Hallowe'en is believed to derive from the very ancient festival of Samhain which was to celebrate the eve of the Celtic New Year (October 31). This festival was later threatened by the introduction of Christianity when it was seen not as a day of evil but the eve of 'All Hallows' or 'All Saints Day', although over the years it has also managed to survive as Hallowe'en. In England Halloween was, and still is by some, celebrated by dressing up in disguises, practising divination, ducking for apples and making candlelit turnip-lanterns. Today, it is a night for fun and games with a variation being formed in America.
This night was seen as one of enchantment when people were expected to protect themselves from evil forces. On this day any journey had to be completed before sunset and the best protection for a traveller was to carry was a piece of bread crossed with salt (holy bread sprinkled with salt), because salt was believed to be a witch repellent.
The believed magical properties of the Rowan tree were also called upon again fashioned into the shape of a cross and carried in the hand or attached to the bridle of a riders horse. This is today a tradition that is still remembered by some in Somerset (South West England). It was also believed amongst village communities that no door should be left ajar on this night as a supernatural being could enter and would then stay in the household for life. People were not the only thing that needed to have protection at this time of year as a lighted candle left burning all night in a stable was believed to protect any livestock.
In various traditions Hallowe'en is often believed to be the meeting time of spirits/ghosts of the dead and that this is their last chance to meet before the winter closes in. It is also an important night in some witchcraft calendars and so perhaps this explains why it is said to be the most haunted night of the year.
In communities of old it was a night when it was believed that psychic and imaginative people could see ghosts walking the earth. It was a night when many superstitions were practised even more than usual as this was a time when evil spirits/forces needed to be kept away and good fortune brought into everyones life.
Traditionally the most obvious people to be associated with this night are witches, warlocks and wizards. Our ancestors are known to have constantly practiced rituals or superstitions to protect themselves from what they believed these types of people could do. During the 31st October and the 1st November superstitions were practiced far more than today as this was believed to be the day when evil was strongest and so man would need more protection.
An old UK farming tradition in rural communities focused on the lighting of bonfires as fire was believed to be a great deterrent against evil. Just like Mid-summer Eve the community would meet around the fire carrying torches and chanting, a ritual which was believed to repel evil and call upon good spirits to help join the combat against evil protecting their fields and families through the long winter.
Up until the nineteenth century in Lancashire (UK) people used to practice what was called 'Lating' or 'Ligting the Witch'. Groups would meet together on the moors and, with lighted candles, walk around the hills between the witching hour, 11pm to midnight. If the candles burned steadily it was seen as an indication that the people would be safe for the season. If a candle blew out (believed to blown out by witches) then this was seen to be a bad omen.
An old belief in Ireland (UK) reveals that if you heard footsteps behind you in the dark on this night you should not turn to look as it was believed that the footsteps belonged to one of the dead who were following you. If you did turn to face them you would soon join them.