Halloween Origins: Samhain & ancient traditions, legends and myths

Samhain is traditionally known as a Pagan festival or spiritual celebration that dates back to ancient Celtic times. It is celebrated on October 31 which is also known as the eve of All Saint’s Day. Those who celebrate Samhain believe that this is the day when the veil (walls) between the living world and the spirit world are the thinnest. This makes communication between the living and the dead much easier than it is the rest of the year.

Samhain falls in between Summer and Winter Solstice which are also popular Pagan or Wiccan celebrations that date back to the ancient Celts and Druids. Summer Solstice honours the beginning of summer and the longest day of the year while Winter Solstice honours the shortest day of the year – December 21.


Halloween Origins

It is believed that evil spirits could cross over to the living world during Samhain and so children wore masks and costumes as protection from the monsters hiding in the dark shadows. Villagers would leave offerings for the spirits and Pagan gods that they worshipped. They also left offerings for fairies, or Sidhs. It is said that monsters like Pukah or The Lady Gwyn (a headless woman) would come out at night and steal children from their homes or those who wandered the streets alone.

Here is a short video on Irish fairies that you might like!


All Saint’s Day

All Saint’s Day is traditionally celebrated on November 1st each year. It is a festival in which people honour and celebrate the dead. This celebration has many names around the world and is also known as All Hallows Day, and Hallowmas.

If you have someone that you have loved and lost, to honour them, simply light a candle at night time and think of them. They may appear to you in your dream if you ask them to before you fall asleep.


Samhain and Halloween

Over the years, Samhain eventually became known as All Hallows Eve or now as we know it, Halloween. Much of the traditions that were celebrated by the ancient Celts and pagans are still celebrated today. Children dress up in costumes on October 31 and go from house to house asking for candy. Families and villagers give up offerings in the form of candy. We carve pumpkins and hang decorations in our homes.

Halloween is predominantly celebrated in North America and some European countries like Ireland. Halloween has become more popular in countries like Australia, but it isn’t like it is here in Canada.

The term Trick or Treating is said to be from ancient Irish and Scottish traditions in the days leading up to Samhain. Villagers in Ireland would go door to door singing songs to honour the dead. Instead of exchanging candy, villagers gave out cake.

It is also widely believed that tricks and pranks originated from Samhain traditions but they were blamed on fairy folk who are known as tricksters in folklore.

In Celtic regions, people hang juniper decorations around their homes and create an alter for the dead. A large feast with autumn or fall vegetables is held among family and friends to worship the dead.

My favorite show, Supernatural, had a really good episode about the legend of Samhain. Here’s a clip from the episode. I re-watch this show every couple of years, at least the first five seasons and these are episodes that really stand out.


Halloween around the world

Dia de las Brujas is celebrated in Mexico on October 31 every year, however, it is often overshadowed by the Day of the Dead which is akin to our All Saint’s Day celebrations.

Much like Halloween here in Canada, children of Mexico wear costumers and masks to go from door to door and ask for candy. They shout things like “We want Halloween.” People decorate their homes with skeletons, paper wreaths and flowers.

If you want to learn more about these traditions, I suggest the Disney movie Coco – it’s on my watch list for today.


The following information comes from various sources including History.com – and I thought they would be fun to share. I had never heard the Jack-o-lantern story before!

Samghnagans (Fire Festivals)

In the middle ages throughout Europe, villagers celebrated Samhain with large bonfires. These fires were said to protect families from evil creatures such as witches and the fairies. It was also during the middle ages where villagers would start to carve Jack-o-lanterns that were attached by strings and sticks. This would later become a tradition known as pumpkin carving in the modern world.


The jack-o-lantern

According to History.com, the “Stingy Jack” was an Irish man who invited the Devil to have a drink with him. Jack didn’t want to pay the bill, and asked the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to pay for the drinks. Instead of paying for the drinks, Jack kept the money to himself and put it in his pocket trapping the Devil. It is believed that Jack freed the Devil and he made a bargain for his life. If the Devil left him alone for one year, and if Jack died, he could not claim his soul.

Jack tricked the Devil once again and the Devil climbed into a tree for a piece of fruit. Jack carved a sigil into the tree that prevented the Devil from escaping. In folklore, this is now known as a a Devil’s or demon trap. And much like the crossroad Devil deals, Jack convinced the Devil to leave him alone for TEN years.

When Jack finally died, the Devil was not happy with the trickery and refused Jack to enter hell. Jack was sent off into the night as a lost soul with only a burning coal to use as light. Jack placed the coal into a turnip and is said to be roaming the earth still to this day as a lost soul. And this is how the term “jack-o-lantern” came to be.


Halloween, my favorite holiday

Honestly, I think I love Halloween more than Christmas as you can tell by my many posts this week. My mum loved making our costumes and decorating the house for all the neighbourhood kids. Some kids would get so scared from the Disney spooky sounds playing on the stereo that they would, and it would make us all love. I’m convinced my mum had a bit of an evil streak in her. But it was all in good fun.

Today, I’ve left a box of candy outside my door with a sign as an offering for anyone to help themselves. I’m going to settle down with a drink of rum tonight, and watch spooky Halloween movies. And tomorrow, I’ll light a candle for my mum and all those souls we’ve lost over the years.

If you love this post, please let me know! Supernatural legends and folklore – I love these more than movies and music combined.

To close the post, I’m going to leave you with this classic clip from Charlie Brown the Halloween Special.


Follow blog for more articles like this! I love sharing spooky stories and tales!

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