The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: Celebrating the Dark Half of the Year

Excerpts & Samples

By Jean Markale

Publisher : Inner Traditions/Bear & Company

ABOUT Jean Markale

Jean Markale
Jean Markale (1928-2008), was a poet, philosopher, historian, and storyteller, who spent a lifetime researching pre-Christian and medieval culture and spirituality. He was a former specialist in Celtic studies at the Sorbonne and author of more than 40 books, including Montségur and More...



A comprehensive examination of the rituals and philosophies of the Celtic holiday of Samhain, the inspiration for Halloween.

• Presents the true meaning of this ancient holiday and shows how contemporary observances still faithfully reflect the rituals of pagan ancestors.

• Explains why this holiday, largely confined to the English-speaking world since the advent of Christianity, has spread throughout the rest of Europe over the last two decades.

One of humanity's most enduring myths is that the dead, on certain nights of the year, can leave the Other World and move freely about the land of the living. Every year on October 31, when the children of the world parade through the streets dressed as monsters, skeletons, and witches, they reenact a sacred ceremony whose roots extend to the dawn of time. By receiving gifts of sweets from strangers, the children establish, on a symbolic plane that exceeds their understanding, a fraternal exchange between the visible world and the invisible world. Author Jean Markale meticulously examines the rituals and ceremonies of ancient festivities on this holiday and shows how they still shape the customs of today's celebration. During the night of Samhain, the Celtic precursor of today's holiday, the borders between life and death were no longer regarded as insurmountable barriers. Two-way traffic was temporarily permitted between this world and the Other World, and the wealth and wisdom of the sidhe, or fairy folk, were available to the intrepid individuals who dared to enter their realm. Markale enriches our understanding of how the transition from the light to the dark half of the year was a moment in which time stopped and allowed the participants in the week-long festival to attain a level of consciousness not possible in everyday life, an experience we honor in our modern celebrations of Halloween. 

". . . an informative consideration of the enduring myths surrounding the October holiday."
The Midwest Book Review, November 2001

"This is a well-written, intellectual book."
PagaNet News, Volume IX Issue III

"Here is a book that is scholarly in its study of a pagan holiday, written by one of Europe's leading experts on Celtic culture."
Aquarius, March 2002

"All in all, this book provides some useful and well-researched information."
Rachel Wren, New Witch

“. . . should be in the library of every group working in a Celtic system, as well as in the library of many elders who are looking for something more than the usual, superficial treatment of Celtic beliefs. . . . it is a well of knowledge which should not be passed over lightly. Take the time to read and absorb the information herein and you will be more than amply rewarded.”
Mike Gleason, Witchgrove, March 2007