The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Spooky History 101: the origins of Halloween

By in Culture


Don’t let their cheerful smirks deceive you: these pumpkins will fuck you up.

We love the dark, dangerous and foreboding mysteries of the dead. We love to scare ourselves, dress up as spiritual pranksters and to stretch the limits of what we can do, how we are seen and what we can get away with. We revel in the malicious, the evil and the mysterious.

Halloween allows us to become what we feel inside. As we bridge the gap from the living to the dead, from the seen to the unseen and from the physical to the spiritual, we pay homage to the ascent or descent of the soul.

Halloween is deeply rooted in our pagan past, specifically in the Celtic Samhain festival.

Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) was celebrated at the end of harvest and a symbol for the passage of life through death. Communities gathered not only in preparation for the long, cold dark of winter, but also to honour the dead and prepare them for the long, dark transmigration of the soul. The death of crops and death of the body represented a united celebration: one physical, the other spiritual.

This communal gathering lasted for several days, and included food, drink, songs, dance, prayers, burnt offerings, visions, history-telling, sacrifices and the spread of the sacred fire. This Samhain rites symbolized the transformation of death into renewed life.

Celebrators laid out a procession of gifts was to honour those passing over — food, so that the spirit would not hunger, drink, so they would not thirst and incense so they could smell the fragrance and beauty of life one last time. This final honour was meant to ensure that the dead would not envy the living and could easily pass into the next life.

The Celts believed that the gods and earth spirits sacrificed themselves annually to give humans life and nourishment through the earth. In the Celtic perspective, not participating in this honorary processional celebration was to tempt a curse on oneself and one’s community.

Human spirits would stay on this plane of existence if they did not successfully cross-over, eventually becoming disembodied spirits, enslaved by the forces of the earth. Spirits who were given insufficient honour by a lack of praise, food, drink or burning of incense would remain earth-bound, wandering. They would remain as spirits with unresolved lives, seeking to put themselves at rest by trying to complete their last enduring desires.

Those who were not honoured and not given sustenance for their journey would be lost in forgetfulness, becoming empty shells with no conscious awareness or memory of who they were or what they were doing here.

Those souls who were ignored or despised in life would stay on earth out of vengeance. These resentful spirits would eventually devolve into flesh-hungry, blood thirsty, malicious entities. These entities would create havoc, pain and torment for those who hated them.

On Halloween night we take back our wild, untamed natures and bring back the celebration of the dead. In so doing, we take back our strength for living.

Photo: jomudo/Flickr

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