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Halloween : Spells, Predictions, and Superstitions

Treats, Masks, and Garments
On October 31 the disembodied spirits of all those who had died during the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be the spirits’ only hope for the afterlife.

Joining this mix were evil phantoms in the form of fairies revisiting the earth and tormented the living. The fairies were often considered hostile and dangerous to humans because they were thought to be resentful of human takeover of their lands. Consequently on this night they would sometimes trick people into becoming lost in fairy mounds where they would be trapped forever. There was great apprehension for other dangers as well. Crops were in jeopardy, babies could be stolen, farm animals killed, food and milk spoiled – all because of this open doorway for evil spirits. It was a frightening time for these ancients.

To protect themselves and prevent harm, the Celts would leave treats for the spirits outside their homes. The idea was that a spirit looking for a person to possess would be sidetracked by a bowl of fruit, nuts, and other treats. The spirit would then leave in peace. Spirits were believed to assume grotesque appearances this night. To avoid being recognized by them people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits and not plague them. The trick-or-treat custom reflects this superstition.

Dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, the winters, with it's long dark days were frightening. It was always uncertain wheather food supplies would last through the long winter. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts walked the earth, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by wandering ghosts, people wore masks when they left their homes after dark so the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. Also, to keep spirits away from their houses, people placed bowls of food outside their doors to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.

Jack O'Lanterns, Candles, and Bonfires
Fire symbolized the power of the sun deity while it was believed that it offered protection against mischievous ghosts. Home fires were allowed to go out and be rekindled with protective sacred fires at the end of this, the pagan year.

Some believed spirits could be warded off by carving a grotesque face into a gourd or root vegetable like a turnip and placing a candle inside. Because ghosts and witches feared fire, the candle within the jack-o-lantern along with the scary face became a weapon against evil influences when placed in front of the home.

It was believed that witches used skulls on Halloween to communicate better with the dead. It was also believed that witches derived from black cats their power to invoke evil spirits. The Celts were particularly fearful of black cats because they thought the animals were originally humans who had been transformed by sinister powers.


Since this night belonged neither to one year nor the other, Celtic peoples thought that chaos reigned, and so the masses would engage in horseplay and practical jokes. Hence we see some of the original “trick” in trick-or-treating.

The Trick or Treating" Tradition, Apple Peeling

The tradition of "trick-or-treating" lies in the English traditions of early All Souls' Day parades. During the festivities, the poor would beg for food, and be given pastries called "soul cakes" in return for their promise to pray for a family's dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits.

The practice was referred to as "going a-souling" and was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money. Sometimes Halloween was called "Nutcrack Night" or "Snap Apple Night" because families gathered together before the fire to tell stories about their departed relatives, and eat nuts and apples.

Ducking or bobbing for apples was a marriage divination. The first person to bite an apple would be the first to marry in the coming year. Apple peeling was a tool to predict how long your life would be. The longer you could make the apple peel come off unbroken, the longer your life was destined to be.

Why apples? In the course of the four hundred years that the Romans ruled Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees and whose symbol was the apple.

Halloween Predictions for a Future Husband

As Halloween was traditionally a night to see into the future, many young girls, in particular, followed ancient customs to scry out potential husbands. Some of these included:
  • Placing hazelnuts in front of a blazing fire to represent all potential partners and chanting, "If you love me pop and fly, If you hate me burn and die"
  • Taking a lighted lamp to a fresh water spring or stream of running water at midnight, a young girl would be able to see a reflection of the face of her future husband in the water
  • Taking a candle into a darkened room with a large mirror and focusing upon her reflection in the mirror whilst either eating an apple or combing her hair, it was believed that the image of a future husband should appear in the mirror
  • Apple peel spell - Peel an apple in one continuous piece and throw it over the left shoulder. The peel should form the initial letter of the name of a future wedding mate
  • Apple pip spell - Naming apple pips for each potential suitor a young girl would stick them onto her cheeks. The last to fall from her face would represent the man she would marry


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