Samhain & Halloween Folklore

It’s that time of year again colorful autumn with its dazzling scarlet, fiery orange, and golden leaves that gently fall under trees.

 I recall my dad raking these same leaves only to turn around and watch my sister, myself and our friends dive into them with glee.

This year Halloween and Samhain are on Monday, October 31st, 2022.
However, because Christianity’s Gregorian Calendar moved Samhain’s original date, It is believed that Samhain’s original festival followed a full moon lunar cycle. The old Samhain festival was celebrated from October’s full moon to November’s Frost or Beaver Moon which is on the November full moon which falls on the 8th.

Harvest Moon art credited to Billy Jacobs (Public Domain)

Harvest Moon art credited to Billy Jacobs (Public Domain)

Samhain is a time of excitement, adventure, and fun for youngsters dressing up in scary costumes trick or treating door to door in anticipation of that one true perfect treat. I remember myself as a child, dressed in a black and orange clown costume searching through my jack o’ lantern with a sporty black handle hoping to nab a large chocolate bar or a small bag of chips. Other friends of mine found divine satisfaction in their quest for their favorite can of soda.

Later on, we all gathered at one of our friend’s homes to bob for apples and play games. Our parents in the meantime frantically searched our stash of candies for any unsafe treats such as the dreaded “razor blade hidden in an apple”, which never happened and I’m sure it was an urban legend that helped increased sales for the candy companies of the time which was fine by me as a child “the more the merrier.” We enjoyed playing games like bobbing for apples and Snapdragon.

Samhain is also known as the Great Sabbat or Hallowmas in Gaelic termed Ban-Druidh. This is an eventful night where all the Witches of Scotland gather together to celebrate their Witches’ New year with spells, and prophesy. Legend has it that during Samhain the witches have been seen flying on their broomsticks with their familiars such as ravens or black cats. Tradition cites that the Queen witch Morrighan or Callieach governs the night. The summer season of the maiden makes way for the cold winter season of the crone, a wise cunning woman.

The Welsh folks upheld a similar custom Calan Gaef in Wales. In contemporary times some linguistic scholars found Samhain came from the Gaelic Samhtheine which means “Fire of Peace.” an ancient Druid festival held on October 31st and November 1st.

The Druids and Celts built large Bonfires which were built to ward off evil spirits. These bonfires were lit up after the livestock was back at the homestead and the harvest was gathered and stored for the winter.

The Druid priests made offerings and prayers for a bountiful harvest for the next year’s harvests. They built their sacred fires using a spindle and wheel that represented the sun turning from east to west igniting fire flames that rose high into the starry night sky.
Celts believed this was the time of year when the veil that divides the physical world of the living is penetrable by the spirits of the dead, faeries, and goblins that dwell in the Shadow world. These mischievous ghosts, faeries, and goblins would play pranks on people and create chaos such as scaring folks while traveling along a dark lonely road at midnight or killing a farmer’s cow.

Celts dressed up in animal costumes to ward off evil spirits and welcome their dead ancestral ghosts.

Dumb suppers were staged for the celebrants that would consume the dinner as they waited quietly for their ghostly relatives to appear at the table.

The photo below of Traditional Irish Jack O’ Lanterns in the Museum of Country Life, Ireland.

In modern times trick or treat children dress in Halloween costumes and collect candies, and sometimes a kindly neighborhood dentist will toss a new toothbrush into the little monster’s treat bag.

Tricks or pranks may be played out instead of giving out treats.

Samhain in the past folks dressed up as animals with a variety of masks. Turnips were hollowed out and a lighted candle was placed inside it to help folks make their way in the night to a well-to-do neighbour’s front door where they were given soul cakes as payment for blessings and prayers.

The soul cake was a basic cake baked with spices such as ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, with currants marked with a cross to ward off nasty ghosts. Pranks were recorded in the Scottish Highlands as far back as 1736. The Irish loved to play pranks too calling Samhain, ‘Mischief Night.’

In southern Ireland:

In the 19th century, guisers used a hobby horse placing a decorative horse skull in its head while the man covered himself with a sheet under the hobby horse. This was known as Lair Bhan (white mare)He would lead the youth blowing a cow’s horn to farms reciting verses and the farmer donated food to them to usher in good luck from ‘Muck Olla.’

In North America, turnips were replaced with pumpkins which were easier to carve into Jack O’ Lanterns. Jack O’ Lanterns were used to repel wicked spirits from the folk’s homestead.
Later, folks gathered and snacked on apples and nuts. During Samhain and Halloween folks played games like ‘bobbing for apples’ or ‘apple ducking’ is where an adult would fill a tub of water and place enough apples so that each player had a chance to catch the bobbing apple with their teeth with their arms tied behind them. The first one to catch an apple with their teeth is the winner. Sometimes young couples would play this game where the apple is hanging from a string the first one to bite into it would be the next to wed.
was a game that became popular in the 16th century CE.

The illustration below of the Halloween Snap Dragon game from 1859 Household Monthly Public Domain.

The illustration below of the Halloween Snap Dragon game from 1859 Household Monthly Public Domain.

Brandy was heated in a shallow bowl with raisins and then lit with a flame. The lights were turned off for a spooky ambiance. The goal of the game was to pick out the raisins with one’s fingers without the flaming brandy burning them and eat the raisins.

Mummer’s theater:

Mummer’s Theater England in the public domain

Evolved from mummers and guisers during the mid-18th century.
Folk plays performed by troupes such as St. George and the dragon were performed. One of the earliest versions of a mummer’s play narrative is from 1779, “Morrice Dancers” play in Revesby Lincolnshire. Mummer’s theater is still popular today.
Samhain or Halloween offers so many delightful, activities that are fun to share among family and friends or one may quietly observe in solitude and honor the ancestors, the choice is up to you.

Happy Halloween! Merry Samhain!

Copyright ©2022 Nifty Buckles All Rights Reserved.


  • Freeman Philip, Celtic Mythology Tales of Gods, Goddesses and Heroes. Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-046047-1
  • Rajchel Diana, Samhain Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween Llewellyn Publications.
  • Rogers, Nicholas (2002). “Samhain and the Celtic Origins of Halloween.” Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. New York Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-516896-8
  • online
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