The Right Way To Celebrate An Authentic Pagan Halloween

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.    

Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

  • A Ritual Bonfire And Communal Feast Of The Dead Kicks Things Off

    A Ritual Bonfire And Communal Feast Of The Dead Kicks Things Off
    Photo: timdifford / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    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.   

  • Some Legends Suggest Making A Sacrifice That Includes Children

    Some Legends Suggest Making A Sacrifice That Includes Children
    Photo: Wolfgang Sauber / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    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 children or animals.

    There were other offerings as well such as two-thirds of the milk and corn the village produced each year. This percentage, purportedly, applied to child sacrifice as well.

    These legends can't be definitively verified or debunked as they come from Irish mythohistory.  

  • Invoking Divinations Is An Annual Tradition

    At the core of Samhain was interaction with the spirits of deceased loved ones. Divinations also play a major role in Samhain. - looking toward the future and seeking answers about the unknown.

    For this one day of the year, it's even considered okay to invoke the devil for assistance in 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. 

  • Costumes Are Just As Important, But Serve A Different Purpose

    Costumes Are Just As Important, But Serve A Different Purpose
    Photo: simpleinsomnia / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    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. Individuals also dressed up as animals and went around singing songs. 

    Additionally, these disguises supposedly fooled evil spirits into leaving them alone.  

  • Graveyards And Property Boundaries Are Especially Dangerous

    Graveyards And Property Boundaries Are Especially Dangerous
    Photo: David Holt London / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    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. 

  • Carved Turnips And Other Gourds Provide Light And Decorations

    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.