Pagan Halloween, AKA Samhain, provided the basis for almost everything we currently do during the Halloween season. In fact, if it wasn't for Irish immigrants bringing Pagan Halloween traditions to the U.S., you probably wouldn't have ever gotten to go trick-or-treating. There are many similarities between Samhain and Halloween, but the truth is that they're not exactly the same thing. For example, the history of Halloween shows October 31 evolving from its early roots into a secular holiday. Meanwhile, Samhain still has important religious meaning for modern pagans and wiccans.
Several countries celebrate Halloween, and they each put their own unique spin on it. Beloved Halloween symbols such as costumes and jack-o'-lanterns all originate with Samhain, though. Therefore, although celebrating Halloween pagan-style does require a few changes, you're likely to be familiar with the majority of Samhain traditions.
Want to try living like an ancient pagan for a day? There's no better way than through making this year a pagan-style Halloween.
The boundary between the living and the dead is gone on Samhain. This enables good and malevolent spirits to cross over, and it also provides the devil with easy access to the mortal realm. As a result, pagans believe that any area that usually has a distinct boundary, including property lines, becomes a dangerous gathering place for the dead.
Graveyards are also viewed as a spot where the devil is more likely to show up. Despite this, some would still go to the local graveyard at midnight due to the belief that they could see their future by walking three times around all the graves.
Jack-o'-lanterns are a beloved Halloween symbol that trace their roots all the way back to the earliest recorded Samhain celebrations. However, pagans didn't use pumpkins, nor did they call them jack-o'-lanterns. Instead, early traditions dictated the usage of carved turnips or other gourds to create a spooky lantern.
People would use these to ward off evil spirits and light their way home after the Feast of the Dead. Irish immigrants brought this practice with them to the U.S. but substituted pumpkins because they were so plentiful.
According to Irish mythology, every Samhain celebration required alcohol. In fact, of all the annual Irish festivals, Samhain was the only one that included getting drunk. Historians have verified this myth actually happened due to the discovery of extremely large brewing cauldrons. It's clear pagans created alcohol in mass quantities, but it also appears likely that they didn't store any of it.
In other words, it was all used during the Samhain festival. It seems that today's alcohol-filled adult Halloween parties have a lot in common with ancient traditions.
If you've ever been to a Halloween party or even just an apple orchard, the odds are high that you've gone bobbing for apples. This party game dates back to the early days of Samhain. Rather than use apple bobbing as a competition, pagans saw it as a divination tool. They also hung apples from a string on Samhain.
One of the apple's most popular Samhain uses was helping unmarried girls and women figure out who their future husband might be. They peeled the apple's skin back in one large piece. Tossing the peel helped it take on the shape of a letter, which signified the first letter in the name of the man they would eventually marry.