Like many modern western holidays the pagan roots have been partially co-opted by Christianity and more recently commercialisation. Back in Celtic times Samhain marked the very end of the harvest and a transition from the lighter half of the year into the darker. It shouldn’t therefore be a surprise that in the UK the clocks go back from British Summer Time (BST) to Grenwich Mean Time (GMT) on the last Saturday of October, perhaps a nod to ancient Celtic Practices
Samhain though was traditionally celebrated over a number of days rather than just the one evening, a harvest festival on a grand scale with bonfires, costumes and masks. Some scholars believe it to have been the beginning of the Celtic calendar. The Gaels (a branch of the Celtic nations) believed that on Samhain the veil between the living and the otherworld thinned, allowing the spirits of the dead to cross over. The logic behind this belief of the thinning between worlds stemmed from the fact that so much of the plant and animal life was dying around them at that time of the year.
The Gaels would wear costumes and masks to mimic the spirits and thus placating them. Samhnug (turnips) were hollowed out and carved into faces to make lanterns to ward off the evil spirits and the people would lead their livestock between bonfires to cleanse their animals and themselves. The bones of slaughtered animals would be sacrificed up to the bonfires to further placate the spirits.
It’s not hard to see where the modern day Halloween originated, but it’s worth remembering that Samhain was a sacred festival to the Celtic people, so take a moment next time you go out trick or treating to remember the history behind the festival.
The veil is thin tonight, tread safely in the light.