Halloween Origins: Samhain

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There are some very strong links between Halloween as we know it today and the Gaelic festival of Samhain.

Samhain (pronounced ‘sah-win’) – meaning “summer’s end” – marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the winter, or the ‘darker half’ of the year as it was known. It was one of four seasonal festivals, along with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh, and it fell at the end of the Celtic calendar – the date being October 31 as we know it today. It was a time when cattle were brought down from the summer pastures and livestock was slaughtered for winter.

During the festival, huge bonfires were lit, which were said to have special healing powers, and divination games and rituals were carried out. However, it is the practise of ‘mumming’ (or ‘guising’) that draws on a more direct link to modern day Halloween – this was where people would dress up and travel door-to-door reciting verses in exchange for food. Ring any bells?

Other similarities are evident in the fact that it was believed that the souls of the dead roamed the streets at night, since the boundary between this world and the Otherwold could easily be crossed. Offerings of food and drink were left out to pacify the evil and ensure that next year’s crops would be plentiful, and feasts were held for the souls of the dead who were thought to return home seeking hospitality.

Time has the ability to alter anything, but a leading factor that contributed to the formation of Halloween as we know it is the establishment of All Saints’ Day. The festival was established on November 1 by Christians as a means of converting Pagans. Over time, the two occasions merged to create what we’d recognise as modern day Halloween.

 

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