Druids and Halloween

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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 | Source

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" | Source

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.

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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.

Halloween House Decorations

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 | Source

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Comments 31 comments

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

This is so interesting. Thanks, Robie


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

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.


Makingsense 6 years ago

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.


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

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


Lady Guinevere profile image

Lady Guinevere 6 years ago from West Virginia

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!


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

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 :-)


Edie 6 years ago

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


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

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


KSCharles 6 years ago

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


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

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


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

Nice bit of info on my favorite holiday.


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

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


2besure profile image

2besure 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

Thanks for the information on the roots of Halloween.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

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!


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

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


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

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.


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

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 :-)


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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!


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

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!


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

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


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

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


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 6 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

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!


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

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:-)


Elisa Taylor profile image

Elisa Taylor 6 years ago

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.


lcg4jc profile image

lcg4jc 6 years ago

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


Merlin Fraser profile image

Merlin Fraser 6 years ago from Cotswold Hills

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.


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

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.


rafken profile image

rafken 6 years ago from The worlds my oyster

Nice hub, thanks


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

glad you liked it-- thanks for stopping by


James Slaven profile image

James Slaven 2 months ago from Indiana, USA

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


robie2 profile image

robie2 2 months ago from Central New Jersey Author

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

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