Halloween was originated by the Celtic people. It’s original name is Samhain pronounced SOW-een. It begins at sunset on October 31. This holiday signaled the time to talk to our ancestors and the time to celebrate the “Last Harvest” and the end of summer. This is the time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. Traditional folk lore speaks of the dead returning to visit their kin folk and the doors to the Lands of the Sidhe (pronounced “shee”) and Fairy Realm being opened. “The Feast of the Dead”, is laid out by many to welcome their ancestors and other visitors from the spirit world. They would ask for their blessings and favor for the coming year. It was customary to leave milk and cakes outside the front door on Halloween Eve to welcome the spirits. They would also set a place at the dinning table for their ancestors who may want to join in the celebrations. Some Witches use a chant at the beginning of the Feast to welcome their ancestors.
The “Old” date for Samhain occurs when the sun has reached 15 degrees Scorpio. (Please note the Catholic Church has “borrowed” this same day to celebrate St Martins Day). So if you follow this Way, you can always enjoy the celebrations with your friends on one date and the “worship” part with your family on the other. Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with, when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., before missionaries such as St. Patrick converted them to Christianity. The Celts practiced an elaborate religion; the druids were their priests, scientists, poets, teachers all in one. As religious leaders, ritual specialists, and bearers of learning, the Druids were not unlike the very missionaries and monks who were to Christianize their people and brand them as evil devil worshipers. As a result of their efforts to wipe out “Pagan” holidays, such as Halloween, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in the holiday.
In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First told his missionaries not to fight native beliefs and customs. Instead of trying to wipe out traditional holy days, customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshiped a tree, instead of cutting it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship. This was a brilliant concept and a great way to spread Christianity. It became a popular approach in Catholic missionary work. Church holy days were purposely set to coincide with native holy days. Christmas, for instance, was assigned the arbitrary date of December 25th because it corresponded with the mid-winter celebration of many peoples. For instance many worshiped the Sun Gods- on December 25, as that’s when the days started to lengthen again. Likewise, St. John’s Day was set on the summer solstice.
The Christians didn’t like Halloween at all. Especially, with it’s emphasis was on the supernatural, which was decidedly pagan. While missionaries identified their holy days with those observed by the Celts, they branded the earlier religion’s supernatural deities as evil. They associated the old ways and the Celtic religion with the devil. As representatives of the religion, the Druids were considered evil worshipers of devilish or demonic gods and spirits. The Celtic underworld became identified with the Christian Hell.
The effects of this policy went far and wide. They diminished but, not totally eradicated the beliefs in the traditional gods. Celtic belief in supernatural creatures persisted. Then, the Christians made deliberate attempts to define them as being not merely dangerous, but malicious. Followers of the old religion went into hiding and were branded as witches. The Christian had a plan and made their own feast day on November 1. This day was for the all the Saints, who didn’t have a day of their own. This feast day was clearly meant to substitute Halloween, and to draw the Celtic peoples into Christianity. The traditional Celtic deities diminished in status, and “The old ways” were fast becoming unpopular. The old beliefs associated with Halloween never died out entirely. The powerful symbolism of the traveling dead from one world the the next was too strong. The basic human psyche wouldn’t be satisfied with the new, more abstract Catholic feast honoring saints.
The Christian leaders recognized that they needed something that would subdue the original energy of Sahee. The Catholic Church tried again to replace it with a Christian feast day in the 9th century. This time it established November 2nd as All Souls Day–a day when the living prayed for the souls of all the dead. But, once again, the practice of retaining traditional customs while attempting to redefine them had a lasting effect: the traditional beliefs and customs lived on, in new guises. All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallows (hallowed means sanctified or holy), continued the ancient Celtic traditions. The evening prior to the day was the time of the most intense activity, both human and supernatural. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead, but the supernatural beings were now thought to be evil. The people continued to please and gain favor with the spirits (and their masked impersonators) by setting out gifts of food and drink.
All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, which became Hallowe’en–an ancient Celtic, pre-Christian New Year’s Day in contemporary dress. Many supernatural creatures became associated with All Hallows. In Ireland fairies were numbered among the legendary creatures who roamed on Halloween. Halloween, a time of magic, also became a day of divination, with a host of magical beliefs: for instance, if persons hold a mirror on Halloween and walk backwards down the stairs to the basement, the face that appears in the mirror will be their future husband/wife etc. Virtually all present Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic day of the dead. Halloween is a holiday of many mysterious customs, but each one has a history, or at least a story behind it. Today, trick or treating and the wearing of costumes, for instance, and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced back to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era.