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Publication: The Paranormal Insider
Trick-or-Treat Traditions and Trivia

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Issue date: Saturday, October 21, 2006
P A R A N O R M A L  I N S I D E R 

Trick-or-Treat Traditions and Trivia
by Zsuzsana Summer

Hello, dear readers. Hallowe'en is just around the corner 
so while we get ready to carve out pumpkins and select our 
scariest costumes for parties and trick-or-treating, let's 
look at the origins of this spooky and very 'spirited' 

The word Hallowe'en is derived from the fact that in the 
Christian calendar it occurs the day before All Saints' or 
All Hallows' Day. It was the ancient Celts, however, who 
first began celebrating November 1st as a harvest feast, 
the final harvest of the year, and this day was considered 
the end of one year and the beginning of the new. It was 
in 835 that Pope Gregory IV decided to move the Christian 
feast of All Saints' Day to November 1. This was likely 
done in keeping with a common church practice designed to 
eradicate pagan customs not by abolishing them, which would 
require a great deal of effort, but instead by remaking 
them into Christian holidays by association. 

Pagans, Wiccans and Druids to this day celebrate this 
ancient festival called Samhain (pronounced 'sow'-en, with 
the 'sow' rhyming with 'cow') as a major sabbat. The word 
'Samhain' comes from the Gaelic words for 'the end of 
summer' and it was the time of a solar festival saying 
goodbye to the sun and praying for its return after the 
winter. According to the Celts, all turning points and 
transitions, such as the time between one day and the next, 
the meeting of sea and shore at the tides, or the turning 
of one year into the next were inherently magickal. The 
turning of the year was the most mysterious and magickal 
of all. At this time, the veil between the worlds was at 
its thinnest, and the living could communicate with their 
ancestors and all the souls of the dead who resided in the 
land of "Tir nan Og". Time and space were suspended at 
Samhain and on this night, as it was believed that the 
boundary between this life and the afterlife was extremely 
thin, the souls of the recently departed could walk the 
earth freely once again, along with the faeries and witches 
and hobgoblins and evil spirits too. 

Some sources say that the Celts believed the souls of the 
dead came out at Samhain to ask their living relatives for 
warmth and food, as the coming of winter portended an even 
more cold and dismal environment for their souls than the 
warmer months preceding. Other sources say that recently 
crossed spirits came back looking for living human bodies 
to possess at this in-between time. 

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Many of our modern Hallowe'en traditions are rooted in the 
customs these ancient people devised to honour their dead 
and protect themselves from the evil spirits at the same 
time. In Celtic traditions, people would leave food offer-
ings on altars and doorsteps for the "wandering dead" on 
this feast day. The Celts would parade to the outskirts of 
their villages with offerings of sweets and baked goods for 
the souls of the dead. It was hoped that the spirits would 
follow these parades and thereby keep the villagers safe 
from any mischief and evil. Apples were buried along road-
sides for spirits who were lost or had no-one to provide 
for them. To disguise themselves and confuse evil spirits 
on this night, the Celts would paint their faces with soot 
and wear costumes made of straw or animal pelts. These 
traditions, among with many others (please keep reading) 
later evolved into our modern day custom of trick-or-

Offerings of food or milk were often left on doorsteps for 
the fairies who were abroad on the night before Samhain, 
ensuring the homeowner the blessings of the mischievous 
'wee folk' throughout the coming year.  Many families would 
also leave out a "dumb supper" for the spirits of the 
departed, and extra chairs and place settings were set at 
the table and around the hearth for unseen guests. A "dumb 
supper" is a meal eaten in total silence, in honour of 
ancestors and souls of the dead. The departed are invited 
to this meal and are present as invisible entities. Doors 
and windows are often left unlocked to let these souls 
into the house and take their places at the table. Some 
traditions call for the meal to be eaten backwards, and 
various rituals accompany this unusual but enduring rite 
depending on where it is practised. 

People who went abroad on this night would carry hollowed 
out turnips which they carved to look like faces as 
protection from any wicked spirits. They often dressed in 
white to appear like ghosts or dressed as the opposite 
gender to fool the spirits. Hollowed out turnips were also 
used as torches by placing a lit candle inside to protect 
the flames from the wind. They were also placed in window-
sills as lanterns to guide the dead back to their families, 
these being the forerunners of our modern Jack-o-lanterns. 

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Our modern day trick or treating, which in America can be 
traced back to the 1930's, probably has its roots in a 
number of different customs. 

Among the Celts, faeries, hobgoblins, trolls, brownies and 
elves were believed to roam the lands and abounded in full 
force on a magickal night such as the eve of Samhain. While 
some of these wee folk were friendly and helpful, many were 
known to be very dangerous, from the mere mischief-makers 
to the downright nasty. Being resentful of humankind for 
taking over their lands, it was believed that on the eve 
of Samhain, faeries would sometimes trick humans into 
becoming lost and trapped forever in the 'sidhe' 
(pronounced 'shee'), which were the fairy mounds that 
dotted the rolling landscape. Wee folk were blamed for all 
manner of awful tricks upon humans, from blighting the 
fields to stealing children, so tasty offerings were left 
out for the little creatures to placate them and keep them 
from wreaking any mischief upon the homes and households. 

Some sources say that in order to avoid being possessed by 
the souls of the dead at Samhain, Celtic villagers would 
extinguish the fires in their homes to make them cold and 
dark. They would then dress up in ghoulish costumes and 
handmade masks and parade noisily around the neighborhood, 
creating as much ruckus as they could in order to frighten 
away strange spirits looking for bodies to possess and to 
fool the spirits with their disguises. 

From my research, it appears that in the British Isles, in 
the early years of Christianity (and comprising a blending 
of Celtic, Roman and Christian tradition) witches and 
demons too were thought to wander the streets on Hallowe'en 
night alongside the souls of the dead. Offerings of food 
and drink ensured protection against these entities enter-
ing the houses to help themselves to sustenance. In later 
years, people began dressing up as these very horrific 
creatures and going door to door, sometimes performing 
antics in exchange for offerings of food and drink. 

During early celebrations of All Soul's Day in Britain, 
the poor would go begging and housewives would give them 
special treats called "soulcakes", square pieces of bread 
with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would 
receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on 
behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. It was believed 
that the souls of the dead remained in limbo for some time 
after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could 
assist a soul on its passage to heaven. This custom was 
called "going a-souling", and the "soulers" would promise 
to say a prayer for the dead. Over the years the custom 
changed and the children of the towns and villages would 
act as beggars, going from door to door and being given 
treats and even money. 

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Hallowe'en Superstitions

To release a person from ghost possession, throw dust from 
your footprint at them. 

If a candles flame suddenly turns blue, there's a ghost 

A spider appearing on Hallowe'en is probably the spirit of 
a deceased loved one who has come to visit. 

Burying animal bones or a picture of a loved animal near 
the doorway prevents ghosts from entering your home on 

Owls were thought to swoop down from the skies to eat the 
souls of the dying. A common remedy against this was to 
turn your pockets inside out. 

If you go to a crossroads at Hallowe'en and listen to the 
wind, you will learn all the most important things that 
will befall you during the next twelve months. 

To meet a witch, put your clothes on inside out and walk
 backwards on Hallowe'en night. At midnight a witch is 
 supposed to appear. 

If you ring a bell on Hallowe'en, it will scare evil 
spirits away. 

Walking around your house three times backwards and 
counterclockwise before sunset on Hallowe'en will ward 
off evil. 

Oatmeal and salt placed on children's heads to protects 
them from evil. 

Placing a Jack-o-lantern on your porch or in your window 
will frighten evil spirits away but will also welcome 
deceased loved ones on Hallowe'en. 

Hallowe'en is an ideal time for divination of all kinds 
as the veils are so thin at this between-time. The Celts 
believed all normal order in the universe and the laws of 
space and time were suspended during this time, allowing 
the spirit world to intermingle with the living. 

Just remember, if you hear footsteps behind you on 
Hallowe'en, don't turn around! It might be a lost soul 
looking for a host and if he happens to like the wiggle 
in your walk, well, don't say you haven't been warned. 


Thanks to everyone who has been writing to me with personal 
experiences and responses to the column. I hope to include 
a selection of your letters in next week's column. If you 
have any thrilling or chilling Hallowe'en experiences to 
share, please send them in. 

If you wish to send me a story for publication, please 
email to: paranormal@zsuzsana.com. Please post responses 
to today's column or readers' letters to: Paranormal 
Insider Forum 

Take care and see you next week!

Zsuzsana Summer

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