Among the Ancient Celtic people who lived
in Wales, Ireland, Scotland and the north of England, the
year was divided into two seasons: winter from November to
April, and summer from May to October. New Year’s Day
was the 1st of November and it was celebrated as the Feast
of Samhain. The day before, 31st October, was therefore the
Eve of Samhain, or New Year’s Eve, and was kept as a
kind of harvest festival marking the end of summer.
Our Pagan ancestors regarded the day before Hallowe’en,
as a time when the occult powers were extremely dangerous,
especially the sinister influences of the Dark Gods of Winter
who now emerged from their summer hibernation to terrorise
humankind. These long-forgotten gods ruled the dark period
of the year when the Sun was weak, the Earth barren, the trees
leafless and the cold and famine had begun to creep over the
land. At Hallowe’en the dead were believed to emerge
from their lonely graves and attempt to revisit their old
homes, knocking on doors and windows to draw attention to
their presence and hoping to toast their toes before the hearth
The Ancient Celtic Races also followed a Lunar Year, as opposed
to a Solar year, which we currently use. The Lunar Year has
13 Full Moons, or 13 months, and as a Full Moon occurs every
28 days –: 13 x 28 = 364 days. So there was a day missing.
This day became the In-between day, neither in the Old year
nor in the New Year. A day veiled in mystery and shrouded
with superstition. Some believed that those that had gone
before, could return on this day and share their knowledge.
Some in fact were invited back, by ritual and ceremony.
During the festival, fires would be lit which would burn
all through winter. Surplus animals which couldn’t be
fed during the winter were slaughtered and everyone joined
in a great feast. Prior to the coming of Christianity the
Pagans carried out barbaric sacrifices at Samhain to secure
themselves from the menaces of the evil spirits. In Ireland
for example, first borns, both human and animal, were sacrificed
to the God Crom Cruaich, an idol made of Silver and Gold.
Another ancient method was employed to protect farm cattle
against disease. The beasts were driven through the dying
embers of hilltop fires which were lit especially at Hallowe’en.
Young men and women would leap through the flames to ensure
good health and fertility. This custom survived in out-of-the-way
corners of the Highlands and in the Isle-of-Man as late as
the 18th century.
But this was also a special time in the year, when the supernatural
world broke into the natural world in special ways, which
meant that we could communicate with those loved ones, who
had gone before us. The Veil between this World and the next
was at it’s thinnest………..
The traditional belief that Hallowe’en is a night of
strange hauntings has never become extinct although the terrors
are far less intense than in the past. On this dread night,
only a man or woman with nerves of steel would dare to venture
into the churchyard where gruesome ghosts were believed to
lurk threateningly behind each gravestone. So much for popular
beliefs which provided the foundation of the modern tradition
This night is now a time for magic of a happier type (although
it still has a touch of the weird about it) – we still
echo the ancient terror of the returning dead, in the decorations
and costumes; the pumpkin hollowed out like a skull, plastic
spiders dangling from the ceiling, children trick or treating
in monster, witch or ghost outfits….
No tradition ever becomes extinct in the British Isles; such
is the undying passion for ancient Magic among the people.