At the heart of symbolism

Halloween, a faraway origin feast

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The course of the Samain “festival”

The “festival” of Samain was full of joy and light and the abundance of food and drinks after the harvests prepared the society for the rigours of winter.

Samain means “meeting” and represented the total “festival” mobilizing the whole population, the living as well as the dead of the “síd”. It demanded the participation of all beings divided into three social classes:

  • Sacerdotal (druids) associated with white;
  • Warrior (military nobility) characterized by red;
  • Productive (craftsmen and farmers) related to blue, green and yellow.

Note right away that the orange colour, characteristic of Halloween, is a mix of red and yellow. In other words, it associates the colours of warrior and productive classes only. They are clearly distinct from the sacerdotal class, the white colour of which includes all the colours and consequently all the classes. Indeed, the religious function was forbidden to warrior and producer classes. However, the warrior and the producer function were accessible to the members of the sacerdotal class. That already shows that Halloween has mostly kept, from its faraway origins, the temporal rather than spiritual aspects.

Each of these classes fulfilled a precise role:

  • The sacerdotal class lit the fire, practiced divination and sacrifices and ruled over the assemblies to which the King and the nobles took part;
  • The military nobility widely attended to banquets, feasts and drinking sessions, the most visible aspect of the “festival”;
  • The productive class paid homage to its idols before participating in their part of the feast and attending games.

In former times, the meetings around Halloween feast were the occasion of all kind of divinatory, even magic practices, particularly important at the approach of the cold season.

Fire was integral to rituals of two of the four Celtic “festivals”, that is to say both solstitial “festivals”: Samain (1st November) and Beltaine (1st May) that marked respectively the beginning and the end of the cold season.

In accordance with Halloween customs, people light bonfires and admire fireworks. However, the most common custom consists in taking a walk with a jack-o'-lantern, lit by a candle inside.

The houses are decorated by carving pumpkins and turnips into scary or good-natured faces also lit by a candle inside. They are supposed to represent beings from another world.

Only the druids mastered the elements, i.e. fire, water and earth. Water played the role of the mirror in the traditional magic practices. It was also the passage track between the world of the living and the world of the dead. This crossing corresponded to the passage through the mirror.

The passage from one world to another

The world of the living and the world of the dead are parallel universes that mix in permanence without meeting, except during the Samain “festival”. The period of exchanges between both worlds opens at once on eternity on the side of the “síd” and on the brief moment on the side of the living. In fact, the instant of the temporal world, a suspended time without past or future, represents what is the closest or the least faraway from the eternity of the timeless world. Despite the fact that eternity and time have no commonality, they are nevertheless complementary. Without this break within time, no gate would open on eternity. From which, the briefness of the voyages into the “síd”.

This moment is not without connection to the Halloween custom where adults and children dress up as creatures from another world (ghosts, ghouls, vampires, zombies, witches or goblins) with the secret hope of surprising or frightening their friends. Does this moment of meeting, this frightening second that cuts the being from his markers, not represent a faraway echo of the brief moment opening on eternity ?

Let us note that the voyage towards the “síd” is diametrically opposed to the voyage towards the Eden of the Christian world. There time, filled with angels and demons, stretches endlessly.

The apple

Entering into the Other World is not offered to everyone. This is a privilege reserved for heroes and some rare elected beings. A messenger from the “síd” gives them an apple and takes them beyond the sea in a crystal or glass boat.

The apple is the fruit of immortality, knowledge and wisdom. It shares this quality with two other fruit, nut and acorn. This is not to be confused with the biblical apple, the consumption of which constrains the Eternal to chase Adam and Eva from Eden. On the contrary, the apple means for the Celts a way to remain in contact with the Other World. Let us underline that only creatures from the Other World could give the apple to humans, never the druids.

As fruit of the God of the night that gives birth to the day, children are going door to door to gather, after daylight, fruit, nuts and sweets.

One of the Halloween customs, mostly spread in Wales, consists in bobbing for apples i.e. catching apples floating in water with the teeth. The link is obvious. Water represents the element of passage from one world to another and no human hand can give the fruit.

We could continue at every possible opportunity to list the Halloween customs, the origins of which are lost in the mists of time. All of them would show that they constitute diffuse trails of the ancient November “festival”. They nevertheless differ through the consummate rupture of the links they maintained with the world of the Gods.


  • Françoise Le Roux et Christian-J Guyonvarc'h:
  • “The Celtic civilization”, Ouest-France Publisher, 1990;
  • “The Celtic feasts”, Ouest-France Publisher, 1995.