Samhain: October 31. An ancient Celtic festival which celebrates the beginning of winter, marked by death, and the beginning of the Celtic New Year. Samhain means “end of summer.”
Samhain is a sabbat universally observed, which is included among the Greater sabbats observed by neo-Pagans. The Druids, in ancient Ireland, once sacrificed to their deities by burning victims in wickerwork gages. All other fires were to be extinguished and lighted again from the sacrificial fire.
This custom still continues in Ireland and Scotland, all fires in homes are extinguished and lighted again from bonfires, but without sacrificial victims. Samhain marks the third harvests and the storage of provisions for winter.
The veil between the worlds of the living and dead is the thinnest during this time making communications easier. Souls of the dead can come into the land of the living. Samhain is a time for eliminating weaknesses, when pagan once slaughtered weak animals that were thought not to be able to survive the winter.
This custom resulted in the modern practice by some who wanted to get rid of their weaknesses of writing them on a piece of paper and dropping them into a fire. Some baked cakes to be offered for the souls of the dead. Samhain was Christianized into All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween.
The modern custom or trick-and-treating may have originated from an old Irish peasant custom of going door-to-door to collect money, breadcake, cheese, eggs, butter, nuts, apples and other foods in preparation for the festival of St. Columb Kill. Apples are included in many rites, especially as ingredients in brews. Dunking for apples may have been a divinatory practice. A.G.H.