As Halloween is upon us we've decided to explore the theme to find influences for our work. Whether culturally you call it Halloween, All Hallows' Eve or All Saints' Eve, where did it all start?
The origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, marking the end of the harvest season, the beginning of winter and their new year. Irish folklore shows that the Celts believed on the night before the New year, the boundaries between the living and the dead became blurred. Patricia Monaghan writes in The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore; 'the people of the OTHERWORLD came to our world to blight vegetation with their breath, so that on the following day nothing remained green and growing'. With this the Celts believed during this time with otherworldly spirits amongst them, druids were more in touch to make predictions about the future.
They built sacred bonfires to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic Dieties. They also wore costumes, mainly consisting of 'animal heads and skins', which was believed to avoid capture from the creatures of the otherworld such as the dead and fairies. As Patricia Monaghan writes; 'Fairies were especially prone to stealing humans on Samhain'. Fairies through history are known to be trouble makers, however today they are seen more as friendly magical beings.
It is also written that "matchmaking" was part of Samhain rituals. In various writings, food would be given to young women such as cake baked on the bonfire, which they would eat and retreat to bed to then dream of their intended lovers. Later in 18th-century Ireland, this tradition was continued, 'a matchmaking cook might bury a ring in her mashed potatoes on Halloween night, hoping to bring true love to the diner who found it.' However in today's society Halloween is more focused on costumes, pranks and the fear of the dead and unknown.
Obviously the costume tradition derives from the Celtic custom of wearing animal heads and skins, but today it isn't to hide from otherworldly beings, it's to dress like them, to celebrate the dead. We want to be scared on Halloween, across the world we embrace horror by going to haunted houses and watching scary movies about the ghosts and ghouls the Celts were once scared of being taken by on the night of Samhain.