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Home > Archives > Paranormal > Paranormal History of Halloween

The Paranormal History of Halloween
by Davy Russell
POSTED: 30 October 98

The modern celebration of Halloween is shrouded in controversy and jovial indulgence. Many Christian churches shun the holiday due to its occult origin and links to ancient devil worship. But how did this holiday of celebrating fears and horror originate?

The Celtic New Year called Samhain (pronounced so-wein) was observed on October 31 by the ancient Druids to celebrate the end of summer. It was believed that on that night, the veil between the world of the dead and the world of the living was at its thinnest. The spirits of all who died the preceding year would haunt the land in search of (living) people to possess and to escape the uncertain afterlife. To avoid possession, the living would dress up in ghoulish costumes and parade around in an attempt to scare off the spirits. The parade was also meant to distract the spirits and lead them out of the area.

The name "Halloween" is a corruption of All Hallows Eve which was the night before the Catholic observance of All Saints Day, a day for commemorating the saints. The Roman Church took events from Samhain and made it their own holiday.

The modern traditions of Halloween and how we celebrate the holiday are based on the pagan rituals of the Druids. Below, we cover some of the most common.

Trick or Treating

The modern practice of going door to door in search of treats is a representation of the Celtic New Year tradition of placing treats out on doorways to appease the spirits which lurked about that night. The idea was that a spirit which was looking for a person to possess would find the bowl of fruit, nuts, and other treats instead of those who lived within the house. After indulging on the food, the spirit would leave in peace.

The early church paralleled this act around the ninth century AD in an event called "souling" on November 2nd. Christians would go door to door collecting "soul cakes" which were square pieces of bread with currants. The person who collected the cakes would pledge to say prayers on behalf of the deceased relatives of the donors. The more cakes that were gathered, the more prayers would be said, and the soul of the deceased would quickly find Heaven.


Early trick or treaters would place a burning candle into a hollowed turnip to light their way on Halloween night. The turnip was replaced with a pumpkin when Irish immigrants came to America and found the large squash to be more plentiful.

The Jack-O-Lantern is also loosely based on creatures of ancient lore, also known as will-o-the-wisps, fox fire, fairie fire, friarís lantern, and corpse lantern. These creatures were believed to be souls of the dead who are trapped among the world of the living because of a certain evil deed committed in life. The will-o-the-wisp was known in folklore to lure victims into swamp areas until they became lost, disoriented, and died. The stranded victim would also allegedly hear the sound of mocking laughter after becoming hopelessly lost in the forest. The modern Jack-O-Lantern is a representation of these mischievous spirits.


Bonfires are a common Halloween event but, again, can be traced back to the Celtic new year celebration. People would extinguish all fires in the village except one in the center. This fire was the center of pagan rituals which were believed to be essential to perform in order to receive fire the next year. Such rituals would often include animal and human sacrifices. It is also said that those who were believed to be possessed by spirits would be burned to ward off more possession.

Other Halloween Customs

Many of our fun-filled Halloween games were based on divination practices conducted on Samhain. Bobbing for Apples was a marriage divination practice, believing that the first to bite into an apple would be the first to get married that year. Apple peeling was another way of predicting how long one would live. Participants would peel an apple, keeping the peel intact. The longer the peel, the longer the life of the person peeling.

Halloween is not the pagan holiday it once was, and most traditions have long lost their significance. However, the festival of Samhain is still celebrated among modern pagan followers as a celebration of the plentiful harvest. Halloween has and will continue to be a celebration of an ancient belief in the paranormal and a commemoration of our greatest fears.

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