Human beings have celebrated Halloween, in one form or another, for a very long time. In the way, way back, Celtic pagans called it Samhain, and knew it as the time of year when barriers between the land of the living and the dead blurred.
Which is to say, people were super freaked out about the dead coming back to roam the earth, and took the appropriate precautions. So, not quite candy and sexy costumes, is what I’m saying.
Buckle up, buttercups.
#7. The Cave of the Cats
This might sound like a cuddly, furry spot that you would love to visit, but trust me…it’s not. Oweynagat, or the Cave of the Cats, was considered to be the most dangerous place on earth during Samhain. The legend was that a maidservant of the Fairy Queen had taken up residence in the cave centuries before and allowed all manner of malevolent spirits to live there with her.
People had seen monsters, apparitions, strange beasts, and, during Samhain, herds of demonic cats emerge to prey on the people living nearby.
#6. Ritual Murder
Calm down, they only murdered kings and other aristocracy. The legends go that if people had a hard year, even if the source of their angst was a natural force like plague or famine, the kings would pay the price. They were ritually sacrificed during Samhain and replaced, and their bodies were thrown into the bog (where several have been discovered since).
Samhain, and later Halloween, used to be celebrated by men in drag wandering the streets. They would go door-to-door dressed as “hags,” but instead of asking for candy, they would request food or hospitality. If they gained admittance to a home that was dirty or otherwise unkempt, the men (dressed as women) would start sweeping and muttering disapprovingly.
Fun for them, but I’d guess they were lucky not to be murdered by the actual woman of the house.
#4. The Night of the Living Dead
They believed that during Samhain the doors to the afterlife would open, and the dead would return to roam the earth. Some spirits would simple wander to their old homes to check on the living, who would leave out treats for their deceased family and friends, while others weren’t quite so benevolent.
There’s an Irish legend about an otherworld spirit called Aileen who emerged to burn down a town, which led many to fear the wrath of angry spirits. They spent the “holiday” inside behind locked doors, praying their homes would be intact come morning.
#3. They Wore Costumes
This might sound familiar, but hold up – you’re definitely not going to want to put together a “traditional” costume this Halloween. The ancient Celts dressed up as the dead, with black painted faces and disguises made of straw. The idea was that, like the zombies in The Walking Dead, the spirits of the deceased would leave them alone if they could pass as one of them.
Some even went so far as to put on the skin of slaughtered animals, and the celebration was often marked by the squeals of dying pigs and other livestock (that were being slain to stock up for winter, not for fun).
Definitely not sexy, though.
#2. Fairies Went Looking for Trouble
There are two different ideas when it comes to what fairies and the fair folk are like – one envisions them like Tinkerbell (I guess), while the Celtic traditions are more in favor of them being inhuman, unfeeling sociopaths who care only for their own kind. One of their jobs was to follow the King of the Dead and his army of hellhounds as they gathered the newly dead into the afterlife.
During Samhain, it was said the fairies snatched people indiscriminately, dragging the living as well as the dead into hell. People stayed well clear of fairy mounds on the Irish landscape during Samhain, wary of grasping fairy hands.
#1. Heavy Drinking
Finally, a ritual that has survived the test of time! Samhain fell on the last harvest before winter, when all of the remaining grain was gathered in anticipation of the year’s first frost. As a result (bonus), there was also a surplus of alcohol that had to be drank or tossed.
The Irish, as we all know, were not keen on wasting alcohol, so people drank heavily after the harvest was in. Every single ancient Irish story about drunken exploits takes place during Samhain (not St. Patrick’s Day, fakers), so you know. It’s only right that we carry on the tradition.
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