Halloween Reads: Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween by Lisa Morton

Trick or Treat:

A History of Halloween by Lisa Morton


Reaktion Books; Illustrated edition (Sept. 12 2019)

Publisher Synopsis:

Halloween has spread around the world, yet its associations with death and the supernatural as well as its inevitable commercialization have made it one of our most puzzling holidays.

How did it become what it is today?

According to Morton, “Halloween is undoubtedly the most misunderstood of festivals”. All Hallows’ Eve (“hallow” comes from the Old English word hálga, or holy) precedes All Saints’ Day, celebrated by Roman Catholics on 1 November. But the origins of Halloween are also pagan. The Celts believed that the doors to the afterlife, known as Tir na tSamhraidh (the Land of Summer), opened on one night of the year, at Samhain.

‘Samhain began at sunset on 31 October and it marked the end of summer, when crops were harvested and animals brought in for the winter. The Celtic festival’s “peculiar mix of harvest, rowdy celebration and fearful supernatural beliefs” shaped our Halloween’.

Pop culture has tricked us into believing Samhain is some sinister, Lord of the Dead ruling over Halloween. It simply translate as the end of summer. Shame on you, Hollywood. Curse of Michael Myers – we are looking at you!


The lack of simple research put into some of the most popular film and television franchises is ridiculous. From Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Supernatural; many of the most loved characters fall guilty of being ignorant to cultural history.


The Celtic festival of Samhain has given us many of our modern Halloween traditions, including the practice of wearing costumes. Costumes and masks were intended to trick the spirits and keep oneself same from harm.

The Celts believed that Samhain, in addition to being a harvest festival, also marked the time of year during which the veil between the living and dead became porous allowing the dead and other spirits to walk the world of the living.

The Celts cleverly came up with several ways to ward off these spirits. Giant bonfires, are a hallmark of the Samhain festival. These bonfires were intended to scare and ward off the forces of darkness that would be able to pass over into the land of the living.

Much of Halloween traditions are rooted surprisingly in romance and pursuit of a marriage partner. If you look closely at all the gorgeous ‘ol Halloween postcards, you’ll see most pertain to romantic divinations. From tossing kale stocks to bobbing for apples: the history of Halloween is rife with all things whacky and wonderful.

Try your hand at a few divinations:

At midnight on Halloween, place a candle by a mirror in a darkened room and light the wick. Face the mirror and cut an apple into nine slices. Eat eight apple slices while gazing into the mirror. Save the final piece and at the first stroke of midnight offer it to the mirror. If the spirits accept your offering, the face of your true love will appear over your shoulder in the mirror.

Foretell the fate of a relationship: Name two nuts after a specific couple then place them into the fire. If the nuts burn together, it foretells that the couple will have a happy life. If the two nuts crackle and spring apart, then the couple is doomed to quarrel.

Lovers of Halloween and folklore, this is one not to miss.



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