The most important religious day for the Druids was the celebration of “Samhain, Lord of the Dead.” The Celtic New Year began on November 1st. The night before, October 31st, was the night to reverence Samhain. It was the time of the falling of leaves and general seasonal decay—so the appropriate time to celebrate the “Lord of the Dead.”

 

They believed that on that night the Spirit world came into its closest contact with the human world. As such, it was a night when the souls of the departed dead returned to their former homes to be entertained by the living (much like ancestor worship is practiced today by many religions).

 

It was also a time when demonic and evil spirits came out of their shadowy nether world. If proper food, shelter and provision were not provided, these evil spirits would cast spells, wreak havoc on man and beast, and generally torment the living! If the proper “treat” was not awaiting to appease them, then they would respond with an appropriate “trick”—thus our custom of “trick or treating.”

 

Others, in order to fool and evade the invading spirits, would themselves dress up and masquerade as evil spirits, witches, ghosts, and ghouls. Again we can see the origin of our custom of dressing up as fiendish characters and creatures.

 

The perverted climax of this dark night was animal and human sacrifice to placate this “Lord of the Dead.” It was carried out by the priestly Druids who would rip the hearts out of their victims and use the blood for religious rites. They would also use the entrails and other body parts to divine the future and forecast the New Year. The remains were then burned in “bone fires,” from which we get the popular “bonfire.”

 

Is this some fanciful interpretation of history? Even a secular source like Collier’s Encyclopedia accurately records Halloween as a “popular secular observance … derived from the rites of the Druids celebrating the day of Samhain, when the Lord of Death called together the souls of the wicked who had died during the past year” (Vol. 12, p. 196).

 

Clearly then, much of our current Halloween practices have their roots in this ancient pagan Celtic religion. Even though the Celts were eventually conquered, their pagan practices never were fully rooted out of Western Europe.

 

When our Puritan ancestors came to America, they were far too Biblically oriented to allow such occult practices. They knew that all forms of witchcraft were strictly forbidden by God as an abomination. However, in the 18th and 19th centuries, a host of our ancestors of Celtic origin emigrated to America from the British Isles. With them came many of their ancient pagan observances and practices, including Samhain, the Festival of the Dead, or Halloween. This pagan practice took firm root in American soil and has been a widely accepted cultural tradition ever since.

 

Roman Roots:
The Romans, along with many other ancient people, celebrated harvest time in the fall of every year. Their festival was in honor of Pomona, goddess of fruit.