Halloween – a wee bit of history & some common misconceptions

Halloween is one of my favourite times of year as it’s got such a complicated, fascinating history; as well as being full of great memories & being something I still celebrate today. So, I hope this wee post will be of interest to anyone who’s like me ✨

Did you know that the idea of “the veil thinning” at Halloween is a modern belief rather than one found in “ancient Celtic” folklore? This idea seems to have originated with Spiritualists in Victorian times & then enjoyed mainstream popularity from the 1970s onwards after being picked-up by New Agers. Prior to this, references to a veil between the living & the dead in general can sometimes be found from the Early Modern Period onwards – these seem to have been influenced by translations of the Bible being brought out by people outwith Gaelic culture such as William Tyndale, an English Protestant scholar. A more traditional Gaelic/“Celtic” belief would be that Fairies, for example, physically lived in the “fairy hills” or elsewhere underground & would come out of these to roam about above ground, rather than living on some alternate plane obscured by a veil that stopped them from getting out when it wasn’t thin. Therefore these supernatural forces were a part of everyday life for people in the past – which may be hard for many to understand nowadays – it’s just that they were thought to be more active at certain times of year, such as the Gaelic Fire Festivals/Quarter Days 🔥

Same goes for the association with the dead – this being *the one* time of year for supernatural things good or bad to be out & about comes from Catholicism rather than pre-Christian belief, as does the name “Halloween”. In fact, this term actually comes from Scotland as it’s a contraction of the old Scots “Alhallow-evin” meaning All Saints’ Eve: the night before All Saints’ Day. That’s why we have variations in spelling such as “Hallowe’en” & “Hallow-E’en”. In modern Scots it’s usually called/spelt Hallaeen. The old Irish name for this time of year was Samain, & in modern Scottish Gaelic it’s commonly called Samhuinn or Oidhche Shamhna meaning summer’s end or the night of summer’s end. This was one of four Fire Festivals – these would have originally been reckoned by the moon & signs of seasonal changes rather than being on a fixed date, which came in after the church scheduled feast days around the same times of year. All Saints’ Day on 1st November followed by All Souls’ Day led to the fixing of both Halloween & Oichche Shamhna (for many) on 31st October, as well as contributing to the idea that this was the one time of year for supernatural activity 👻

Lastly, there isn’t really any evidence to support the idea of this festival being “the Celtic New Year” in ancient times either. This idea seems to have come from 19th century antiquarians rather than any ancient texts. It did – & still does – however mark the end of summer plus the start of winter & the darker half of the year in Gaelic cultures ❄️

Thank you if you read to the end & I hope you found it interesting – personally I love all things folklore & learning about how beliefs etc change over time (not saying these changes are “wrong” either in terms of personal beliefs, just that we should acknowledge where/when things come from) 😊

⭐️ ETA as of Oct 2022 there’s now an FB group in addition to the page, so if you enjoy discussing things like this please check it out & if it looks like it’s for you please feel free to request to join here ⭐️

🔍 Some example sources for this:

(📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel)


3 thoughts on “Halloween – a wee bit of history & some common misconceptions

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