Samhain––pronounced sow-in––is also referred to as All Hallows Eve, which is where we got the word for the current holiday Halloween, and most likely comes from the Celtic word “summer’s end”.
Unlike our current practices for Halloween, the Celts had different ways to celebrate Samhain or Halloween. One of those practices was to build huge bonfires in the hopes that sun would be encouraged not to disappear. Another practice was to dance around these bonfires, meant to keep any spirits of evil intent away. In an interesting twist of logic though, the Celts also left their front doors open in the hopes that loved ones would join them at their hearth. So, there was an understanding that not all spirits were evil, but the Celts made sure to protect themselves from this type as well.
The Celts believe that Samhain was the best time or most favorable time to perform divinations of all kinds. At this time, divinations occurred to determine who might die, when a great person might be born, or even who might rise in status, or who would marry.
While the Celts and their beliefs ruled much of Ireland, the United Kingdom and even parts of France for two thousand years, it wasn’t long before other cultures such as the Roman culture and the practice of Christianity came along to alter those ancient beliefs. In fact, the Romans were in control of Celtic lands for 400 years and influenced their beliefs during that time. For example, popular belief has it that the practice of “bobbing for apples” originates in the Roman holiday to honor the goddess Pamona the goddess of fruits, and trees since the apple was one of the symbols for the goddess Pamona. Another Roman holiday Feralia was a day to honor those that had passed and also influenced Celtic practices and beliefs about Samhain.
Christianity also influenced the Celts and their descendants. In 835, Pope Gregory IV wanted to replace Samhain with All Saints Day, but what actually substituted it was All Souls Day, which falls on November 2nd and began in 998 in a French monastery. From there, it spread throughout France, the UK and elsewhere. Another interesting fact is that in the 16th century, Christian children who lived in villages throughout Europe dressed up in grotesque costumes representing the horrific deaths of The Seventh Brethren. The story was from the second chapter of the second book of Macabees. There may be a correlation between this and children dressing up today, but it is also known that the Celts sometimes dressed as ghosts in order to prevent the dead to identify them as living. So, it’s possible that this was the original origin of people dressing up at Halloween.
While modern day Halloween bears little resemblance to the Celtic festival of Samhain, there is no doubt that it is the origin of our modern day holiday, plus it gives me a great excuse to write erotically dark stories. So I’ve made it a point to specialize in them, as you can tell from my selection of horror books on this theme, based in Celtic thimes as well as in the contemporary ones: