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Druids and Halloween

Celtic Origin of Halloween

Today's jolly holiday with carved pumpkins, parties, costumes and happy children ringing doorbells and demanding candy has its origins in the mists of Europe's ancient Pagan past. There is a direct connection between the modern celebration with its costumes and jack o'lanterns to Druids and Celtic mysteries.

The Celts, who once occupied much of Western Europe were, by the time of the Roman conquest of Britain, pretty much holed up in what was then the edge of the civilized world on the British Isles and in Ireland where Roman historians had a chance to observe and chronicle their religious festivals. We have some very reliable accounts from such sources as Julius Caesar, who observed Druids in action in Gaul, and Pliny the Elder, Tacitus, and others who had almost first hand experience of them in ancient Britain and Ireland.

According to Caesar's observations the Druids were a priestly class, exempt from war and taxation who officiated over sacrifices and served as judges in criminal disputes and who memorized a complicated oral history and spiritual tradition -- training for which could last up to 20 years. They were the carriers of law and culture from one generation to the next.

" A song for Samhain" by artist Leah McLeir

" A song for Samhain" by artist Leah McLeir

The Celtic Religious Calendar

There were four major annual festivals in the Celtic religious calendar, marking major passages of the seasons and of the agricultural year. These were Imbolc, which celebrated Spring, Beltame, the great Celtic May festival, Lughnasadh, the harvest festival ushering in autumn, and Samhain, celebrated on October 31st, which marked the beginning of winter and ushered in the dark months when the sun's rays grew weaker, the days shorter and the nights longer.

Though co-opted by Christianity and re-named " All Hallows Eve" or " Hallow'een" in an attempt to downplay the Pagan origins of the holiday and shape it as an intro to the Christian feast of All Saints Day celebrated on November 1st, modern Halloween is the direct descendant of the ancient Celtic Samhain. It's witches and goblins and carved pumpkins have nothing to do with Christianity, and everything to do with druids and the ancient Celtic religion.

18th Century Engraving of Two Druids

18th-century engraving reproducing a bas-relief found at Autun, France, depicting "two druids"

18th-century engraving reproducing a bas-relief found at Autun, France, depicting "two druids"

Samhain marked the end of the Celtic warm season, or summer and the beginning of winter-- a hard time for iron age farmers. It came after the harvest and was the time when animals were culled in order to thin the herds and provide meat for the winter. It was also, for the ancient Celts, a time of tremendous spiritual energy when momentous events could occur and when the ordinary laws of time and space were suspended. At Samhain the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead, not to mention the world of spirits and demons, was at its thinnest and it was possible to commune with the dead and for ghosts and demons to enter the world of the lliving.

In an iron age farming community, thoughts turned to death and getting through the winter to greet the renewal of spring. It was a time of ritual meetings and sacrifices presided over by Druid priests. Druids were especially associated with Samhain, their spiritual powers being deemed necessary to control the supernatural energy generated by the time of year.

The Celtic pagans believed in re-incarnation and the existence of various nether worlds and realms beyond. Samhain as a time when demons and the souls of the dead could penetrate the boundary between worlds and walk among the living, was momentous exciting, and dangerous.

Huge bonfires andl feasts featuring slaughtered animals and autumnal nuts and fruits were part of the holiday observance. Celebrants wore ritual costumes and masks in order to ward off stray demons and not draw their attention. Druids were central to these celebrations as their spiritual energy was necessary to control the demonic energies and keep order in the world.

Even after Christianity triumphed over paganism and the old Celtic Samhain was incorporated into the Christian calendar as All Hallows Eve, in Ireland and Scotland, where remnants of the old Celtic observances survived, the customs of bonfires, dressing up with masks and costumes, ghosts, demons,and the thinning of the veil between worlds on October 31st survived.

Halloween in Scotland and Ireland was a folk festival, distinct from religion, whose origin was lost in the mist of time, but which was an important cultural icon. This folk tradition crossed the Atlantic in the mid 19th century with Scottish and Irish immigrants to the New World. Halloween found a warm welcome and a new home in the cultural melting pot of America, As so often happens, America added its own touches to the holiday and claimed it as its own. Trick or Treating, Mischief Night and the tradition of special Halloween candy and Halloween as a night for adult costume parties became the American contributions made over the years.

A Video History of Halloween

Halloween Today

Today, Halloween is a secular festival featuring costumed children ringing neighborhood doorbells and being rewarded with candy and fruit. It is also a night when adults dress up in costume too and attend parties and when pumpkins are carved into Jack O' Lanterns and fires are lit, marshmallows toasted and apples bobbed for.

It is an odd twist of fate, that in The United States Halloween is more universally celebrated than All Saints Day, and has been for the past century. There is also an irony in the fact that the American form of Halloween celebration has been exported back to the Old World where more and more children are ringing doorbells and saying " trick or treat" on October 31st.

Perhaps the Druids really did know how to part the veil of time. If so, they must enjoy the irony of it all.

kids in costume reflect old tradition of fooling the demons at Sanheim

kids in costume reflect old tradition of fooling the demons at Sanheim

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Roberta Kyle (author) from Central New Jersey on September 25, 2016:

Hi James and thanks for commenting. Glad you found this helpful. I've always been fascinated by Druids and I love Halloween.

James Slaven from Indiana, USA on September 24, 2016:

Womderful! Using this to help someone out for information on Druids!

Roberta Kyle (author) from Central New Jersey on November 23, 2010:

glad you liked it-- thanks for stopping by

rafken from The worlds my oyster on November 22, 2010:

Nice hub, thanks

Roberta Kyle (author) from Central New Jersey on November 04, 2010:

Thanks Elisa, 4jc and Merlin-- so glad you liked this hub. The heritage of ancient peoples is powerful and the Celts were very interesting folks. The Church vilified them and their religion for its own reasons, but also incorporated their customs into Christianity as well which is what I find so interesting.

Merlin Fraser from Cotswold Hills on November 04, 2010:

Hi Robie,

Just wanted to add my praise for a great Hub, glad to see that I am not battling alone to explain that ancient Pagans festivals are not the source of evil.

There are a few Hubbers that I would love to direct to this article but I doubt they would come here because then they would have to admit how wrong they are about ancient Pagans and Hallowe'en in particular.

lcg4jc on November 03, 2010:

This is great information for the origin of Halloween. I have seen lots of studies on this day and you have added more to my studies. Thank you so much for writing this hub.

Blessings to you

Elisa Black-Taylor from The beautiful Carolina's on November 03, 2010:

I really loved your story. I've always been interested in the ancient histories, standing stones, etc. If you should ever be inclined, I'd love to read a story about how pagan life was celebrated in pioneer America from say 1800-1900. I feel you'd do a great job writing it.

Roberta Kyle (author) from Central New Jersey on October 29, 2010:

Thanks, Phylis-- it was fun to write. I've always found the Celts and the Druids in particular fascinating and I also love connecting the past to the present. Thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment. Much appreciated:-)

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on October 29, 2010:

Robie, this is a very good and interesting hub. I love reading and researching about ancient histories and how they have influenced our beliefs today. Good job!

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on October 24, 2010:

Steph, having a birthday on Halloween is *almost* as bad as being born on or near Christmas. Unlike Christmas, at least Halloween isn't a gift-giving holiday, so your oldest doesn't have smile lamely when handed a present prefaced with "this is your Christmas AND birthday gift", then again when unwrapping the gift to find it was wrapped in Christmas paper turned white side out. Don't know how a friend separates her son's Dec 25th bd from the holiday, but I made it a point to wrap my Dec 29th-born daughter's bd gifts in real bd paper (not easy to find in Dec!). Now that she's all grown up, she postpones her bd celebrating until New Year's Eve. A convenient two-fer for her. ;D

Roberta Kyle (author) from Central New Jersey on October 24, 2010:

Hi Steph and Tom-- Halloween and thanks for stopping by. And Happy Birthday to your eldest, Steph. He'll be all grown up soon.

Tom rubenoff from United States on October 24, 2010:

The Druids are fascinating. I feel a lot of the time that the laws of space and time are suspended, or perhaps just fictional. Thumbs up awesome, R!

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on October 24, 2010:

Happy Halloween! My oldest celebrates his birthday on 10/31, so its especially fun for our family. I'll have to share this history with him. I'm sure he'll find it interesting, too!

Roberta Kyle (author) from Central New Jersey on October 24, 2010:

Agreed Jama-- I think ancient peoples traveled a great deal more and knew each other a lot better than we think. We have an underlying idea that modern is better and ancient more primitive and that is not always the case. Thanks for commenting and Happy Halloween :-)

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on October 24, 2010:

Many years ago, a part-Native American friend was adamant that there was NO connection whatsoever between NA shamans and Druids-slash-paganism, and insisted I read a book called "Seven Arrows" which he said would prove this. Well, I'd just finished reading "Druids", and didn't get very far into "SA" before I spotted MANY similarities between the two.

Considering both belief systems and celebrations are based on the cycles of the sun and moon, it's not surprising that there would be similarities, or that Celts found their way to present-day Mexico.

Roberta Kyle (author) from Central New Jersey on October 23, 2010:

Lovely to see you too, ST, and to read your wonderful comment. What a small time and space world we live in indeed. Your comment is a fascinating story itself and, as usual, I relate. I never thought about it, but perhaps the Celts did make it to Mexico. We know the Vikings were here and there are those who say other Europeans were as well. And then there is all that Atlantis stuff. Columbus was something of a latecomer I belive-- ahhh well there are some things we will never know, except on Halloween when the veil between worlds is at its thinnest :-) Happy Halloween to you and yours

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on October 23, 2010:

About fifteen years ago a friend I vacationed in Mexico at the end of October and were taken by surprise in our hotel when the American children vacationing there showed up at dinner in costumes, carrying treat bags. Since my companion and I didn't come prepared with sweets, the children got plenty of American coins.

Meanwhile, my friend and I had been enjoying the preparations for Dia de los Muertos as we went from place to place in town. But we never connected those traditions with our American Halloween in terms of trick-or-treating.

As it turns out, our American custom is becoming more prevalent in Mexico, too.

The Druids had and have an enormous influence through time and space. Perhaps Celts were here in the Americas long ago, before the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, since so much of Dia de los Muertos is steeped in the Druid spirit tradition. And now Americans are making their mark, once again, on an ancient tradition. What a small time and space world we live in.

As always, a wonderfully written piece on an interesting subject. I just sail through your words, Robie. What a pleasure!

Pamela Lipscomb from Charlotte, North Carolina on October 22, 2010:

Thanks for the information on the roots of Halloween.

Roberta Kyle (author) from Central New Jersey on October 22, 2010:

haha I'm a Halloween buff too-- I look forward to it every year. Glad you liked the hub. Thanks for stopping by

Rob from Oviedo, FL on October 22, 2010:

Nice bit of info on my favorite holiday.

Roberta Kyle (author) from Central New Jersey on October 22, 2010:

So good to see you KS-- been awhile. I really do love Halloween and find its origins fascinating. Happy Trick or Treating :-)

KSCharles on October 22, 2010:

I really enjoyed this! Thank you for educating many of us (at least me) on this ancient, fun tradition.

Roberta Kyle (author) from Central New Jersey on October 22, 2010:

Me too Edie :-)I love Halloween too and I'm so glad you stopped by and took time to read and comment.

Edie on October 22, 2010:

So glad you posted! I love Halloween. I have lived in Ireland and America and have enjoyed the season so much!

Roberta Kyle (author) from Central New Jersey on October 22, 2010:

Glad you stopped by Lady Guinevere. I too think the Celts and particularly the Druids are fascinating. What amazes me is the power of folk religion to remain intact through the centuries and morph through many cultures into our present day Halloween. Like the Vikings, the Celts live on in us and our folkways.

Always nice to meet a Welsh Celt :-)

Debra Allen from West Virginia on October 22, 2010:

I love the Celts and Druid and Pagans and they interest me very much. I be the Welsh Celt though and they are slightly different then the Irish. Great hub!

Roberta Kyle (author) from Central New Jersey on October 21, 2010:

Well, thanks for reading, Makingsense, and I hope you and your wife have a Happy Halloween :-)

Makingsense on October 21, 2010:

Thanks, I'll have to send this to my wife. She went to Ireland on a garden tour a few months ago and hasn't stopped talking about it yet. This morning she was glad that she was able to buy a Halloween item online from a shop in a good Halloween type town, Langley, WA.

Roberta Kyle (author) from Central New Jersey on October 21, 2010:

Glad you liked it Alek. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I am a real Halloween fan and my little town really does it up right. I wait for the kiddies and really enjoy them all.

Nancy Hinchliff from Essex Junction, Vermont on October 21, 2010:

This is so interesting. Thanks, Robie

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