Skip to content

Samhain: where Halloween originates

Welcoming the darkness of winter

Of the four cross-quarter festivals in the Celtic Calendar, Samhain is the one that has had full global recognition in what has become Halloween. It’s an essential component in that Celtic Calendar as it marked the end of the old year and the start of the new one going from light to dark.
Beside you is a drop down menu of 21 audio clips from our Samhain Folklore collection. Scroll through to hear each of them or go to our Samhain Folklore page on Audioboom where you can choose which platform to listen to the pieces on. Our Spotify playlist for Samhain comes complete with seasonal tunes in between the lore. 

All of the places

The best place to be for a good Samhain celebration is around a fire hearing ghost stories and participating in traditional games that took place that evening. Derry is quite rightly regarded as the capital of Halloween celebrations these days with a ten day festival no less. Dessie McCallion tells of how it all started there back in the 1980s to counter the turmoil of the Troubles.

We also tell you about one or two places that are synonymous with this time of year which featured in the old Celtic Calendar. Places like the Otherworld and Hy Brasil where the souls of the dead are said to have free reign to come from on this evening and who knows, take you back with them…

All of the characters

Samhain was a time for dressing up to disguise yourself and make you look like one the roaming dead so that they would not regard you as fair game. We tell you more about how this custom developed in the archive. 

While it has certainly grown ‘legs’ and a lot of brilliant reinterpretation for parties everywhere, there are certain creatures that have their origins not on Elm Street, but in Irish mythology. The Morrigan is at the height of her powers on this evening as are the fairies. And while she does not limit herself to this evening, the banshee is a creature that you definitely don’t want to hear at this time of year!

All of the customs

Thanks to the many customs the Irish developed around this time of year, we have what is now Halloween. Those that travelled to America carried on these customs as a way of preserving their heritage. With certain amount of tweaking, these customs then came back to Ireland to what we now know as Halloween.

All of these customs and games were to protect the community as the veil between this world and the Otherworld was thinnest at this time. We also explore general death lore and funeral customs in Ireland. Many survive to this day, but we also tell you about one that has not – keening. 

All of the lore

Considering it is the only certainty along with taxes, death is a subject of perennial fascination. At no time is it more in the minds of the Irish than at this time of year. The pagan customs acknowledged the departed with a full place at the table and food left out for them.

The modern practices have divided the event into back to back remembrance feasts for All Saints and All Souls. We tell you more in the archive, but we also delve into other cultures as well as looking at how death is treated in Ireland. Anyone who has gone to an Irish wake or experienced the two day turnaround will know that it is taken very seriously, but still with some Irish sparkle.

Go to where it all began

The pagan festival of Samhain is when the Gates of Hell are said to open and evil has a free reign to lurk and snatch its victims as it sees fit before the dawn. On that night from these portals spirits emerge from and wreak havoc to those poor unfortunates who cross their path. 

Amongst some 240 or so ancient archaeological sites in windswept Roscommon, there is a forlorn place called Owenynagat or ‘the cave of cats’ that ironically in its heyday was regarded as the most prestigious address in ancient Connaught being situated near Tulsk at what is now known as Rathcroghan. Well worth a visit, but be careful…

A beast of a feast

The dark days of winter would be a whole lot darker without two events originally from the pagan calendar, being Halloween and Christmas. Whereas its neighbour Lughnasa may have been watered down as a major feast with the passing of time, Samhain in the rebooted form of Halloween is still a major event on everyone’s calendars. 
Bealtaine may nod to the supernatural in its customs, but with Samhain, it is on full tilt and offering a user-friendly introduction to some sinister subjects. We hope you embrace your latent atavistic tendencies and enjoy the wonders of this scariest of festivals on our audio archive, available on all platforms.

Spotify version

If you have Spotify, we heartily recommend that you Like the playlist entitled ‘Samhain Folklore‘ by Racontourist. This method allows us to (legally) add in accompanying Samhain music to add to the atmosphere.
We have gone for a song-lore-song-lore format allowing you to digest the audio you heard whilst getting the ambiance that comes with those tunes. Where possible we have followed an audio piece with a song that is either called after it or seemed to match the piece best. Nothing is randomly chosen. Each piece slots in from the opening tune by Emain right through to the magnificent ‘Dance Macabre’ to set you on your way into the night and to possible ghoulish encounters. Anyway, if you do enjoy this Spotify playlist, please ensure you let other Spotify users know about it to spread the word.