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Halloween was Born in Irish Caves

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

Ancient, bloody, pagan ritual eventually morphed into the sugar-coated event it is today.

Halloween pumpkins

In the middle of a field in a lesser known part of Ireland is a large mound - about a two and a half hour drive north west of Dublin. On this mound, 2,000 years ago, sheep were sacrificed by chanting, costumed pagans to appease Celtic demons that supposedly inhabited nearby Oweynagat cave.

Considered by the ancient Celts to be a passage between Ireland and its devil-infested “otherworld,” Oweynagat (pronounced “Oen-na-gat” and meaning “cave of the cats”) was the birthplace of the Samhain festival, the ancient roots of Halloween, according to Irish archaeologist Daniel Curley. Halloween can trace its origins to a bloody and eerie ritual marked in Rathcroghan, a former Celtic center buried beneath the farmland of Ireland’s County Roscommon.

Curley is an expert on Rathcroghan (“Rath-craw-hin”), which was the heart of the ancient Irish kingdom of Connaught. Such was its importance, Ireland is seeking UNESCO World Heritage status for the Rathcroghan site.

Spread across 2.5 square miles of rich agricultural land, Rathcroghan boasts 240 archaeological sites. They range from burial mounds to ring forts, standing stones, linear earthworks, an Iron Age ritual sanctuary, and Oweynagat, the so-called “gate to hell.”

More than 2,000 years ago, when paganism was the dominant religion among Ireland’s majority Celtic people, it was here in Rathcroghan that the Celtic New Year festival of Samhain (“Sow-in”) was born, Curley says. It was Samhain on 31 October, as that was when one pastoral year ended and another began. As part of the ritual, the inhabitants of Rathcroghan disguised themselves as ghouls, to avoid being dragged deep into the hell caves by the devils. Two millennia later, young children the world over follow in the spooky footsteps of this tradition on Halloween.

In the 1800s, the Samhain tradition was brought by Irish immigrants to the United States, where it morphed into the sugar overload that is American Halloween.


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