Halloween, generally though to be a Catholic holiday, is actually much older than Christianity. Its origins stem from the pagan ritual of Samhain (Samhuinn, Sauin, Samaín) which the Celts performed when the barriers between the worlds of the living and the dead grew thin. In its early days, Halloween wasn't exactly a joyous holiday but rather a sinister ritual with horrifying practices. Here are some of them.
Royal murders in Ireland
Even today we continue to find dead bodies in the vast swamps of the Green Island, ones that have been well-preserved in thick layers of turf. Archaeologists were initially shocked that each of the dead were representatives of the upper classes of the ancient Celts. Characteristic markings on them indicated that these aristocrats were ritually sacrificed. Research has shown that in the past, during long periods of famine, drought or disasters, people would blame their ruler for their ills and sacrifice him to the gods.
Rise of the dead
In ancient times, children didn't go around from home to home on Halloween to collect candy. Quite the contrary - they would hide in the cellar alongside their parents in terror. It was believed that at that time of year, the dead would return from the grave and seek to return to their old homes and steal souls. That was why people would put gifts outside their door, to appease the dead, while also hiding behind their tightly barred doors.
People would dress in costumes in ancient times as well, although these differed vastly from what kids wear today. The ancient Celts would masquerade as undead, so that their deceased brethren wouldn't recognize them and steal their souls. They would smear their entire bodies with black mud, put straw on their heads and cover their torsos with freshly skinned pig or sheep hide.
In the earliest instances of Halloween celebration, the legends speak of welcoming the holiday with child sacrifice. People believed that this was what the gods willed. In the center of every village there stood a giant totem. The Celts would place their offerings by it - corn, game, knitting, ceramics and the bodies of children. These sinister rituals were described in detail by the first monks who came to Ireland to preach Christianity.