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.
Tradition dictates that every Samhain celebration must include a ritual bonfire. Ancient pagans believed they had to extinguish every light in their home and relight them with the fire from this bonfire. They also used the bonfire as a way of cleansing and protecting themselves for the next year. Another staple of early Samhain was a communal feast.
Everyone in town came together to share food ranging from meat to apples. Today's popular Halloween gatherings often echo these ancient rituals by including themed food and a backyard fire pit.
Samhain inspired Halloween, but there are some legends from ancient festivals that are best left in the past. A prime example is that early Irish settlers, led by Nemed, may have actually offered an annual sacrifice to prevent an entire year of catastrophes. Some believe these sacrifices included approximately 67% of the village's children.
There were other offerings as well such as two-thirds of the milk and corn the village produced each year. These legends can't be definitively verified or debunked as they come from Irish mythohistory.
Divinations play a major role in Samhain. For this one day of the year, it's even considered okay to invoke the devil for assistance meeting positive goals. For example, a pagan might ask the devil for help with their health, marriage, or overall luck. Graveyards are supposedly the best place to run into the devil on Samhain.
Most divinations take place in group settings near the bonfire, though, making it unclear if anyone has ever actually achieved this particular divination goal.
Halloween and costumes are as intrinsically linked as peanut butter and jelly. Modern celebrants choose from scary, funny, or even sexy costumes and enjoy looking like someone else for a night. During the early pagan days, Samhain costumes were just as important, but they weren't worn for fun. Instead, they believed dressing up like their departed loved ones was a good way to honor the dead.
Additionally, these disguises supposedly fooled evil spirits into leaving them alone.