was carried by the fleas on those rats and mice. When Diabolic Witchcraft was invented. and that the fairy folk were all monsters who would kill the unwary. Bonewits's Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca or the excerpts from it available on my website. but the teens certainly enjoy them. The Church began to say that demons were abroad with the dead. especially when the glowing faces appear from the darkness. werewolves. the “Evil Devil-Worshipping Witch” simply became the newest monster to add to the others. Unfortunately. Samhain became a prime target. Modern fiction added new monsters to the American mix. Witches as figures of pure evil were invented by the medieval Church and inflated by the Catholic and Protestant Churches during the Reformation period. and folk magicians) of committing malpractice. including vampires (previously known mostly in Eastern Europe). Cats. though the term was sometimes used to insult or accuse the “cunning folk” (who were herbalists. diviners. Jack O’Lanterns. then murdered. They certainly add a spooky touch. then became associated with the “evil” witches. mummies (after modern Egyptology started). As the Church tried harder and harder to make people abandon their Paleopagan customs for the new Christian ones. became popular as house decorations in the USA after immigrant Irish people discovered how much easier pumpkins were to carve than turnips. as mentioned earlier. as “evil” animals.whole wide open to the Black Plague. Paleopagan witches were people suspected by their neighbors of using magic or poison to harm others. For some historical facts about all the different people — real and imaginary — who have been called “witches” over the centuries. . These are not images anyone actually needs to perpetuate. the millions of human deaths caused by the Black Plague were later blamed on the Diabolic Witches the Church invented. unleashing what has turned into quite an art form in the last decade or so. The green skin was a twentieth century touch the Wizard of Oz movie added to the “evil old hag” version of the Diabolic Witch. Halloween became a holiday in modern times for which half the fun was being scared out of one‟s wits. and various psychopathic killers and ghouls.

and meditate on our own mortality. No blood drinking. play traditional games. but paranoia has made such treats unwelcome). no baby sacrifices. give honor to those who have died in the past year. Over the weekend. as carefully as any other parents. Halloween gives parents an opportunity to discuss their beliefs and attitudes about death with their children. which can be a healthy experience for both children and adults. usually we take our kids around our neighborhoods trick or treating. clean. Those who stay at home may hand out commercially packaged candy to those who visit our houses (we might prefer to give out homemade goodies. or separate “kid circles” and costume parties for our children — and we always wind up with at least as many kids as we started out with! Most of us will do some divination. one hopes with no recent close death to cloud the issues. and to soothe whatever fears their children may have. A student sent me an email asking me to sum up in more personal terms what Halloween means to me and other Neopagans. Well. I strongly suspect that the primary reason for American culture‟s aversion to thinking about death and dying is that most modern Westerners don‟t actually believe the mainstream monotheistic religions‟ doctrines on the topic. Reporters are always asking us what we Neopagans “do” for Halloween.Most psychiatrists and psychologists seem to agree that Halloween‟s emphatic celebration of death serves to bring out our culture‟s suppressed feelings about the topic. saltless meals) for the Ancestors. no crimes — just good. or if they do. That‟s what American Neopagans will do on Samhain. they fear eternal punishment more than they expect an eternal reward. all-American festivity with some ceremonial additions appropriate to the season and current events. and makes most spirits of the dead unthreatening to us. is much less frightening (at least for those having a relatively happy life now). Certainly. Here is what I told her: . The Paleopagan/Neopagan views that death is a transition to a new state of being where things go on much as they have here. at least until one reincarnates. our circles of friends will have rituals that might include “dumb suppers” (silent.

and to share the fun with our friends and neighbors of many other faiths. So…     . Druids and Celtic Reconstructionists — celebrate as a spiritual beginning of a new year. and to the Gods and Goddesses we worship. Halloween is a time to confront our personal and cultural attitudes towards death and those who have passed on before us. Halloween is a time to lift the veil between the many material and spiritual worlds in divination. so as to gain spiritual insight about our pasts and futures. Halloween is the modern name for Samhain. Halloween is a time to let our inner children out to play. to the generations that have come before us and those that will follow. an ancient Celtic holy day which many Neopagans — especially Wiccans. Halloween is a time to deepen our connection to the cycles of the seasons. to pass on our childhood traditions to our children.