You’ve heard of the kid’s table at family dinner. But what about the ghost’s table? In this Samhain tradition, families would welcome the spirits of their ancestors into their homes for a meal on October 31. The night would be full of games and storytelling, with the living giving the dead an update on how things have been going on this side. For spirits who didn’t quite get their fill during dinner, the windows and doors of the home would be opened just in case the dead wanted to come back for dessert.
The Monsters of Samhain
If you open up the metaphysical gate to let friendly great-grandparents through, you also might get a few freaky creatures, too.
First there’s the púca, an enigmatic shape-shifter that was believed to either bring great fortune, or destroy the crops and animals living on Irish farms depending on its mood. Children especially were known to disappear whenever a wily púca was sighted.
The Lady Gwyn was someone you definitely didn’t want to encounter, with her severed head and grotesque black pig being obvious enough warning signs. Still, she was known to steal the souls of anyone who was out and about at night.
Then there were the Dullahan, dark figures who rode around on flame-eyed horses carrying their moldy-cheese like heads high for all to see. Bodysnatchers by trade, they constructed their carriages out of human bones and dried skin, while carrying whips made of severed spines. Pro tip: keep the Dullahan away by putting out a shiny gold object.
Samhain celebrants would often dress up as monsters themselves so as not to be dragged back into another realm by mischievous fairies.
The Legend of Stingy Jack
Instead of carving a pumpkin this year, do as the ancient Irish would have and carve a face into…a turnip!
It all comes from the legend of an Irish town drunkard named Stingy Jack, who twice tricked the devil into saving his soul by capturing Satan and cutting a deal. Of course, when Jack was denied entry into the pearly gates for being such an unsavory fella, Satan honored his word and refused Jack in hell, too. So Jack was left to roam the in-between for eternity, with only the light from burning coal to guide his way.
The Irish called him “Jack of the Lantern,” and would carve faces into vegetables like turnips and potatoes to scare off creepy travelers during Samhain. So why pumpkins in America? There are just more of them over here.
We encourage you to don your Sport Kilt during your Samhain celebration this year, as the ancient Celts would have done. There are a number of fire-related ceremonies associated with the Wiccan and pagan interpretations of the holiday, including a bonfire over which conversations with the dead take place.
There’s also the practice of “mumming,” which involves wearing a costume and going to your neighbors’ houses to sing songs for the dead in exchange for cake. Think of it as some macabre caroling mixed with trick or treating.
If you don’t feel like fire and song this year (or playing tricks on fairies, another Samhain tradition), you can always get the family together, living and dead, to celebrate with a feast between two worlds. However you go about it, we hope you keep the púca away for another year!
Celebrate Samhain in Style
Borealis Hiking Kilt
Lightweight, microfiber kilt perfect for trekking through the area to make sure no spirits ruin your good time.
Stay warm during dumb supper with this custom made poly/rayon shawl available in most tartans.
Celtic Tri-Knot Hip Flask
Warmly invite your ancestors into your living room with this brushed, stainless steel flask that’s perfect for sharing.