Samhain or Halloween, as it is referred to today, is a pagan religious festival that has ancient Celtic roots. It originates from a Celtic spiritual tradition. Samhain is observed from 31 October to 1 November. It signifies the ushering of the dark half of the year and celebrates the harvest season. Observers of Samhain believe that during this time of the year, the barriers between the spirit world and the physical world break down. Thus, it leads to more interaction between people of the otherworld and humans.
Considered to be the most important fire festival by ancient Celts, Samhain takes place between the winter solstice and fall equinox midpoints. Heart fires are left burning out in family homes as the harvest is gathered during this time of the year. Community fires are lighted by celebrants along with Druid priests using a wheel to create friction for sparking flames once the harvest work has been completed. The wheel represents the sun. Moreover, cattle were sacrificed, and people took a flame from the community fire back into their homes.
Samhain was a mandatory celebration according to early texts, and it lasted about three nights and three days. Community members had to present themselves before local chieftains and kings. People that failed to participate in the festival were believed to face punishment from the gods in the form of illness and even death.
In Ireland, there was also a military aspect to Samhain. Holiday thrones were made for soldiers and commanders. A death sentence was served on anyone that use their weapons or committed crime during the festival. Evidence shows that six days of consuming excess alcohol were observed as well as gluttony.
Offerings were left outside fields and villages for fairies and Sidhs as it was believed that the barrier between the outside world could be breached during Samhain. People felt during this time their ancestors could cross over. Celts even dressed up as monsters and animals to avoid being kidnapped by fairies. Punkah is a shape-shifting creature that is commonly associated with Samhain. It required harvest offerings. Another mythological creature that was expected to visit was the Lady Gwyn that had a black pig. She was dressed in white and was headless. Lady Gwyn would chase away night wanders. The Dullahan was said to be a death omen. He was a headless man on a horse that carried his head around.
There are many Samhain myths which the Celts believed in. One of the most popular is the Second Battle of Mag Turied. It portrayed the final conflict between the evil oppressors and Tuatha de Danann. The battle took place during Samhain. The Adventures of Nera is also one of the most popular Samhain myths that tell of the story of the hero Nera, who encounters fairies and corpses and enters the otherworld.