I briefly wrote for the HenriTales horror channel on YouTube. Though we discontinued our collaboration, I learned a bit more about horror and working with other small creators. Also, I spent time composing this introduction to our Halloween video. It was not used for the channel, but I edited it into a 650 word piece about the origins of Halloween and also recorded a version for my personal horror narration channel on YouTube.
The Origins of Halloween
Halloween originated from a Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced “sow-win”). In modern Irish, this loosely translates to “summer’s end.” Samhain, originally a three-night feast, is celebrated on the night of October 31st until the end of November 1st. It concludes the bright half of the year, Beltane, and began the darker half of the year in the Celtic calendar.
For centuries, Samhain marked the end of the harvest and would be celebrated with feasts, large bonfires, and the opening of burial mounds. This was a time where most of the flora would be dead or dying and animals would be slaughtered in preparation for the harsh winter months.
The open graves, some being very large burial mounds containing hundreds of dead, were thought to be portals to the Otherworld. The Otherworld was seen as a place where the dead and the various Celtic deities, or even faeries and fire-breathing goblins, were contained.
In addition to the opening of the burial mounds, this time was thought of as a “thin” time. Thin spaces in Irish folklore are those where ghosts can pass easily throughout the worlds and visit relatives or seek out revenge.
Samhain is observed in much of Irish folklore and is found in the earliest surviving pieces of Old Irish Literature. It originated during or before the Iron Age in Britain, or 800 BC.
Samhain has been referred to as one of the main Celtic fire festivals. The large fires would be lit to create offerings to the gods. In addition to the fires themselves being thought of as tangible offerings, food and other items were offered. There are accounts of animal sacrifices, and some historians speculate possible human sacrifices having occurred in some parts of the Celtic world during ancient festivals, though these claims are unconfirmed. Druids would also dress in costumes to ward off spirits, or in later times, to accept other offerings and perform mischief on the behalf of spirits.
Also in later times, more modern Halloween traditions began in practice of Samhain, such as bobbing for apples and roasting nuts.
Originally, this time of year was full of trepidation for the early Gaelic Druids. They viewed life very differently than we do today... Or did they? Many modern people still believe in ghosts and perform different rituals around the world. You can find several online that date back hundreds of years and are still performed by pockets of modern wiccans and druids.
One such ritual was recorded in the 18th century, where a collection of stones, one for each participant, was placed in a ring around a large fire. Then those involved would run around the fire, exalting to the deities, while holding their own individual torch. The next morning, the participants checked each of the stones from the night before and if any of them were out of place, that person was supposed to not live out the year.
Maybe not as gruesome as today’s horror films, but that ritual is pretty morbid if you think too long about it. There were other, more harmless ones, involving roasting chestnuts and offering beer into the sea. Participants in these innocuous practices were looking for lovers or luck respectively.
When Samhain began and for most of its practice, life in the Celtic world was centered entirely on farming and religion. It was much harder to grow food and survive, and these festivals, Samhain, Beltane, Imbolc, and Lughnasadh, were deeply important to the culture of the eras they spanned.
Perhaps, during Samhain the Celts felt closer to spirits and the Otherworld because the threat of death was more severe in day-to-day life. Or perhaps their sense of ghosts and spirits was more sensitive because life at the time was free of today’s prevalent, innocent distractions. If any of the Irish legends or folklore surrounding this holiday were true, we would live in a much different world than we believe.
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