The Origins of Halloween- Voodoo, Superstitions, and Late Night Snacking

Courtesy of Gods of Art
Courtesy of Gods of Art

Halloween is a holiday that is celebrated annually in the United States as well as in many other countries located around the world. Observed on October 31st, Halloween revolves around fun, and is greeted and celebrated through the wearing of costumes, trick-or-treating, and other related festivities.

But whereas in more modern times Halloween serves as an occasion for these entertaining activities, its origins have been traced back to approximately 2,000 years ago when the holiday was first referred to as "Samhain," or "Samuin," as was its original spelling. These historical names are not widely known, and the practices with which they were once associated have long been forgotten by most. Despite this, the beginnings of Halloween and its observance throughout ancient history are tainted with such dark concepts as black magic, Satanism, and the occult.

Simply stated, Halloween today was not what it once was.

Ancient History

Halloween originally began as a ritual that was practiced by a sect of ancient Celts, known as the Druids, whom resided in Britain and Ireland approximately 2,000 years ago. Usually acknowledged for their gentle spirits and devoted love of nature, the Druids have since been accused of practicing Satanism, Paganism, and other related rituals by both ancient and modern-day Christians, whom believe that the holiday itself explicitly implies the worshipping of the Devil. This assumption is not correct, as well as the assumption that the ancient ritual of Samhain was one devoted to death. In actuality, it was an observance that was devoted to the end of summer and the arrival of fall. Ancient Celts believed in the existence of the Goddess and her male counterpart, the Horned God, and worshipped the changing of the seasons in the belief that their deities were changing as well. For example, springtime was welcomed through the festival of Beltaine, during which the fertility of the Goddess and the sexual union between both her and the Horned God was celebrated.

Despite this, many of the beliefs that surround modern-day Halloween did, in fact, originate from this time period. The ancient Celts believed in evil spirits, and devised methods to protect themselves from harm. To commemorate Samhain- considered the one day during the year during which the veil between the spirit and physical worlds was the thinnest, allowing passage- the Celts created magnificent bonfires fed with crops and oftentimes the bodies of animals. Fire was considered to be cleansing, but also intimidating; bonfires served as a "warning" to spirits to maintain their distances. It was also believed that by wearing costumes, the Celts could protect their identities from the roving and restless spirits, fooling them into thinking that they too were members of the spirit world.

Another ancient practice that is not usually observed in the present is the leaving of food outside of homes on Samhain night. The Celts believed that by doing so, they were providing their beloved ancestors with a meal while simultaneously attempting to convince them of the lack of need to come inside.

Voodoo dolls were generally used to exact revenge or inspire love, but were also sometimes the vessels of demonic possession.
Voodoo dolls were generally used to exact revenge or inspire love, but were also sometimes the vessels of demonic possession.

The Introduction of Voodoo

Many anthropologists claim that voodoo, a religious cult originally practiced in such areas of the world as Africa and the Caribbean, dates back to a time period that is older than that of the ancient Celts. Whereas this idea lacks evidence, the practice of voodoo has expanded vastly and can now be observed in the Southern states of America. Voodoo- like Halloween- owes the strength of its existence in modern times to international immigration. African and Haitian slaves brought to America were often practitioners of voodoo, or "black magic" as it came to be known. These individuals based their beliefs on the honoring of specific deities that were worshipped through rituals, celebrations, and prayers. Much like the ancient Druids, the founding members of voodoo believed that their deities also served as forces of nature, and were celebrated accordingly.

Eventually, voodoo adapted a new title after its introduction into the United States. Hudu (or "Hoodoo") involves the conjuration of spirits from the afterlife as well as rootwork, which is quite literally the using of roots to attain a specific goal. Other practices include "foot track magic," during which the dirt from a person's footprint is taken and sprinkled into a bottle, thus administering a curse.

It was such curses that provided the holiday of Halloween with even more superstitions on which to thrive. Because Halloween was once Samhain, a holiday that marked the one time that the spirits were able to make passage from the spiritual realm to that of the physical, many practitioners of hudu believe that it is the best time to administer a curse. Voodoo was firmly based on a concept known as ancestral worship, or the greatly held respect for both elders and those family members that had passed. Many people who are knowledgeable about the practices of voodoo and hudu believe that curses were generally administered during the time of Halloween, when their practitioners could confidently call upon the aid of their ancestors and expect response.

Voodoo has also perhaps lent its more sinister aspects to the association between Halloween and Satanism. Because its practice has been compared to witchcraft, voodoo challenges the faint line that exists between good-natured magic and the evil conjuration techniques with which is has been credited. Records of early voodoo have acknowledged the summoning of dark, malignant spirits to do their masters' evil biddings, and curses have been laid on unsuspecting recipients who then perish through horrible means. It appears that in some manner, voodoo may have provided Halloween with a more baneful reputation, and one that remains intact today.

From One To The Next

It is becoming obvious to the author that, as the research for this article has progressed, that the holiday of Halloween is perhaps a combination of several different religious practices reserved for the worshipping of the dead. Whereas the ancient Celts did not particularly observe a holiday for their dead in October, the practitioners of voodoo constantly worship their ancestors and even incorporate them into their daily lives. This spread of influence can also be observed in the modern day practice of trick-or-treating, a favorite pasttime for children on Halloween.

Trick-or-treating seems to have originated in the Middle Ages, and demonstrates roots in Britain and Ireland. In addition to this, practices for the dead were recorded as far south as Italy and Spain. Closely related to the festivities of the holiday El Dia De La Muerta, which occurs in Latin-American and South-American countries, individuals trick-or-treating venture from door to door, from one house to the next in their neighborhoods, "begging" their neighbors for treats. In ancient history, this can be traced back to the late medieval practice of "souling," when members of the poorfolk would travel from door-to-door on Hallowmas (November 1st) to beg for food and offer prayers for the dead in return. Obviously, this aspect of modern-day trick-or-treating is no longer observed, and is most likely widely unknown. This custom coincided with Samhain and All Soul's Night, when people were attempting to placate roaming spirits by dressing in costumes and dancing around bonfires, which are two aspects of the holiday that have remained intact throughout the centuries. This aside, the earliest known usage of the phrase "trick-or-treat" was documented in 1927, in Blackie, Alberta.

So...Trick or Treat?

It is obvious that Halloween is a tradition that has borrowed many of its practices from other sources. While not originally intended as an evening of demonic worship, such religions as voodoo may have influenced Halloween's reputation as a night of mischief, evil, and spirit-walking. Though not an evil-worshipping religion in itself, there are some aspects of voodoo that are sinister in nature, and could have been taken from context and applied to some of the activities that occur on Halloween.

As with many other things in any given culture, Halloween is an important aspect of our ancient history, and should not be regarded with wariness or religious intolerance. Rather, it should be observed and enjoyed as an evening of fun, dress-up, and celebration, while those participating in its observance keep its true meanings and origins in the backs of their minds.

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Comments 10 comments

Eloise Hope profile image

Eloise Hope 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon, USA

I'm just wondering whether there might be any connection between the bonfires for Samhain, and the bonfires used on Guy Fawkes day, November 5th. Interesting when the practices seem to converge around certain times of year, though the stated reasons are so different.


jjackson786 profile image

jjackson786 5 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

OoOo, that is a really good possibility that I didn't even think of. A connection might be there because of the closeness of the dates, like you mentioned. I'll definitely have to read up on that!


Nils Visser profile image

Nils Visser 5 years ago from The Low Countries

I like it well enough to celebrate with my Dutch students, and tell them a bit about Samhain. Coincidentally, I start my ghost-story lesson series tomorrow, we explore the gruesome aspects of nursery rhymes and fairy tales, then progress to ghost stories. On or nearest to Samhain, I read Poe's Tell Tale Heart to them (I'm dead creepy as I impersonate the lunatic narrator). Nice article JJ.


Nils Visser profile image

Nils Visser 5 years ago from The Low Countries

By the by, November the 5th is unrelated to Samhain. It's quite gruesome really, the kids celebrate the horrific torture and death of Guy Fawkes, who was hung, drawn and quartered. This to remind themselves and other folks that treason is a risky game to play. The burning of the effigy would be symbolic for the burning of the intestines as they were rolled out of the (usually) still living victim (hence: drawn) who had already been hung till he nearly choked to death, and castrated. After the intestine bit, the heart was cut out. The quartered bit involved removal of arms, legs and head to be sent to the different corners of the kingdom.

You'll probably know the first part of the ditty:

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,

the Gunpowder Treason and Plot,

I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.

But the last part is really politically incorrect, describing what ought to be done with enemies of the state (during this period, Catholics).

A penny loaf to feed the Pope

A farthing o’ cheese to choke him.

A pint of beer to rinse it down.

A faggot of sticks to burn him.

Burn him in a tub of tar.

Burn him like a blazing star.

Burn his body from his head.

Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.

Hip hip hoorah!

Hip hip hoorah hoorah!

Naturally, I feel obliged to teach my kids this piece of Anglo-Saxon culture. Naturally, being kids, they love anything to do with gruesome executions, terrible deaths, blood and fire.


jjackson786 profile image

jjackson786 5 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

Nils, please transcribe those stories into a Hub! That lesson sounds like it would be fascinating. When I was in high school, I wrote a play that demonstrated the actual meaning of the nursery rhyme "Ring Around The Rosie." It was a hit!

And thank you for clearing up that possible connection. After writing this article, it seems to me that anything can influence anything else :)


ewelz51 profile image

ewelz51 5 years ago from Somewhere in the South...

WHen I lived in ENgland as a child, they did not celebrate Halloween, so we, as the Yanks, had ahuge Halloween party at the 250 yr old farm house in which we lived. It was fabulous, we had a haunted cellar, a wizard to tell fortunes, a stable with creepy scarecrows and many other things that go bump in the night. In return I went to many wonderful Guy Fawkes bonfires the following week at the farms of my friends. Apparently trick or treating has now become common place in Britain, or at least that's what my friends now tell me, though they also say that they think our Halloween parties were still the best...but memory is always golden! Thanks for the info in the article, many new facts and well written, as always...


jjackson786 profile image

jjackson786 5 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

Thank you, Erica, for your comment! I am thrilled to see that the Guy Fawkes masks are making a comeback with the Occupy Wall Street protestors. And what was that about you and I predicting an uprising in America after the riots in London?? Good on us! :)


voodoospell profile image

voodoospell 4 years ago from 1958 South 950 East Provo

This hub with a full of information is given on a spell.With a spell a soul mate come in a life with lots of happiness.


Didge profile image

Didge 4 years ago from Southern England

Fantastic hub jjackson786 and a good addition to Hubpages! Thanks for sharing!


jjackson786 profile image

jjackson786 2 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

Didge, a LONG overdue "thank you" to you. Where in Southern England are you from? I have family over there!

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