Feast of the Dead
As the Celtic religious system solidified so did the beliefs of the Celts concerning the dead—as has occurred in all religions, before and after the Celts. Since the turning points of the year were considered fissures in time and space, the Celts believe that the dead they loved so dearly could travel through time and space and return from Tir nan Og to visit them. The custom of leaving food at the table (the birth part of the treat part of trick-or-treat) was a gesture of welcome to the departed. From these visits came the belief that those who had gone beyond the land of the living could provide information on past or future events. This is how divination became associated with Samhain.
The Celts did not believe in devils or demons, but they did believe in the Fairy Folk, whom they thought inhabited the land of the dead (the land in-between). Fairies were thought to be resentful of humankind for taking over their land. Because time and space could be conquered on Samhain, fairies were said to roam countryside creating mischief and kidnapping a human or two now and then—just for fun, you understand.—except the humans never came back. Here then is the root of the scary stuff associated with Halloween. The mischief, of course, was caused by living humans, and accepted by the Celts as a psychological release before the onset of winter gloom—though I doubt they would explain it in those terms.
Is it odd, gross, or unusual that a group of people should set aside a day for the dead? Nope. Different cultures and religions have followed such a practice for centuries. Let’s get on our broom again and check out Rome and its contributions to Halloween.
A Fly-BY of Ancient Rome
Rome had the habit of changing rulers as many times as you empty the lint trap in your dryer. Between 14 and 37 CE, Christianity had begun its rise in Rome. By 41 CE, Claudius had distinguished himself with the conquest of Britain. The Romans also had a harvest festival, so the Celts didn’t have much trouble blending the two holidays together after they came into contact with the Romans. It was around 314 CE when Constantine the Great declared the Roman Empire to be Christian, and the fate of Samhain and Druids was sealed.