The History of Samhain


The Celtic New Year Samhain:   The Dark Half Begins the New Year

Ancient Celtic warriors dressed for battle, with a shaman, c.1800-18 (coloured engraving).  

Samhain's Ancient Apocryphal Celtic Origins

First, is an excellent resource to ensure correct pronunciation of Gaelic, Goidelic, or Bryonthic terms because the Celtic language doesn't always sound like it should when read aloud. H/T to Bitesize Irish for directing El Maestro Azriel to this resource.  

The pre-Christian Bronze Age to Medieval Period Goidelic (pronounced goy-del-ic, Irish) Celts (an Indo-European people) are the undisputed originators of all of our Samhain (pronounced SOW-win 🔊) traditions.  Tracing the precise origins of our Samhain (Halloween) traditions in Irish prehistory is a difficult task.   

Samhain (🔊pronounced SOW-win NOT Sam-HAIN) was the fall Celtic harvest and fertility festival on October 31st to the chthonic (🔊) god of the underworld Cromm Cruach (Cromm Crúaich in Old Irish, pronounced Cromm Crew-ACK 🔊) that represents the earliest known Celtic origin point for our traditions.  The earliest archaeological evidence for the Celtic Samhain arguably exists at the Iron Age Killycluggin Stone (pronounced Coil a Chlogáin 🔊) in County Cavan, Ireland with relative dates from 400 BCE-100 CE with its encircling megaliths with relative dating around 2500 BCE, prior to the arrival of the Celts on the island.

According to all the annalistic (historical) sources, at Samhain, inter- and intra- tribal marriages were arranged, taxes and tribute were paid to one's liege (lord) or the high kings /lords (or queens), tribal rendezvous and meetings were held, wars were stopped and peace was made, or inter- or intra- tribal wars were announced for the spring, and Samhain chariot and horse racing festivities provided a unifying effect on Goidelic culture despite tribal and regional differences. 

Consequently, the regional and tribal nature of their histories and mythologies make it hard to generalize about the Goidelic Celts as a group.  The astonishing complexity and diversity of Goidelic mythology defies a monolithic, or singular, understanding of a pan-Goidelic Celtic worldview which seems to have varied regionally and from tribe to tribe, belying all of the competing claims to be THE origin of Samhain activities.   Honest accounts would necessarily acknowledge the complexity and difficulty of identifying its precise origins.

There are several places that contend for the of the birthplace of Samhain, but it appears these claims may be more motivated by tourism or archaeological interest (hopes to fund preservation or digs) than by archaeological evidence or annalistic (that is, recorded in histories or mythologies) corroboration.  Despite spurious claims, all of these sites undoubtedly played roles as cultural hearths, equally responsible for the development of Samhain traditions and altogether serve as its birthplace.  Yet one site stands out in many respects, even if it doesn't always get the recognition it deserves.

The fact that few insist on making such bold claims of the Killycluggin circle may actually suggest a more authentic origin.  Not one of the other places about which similar claims are made have thus far yielded monuments or icons of their associated deities—making the Killycluggin cult icon stone unique among all of the sites associated with Samhain rites.  For example, there are no stone cult icons at Tlachgta (Ward) Hill with its Samhain Great Fire Festival devoted its solar and fertility goddess and Druidess Tlachgta (pronounced Clackda) or at the Oweynagat Cave of Cats sidhe portal whose Samhain festivals were devoted to underworld warrior goddess and battle decider Morrigan or Druidess queen and goddess Maedhbh/Medb.  The Killycluggin stone circle is alone in this respect and also yields the earliest relative Iron Age Celtic dates of these places with its La Tène curvilinear design style dating it definitively to 400 BCE-100 CE, centuries earlier than other places claiming birthplace status.  

We should first establish a definition for the term cult as we explore the evidence for the origins of Halloween in the sociological (the study of human groups) or anthropological (the study of human cultures) or archaeological (the study of human remains and artificats) sense, not in the modern pejorative (disapproving) sense about small extremist fanatical religious groups following charismatic leaders associated with brainwashing, isolation from families, and financial, physical, emotional, mental, and sexual abuse.  

In this treatise, cult means an organization or group of people organized for conducting religious, magical, or ritual observances in devotion to particular places, figures, objects, or belief systems.  British archaeologist and paleolinguist Colin Renfrew defines a cult simply as: a system of patterned actions in response to religious beliefs.  In short, a cult then is just an observed difference in how a group of people behave differently from another group of people based upon their supernatural or religious beliefs.  Any denomination or sectarian division of any major religion could fit this definition as well as cults in the negative sense.  A cult can be associated with a place, a deity, a monument, or a particular religious practice.  Here, it will mean all of those things.  

For those unfamiliar, the annalistic or historical record refers to the written historical record.  The archaeological evidence or record refers to those understandings or interpretations that can be made of the period before the written record, or prehistory, by examining and interpreting artifacts (tools), dwellings, burials, midden piles (trash sites), astronomical alignments, and other human remains dated through relative and absolute dating.  Relative dating is determining the age of an artifact or material in reference to other similar artifacts with associated absolute dates, changes in tools, or geological events or soil or rock layers with known dates older or younger than the target object or material.  Absolute dating refers to more precise radiometric dating of radioactive isotopes chemically.   

Cromm's cult at the Killycluggin stone circle can also boast the broadest corroboration in the earliest annalistic (written in annals, or historical written sources) sources.  St. Patrick himself enters the story of the Killycluggin stone in destroying it as early Christians forbade Cromm's cult, and their attempted destruction of both the cult and cult icon in County Cavan also likely explains why the Samhain festival there may not have continued there as it had carried on for centuries before, leading other earlier commentators unaware of Cromm's now extinct cult at the Killycluggin megalithic circle which had been practically extinguished by the time of their writing to remark instead on festivals at other locations as its origins.  There can be no doubt that each of these sites are important, however. 

Archaeoastronomical alignments involve the ancient intentional alignment of monuments to heavenly bodies (sun, moon, planets, constellations) at particular times for different purposes (often agricultural or religious). The emerging Christian cult in County Cavan, Ireland, that vandalized and destroyed Cromm's cult icon and attempted to eradicate Cromm's cult also explains why no archaeoastronomical alignments can be noted at the Killycluggin stone circle.  Ten of the twelve fabled stones surrounding the central Killycluggin cult icon, as well as the central Killycluggin Stone itself, were destroyed or broken and removed from their original location by early Christians, making it impossible to explore the archaeoastronomy of the surrounding megalithic menhirs or central Killycluggin Stone.  Finally, centuries of ecclesiastical approbation (official disapproval by clergy or church officials) soured local attitudes so indelibly (in a way that cannot be removed or forgotten) that the site itself was treated carelessly over the centuries by local farmers, likely destroying associated archaeological evidence.  

A thorough discussion of the extant (available) evidence for the origin place of Halloween follows, as well as detailed explanation for the layered iconography and symbolism appearing in our logos. 

The Celts:  What do Gallic, Bryonthic/Brittonic, Gaelic, & Goidelic mean?

The Celts are also known as the Gaels, an Indo-European group of people who colonized Western Europe and Ireland (a territory the Romans named Gallia [mainland Gaul], Brittania [England] and Hibernia [Ireland]).  The Celtic Gaels displaced Meso-Neolithic (Middle to New Stone Age) hunter-gatherers as they colonized through warfare, intermarriage, and competition over resources over centuries.  In Ireland, Celts displaced the dark-skinned and bright blue eyed (from genetic studies of burials) nomadic foraging hunter-gatherers who had arrived there between 31,000 BCE and 10,500 BCE.   During the Neolithic and Bronze Age (10000 BCE-1200 BCE), these foragers erected stone passage mound burials (images follow) and megalithic (large stone) circles around Ireland associated with solar cults.  

The Gaels arrived around 1000 BCE and appear to have adopted their solar cults and rites after displacing them, adapting and modifying the ancient passage mound burials with their own constructions and aligning their own burial mounds and passageways through them according to the customs of the original inhabitants of Ireland that they displaced.  

The following map shows linguistic cultural differences among the three broad Gaelic language groups:  Gallic Celts in mainland Gallia (Gaul), Brythonic/Brittonic (Welsh, Cornish, Britton/Bretton) Celts in Brittania (England), Pictish or Gaelic Celts in Scotland (northern England), and Goidelic Celts of Hibernia (Ireland).   Image credit:

How do we know where or when Halloween began?

While Celtic Samhain traditions appear from both the archaeological and historical evidence to have come to us primarily by way of the beliefs and customs that accumulated, amalgamated, and incubated with Crom's cult at the Killycluggin Megalithic stone circle over the centuries and spread from there (an inference from it being the apparent oldest Celtic Samhain cult with the widest textual annalistic corroboration), archaeologists and historians have identified the earliest cultural hearths from which Celtic Druid Samhain developed in:  

I) the ancient Meso-Neolithic solar cult mound passage burials archaeoastronomically aligned with sunrise on Samhain, Oct. 31st, of the original Mesolithic-Neolithic (Middle to New Stone Ages) hunter-gatherers who settled Ireland as early as 31,000 BCE-10,500 BCE that the Celts drove out) solar cult mound burials, including:

(i.) Listoghil (Tomb 51) Tumulus and dolmen (passage burial mound) in the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, and

(ii.)Tara Hill Mass Passage Tomb Tumulus

II) The Mesolithic Killycluggin Megalithic (monuments erected of large stone menhirs [the name of each individual stone]) Stone Circle near Ballyjamesduff in County Cavan, Ireland; and

III) the Tlachtga ringfort tumulus (and passage burial mound) near Athboy and Ráth Chairn, Ireland where the Samhain Great Fire Festival continued well into the Medieval Period.  

IV) the Three Great Burial Mound sidhe (portals to the Otherworld) or caves where Samhain festivals were celebrated into the late Medieval Period as recorded in the annals of Irish history:

(i.) the Rathcrogan royal burial complex's Oweynagat "Hell Cave" (Cave of the Cats) fabled to connect to the Keshcorran "Hell Caves" near Sligo, Ireland, 

(ii.) the aforementioned Tara Hill roughly also aligned to Samhain sunrise (disputed), and 

(ii.) the Teltown [Tailten] burial mounds.

We know that each of these sites is associated with pre-Christian pagan Celtic rites (inasmuch as most of them are also associated with the original hunter-gatherer solar cult's mound passage burials as well) because in excavation spoil (from the excavation of new tunnels into and between the ancient burial mounds in order to build new passages) as well as ritual deposits (places where Celts made sacrifices), we find "votive offerings," "ritual deposits," "structured deposition," and "gifts to the gods," like hoards of gold bracelets ritualistically left over many generations or bone fragments from sacrificial animals.  Thus ritual sacrifice is associated with all of these sites and thus seems an obsessive annual preoccupation of the Celts. 

That Samhain rites continued at Tlachtga ring hillfort's Great Fire Festival into the Medieval Period illuminates Geoffrey Keating's 1632 History of Ireland's erroneous inference that Samhain rites originated there.  Instead, it appears they survived and continued there where at least their overt celebration was eradicated by early Christians and St. Patrick elsewhere (although they likely continued everywhere covertly like they did in the syncretic religions of Santeria, Voodun, Candomble, etc.).  Thus, Tlachtga Hillfort Rath (earthen fort), like other contenders, serves as one major cultural hearth from which Samhain traditions survived and spread, just like the Cave of Cats Samhain festival does as well.  However, continued practice of Samhain rites doesn't mean they originated at these places.  It's an origin, not the origin as claimed, in other words.  

It would seem there's money in tourism, and the professional reputations of storied institutions and archaeologists are at stake,  just like the claims that: the Hidatsa guide of Thomas Jefferson's 1804 Lewis and Clark Expedition, Sacagawea, is actually buried on the Wind River Reservation of Wyoming; Buffalo Bill Cody is buried in Cody, WY, instead of Lookout Mountain overlooking Denver, CO; and Clovis culture was first and Amerindians crossed the Beringia land bridge and didn't take a coastal migration route are each dubious.  You might end up in fisticuffs if you attempt to debate the merits of these claims with the wrong people. 

On the other hand, in fairness to all of the professionals, the historical and archaeological record is incomplete, fragmented, convoluted, complex, contradictory and confusing, and involves both valid and pseudo linguistic claims (etymological [word origins]) that only rare linguistic specialists can resolve.  El Maestro, Azriel, has sought to thoroughly review the evidence and do his best to trace the origins for our guests and review the evidence.  The earliest annalistic sources all associate Samhain with Cromm Cruach and St. Patrick's destruction of Cromm's cult, more evidence that our Celtic Halloween traditions begin squarely with Cromm's cult icon at the Killycluggin stone circle.  

Saint Patrick Drives the Snakes from Ireland

It's interesting to note at the outset, the myth of St. Patrick driving all the snakes out of Ireland is, of course, an allegorical reference to him stamping out Celtic paganism as snakes were strongly associated with Druids and their magic.  According to biologists, Ireland has not one (nor did it ever have) single species of indigenous snake.   

According to Roman Christian records, Druids wore Serpent Glass, Serpent's Eggs, Adder's Stones/Eggs, Druid Glass, or Druid Eggs necklaces as their distinguishing badge but the association of Celtic Druidism with serpents (long associated with the biblical snake in the garden of Eden and therefore the devil) is regarded with some skepticism given those biases and may be apocryphal.  However, the belief that Celtic Druids wore them according to the first century CE Pliny the Elder's descriptions is the likely source of the allegorical myth of St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland, codifying the eradication of overt pagan Celtic practice in Ireland being replaced with Roman (Irish) Catholic Christianity.   

Adder's stones were made of natural glassy flint stone with holes in them (said to be perforated by the hissing of their tongues).  They were fabled to be made of hardened snake saliva and venom from their hissing (coughed up by writhing snake pits of massed slithering venomous adders in congress that must be caught by cloak at the correct lunar cycle or Midsummer Solstice).   These charms or talismans were thought to imbue them with magical powers from serpents as Druids uttered curse incantations to the spirits or gods.  They're collected on beaches actually, and are made naturally by Pholad clams burrowing into glassy flint, sandstone, bassalt, or other softer rock in the ocean and rarely on the shore by erosion through stones being caught by waves and tides eroding holes in the soft rock.  Often, polished natural stones were believed to have been affixed in the holes giving the appearance of glass.

Adder Stones, Druid Glass, Druid Eggs, or Serpent Eggs were worn around the neck of Druids who placed natural (polished) stones that looked like glass into these natural stones and were fabled to give their spells and incantations magickal power. 

Illustration of the two methods of their natural creation.  

CREDIT: North Coast Journal of Politics, People, and Art

Adder's stones are naturally formed by erosion or clams. 


A photograph of a Pholad Clam burrowed into basalt.

CREDIT: North Coast Journal of Politics, People, and Art

Adder's stones are usually formed by Pholad clams seeking protection from predators who burrow into softer rock


A photograph of an object purported to be a historical Welsh Druid's Glass Adder's Stone. CREDIT: Image: © Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

The Cultural Hearths of Celtic Samhain Tradition

The map above shows the location of the cultural hearths for Samhain rites identified currently by archaeologists and historians:  the Tomb 51/Listoghil Passage Burial Tumulus & Dolmen, the Killycluggin Megalithic Stone Circle, Tlachtga (Ward) Hill Ring Fort Tumulus, Tara Hill Tumulus, Oweynagat "Hell Cave," Keshcorran "Hell Caves," and Teltown Tumuli (Burial Mounds).  

Note: Newgrange has no Samhain associations unlike Boyne Valley's Tlachtga ring hillfort and Tara Hill royal complex and Mound of the Hostages mass burial mound sites. It's included for reference as it is one of the most well known mound burials.

Ireland's Original Inhabitants Weren't Celtic Gaels: The Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherers

The Distant Foundations of Samhain Traditions in the Burial Practices and Solar Cult of the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) Western European Hunter-Gatherers

Ireland was originally populated by dark complected, bright blue or green eyed Mesolithic Western European hunter-gatherers who genetically have been identified as the "Western European hunter-gatherer population" who crossed the English Channel from France in boats, populated England and Scotland, then crossed the Irish Sea in boats from Scotland.  Their genes show "cold adaptation." They were shorter (~5'5", at 146 pounds) than the Celts, but had longer legs and shorter torsos than them.  They had longer femurs (thigh bones) than most Europeans and longer tibias (lower leg bones) than most North Africans.

Cheddar Man's calibrated radiocarbon dating from two different samplings dated to around 8540-7990 BCE and 8470-8230 BCE.  Each sample's midpoint radiocarbon absolute dating date him to ~8200-8300 BCE, towards the start of the ninth millennium BCE.  Cheddar Man's relatives appear to have seriously started colonizing Ireland 10-9,000 YBP (Years Before Present, or 8-7,000 BCE).  

Incidentally, the first modern human (homo sapien) habitation in England dates at about 44 KBP (thousands of years before present, 44,000 YBP, years before present or YO, years ago, or at about 42,000 BCE) during the Ice Age and Middle Stone Age.  Above is an artist's depiction of what Cheddar Man might have looked like, of the Mesolithic hunter-gathering people who are directly ancestral to the original Irish settlers that the Celts would eventually displace as they colonized Ireland around 1,000 BCE.  

The earliest archaeological evidence for the initial arrivals of these Middle Stone Age nomadic but boat-building hunter-gatherers in Ireland date to 31,000 BCE (33,000 YBP) with a butcher mark on a hind reindeer femur and to 10,500 BCE through a butchered bear bone in Clare Cave.  It was once supposed they arrived over a land bridge during the last Ice Age, but modern scholars have concluded that even with the last Ice Age's lower sea levels, there still would have been around 13 miles of Irish sea to traverse by boat, even if you could see Ireland's distant shore with the naked eye.  However, it appears serious settlement by the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, Cheddar Man's relatives, was under way by around 8,000 BCE.   Their earliest human burials in Ireland date at 7530-7320 BCE.  

These mysterious dark-skinned, blue eyed Mesolithic hunter-gatherers about whom very little is known developed a solar cult (that is, sun-worshiping cult) aligned with Samhain on October 31st when day-length begins to decrease to the Winter Solistice on Dec. 21st.  Their earliest dates of arrival in Ireland of these Ice and Middle Stone Age hunter-gatherers date at between 31,000 BCE or 10,500 BCE, but the earliest human burial in Ireland dates at 7530-7320 BCE.  

We know their physical appearance from genetic study of their DNA from burials.  We understand their early subsistence strategies in their Meso-Neolithic hunter-gatherer stone tools excavated in Derry County at Mount Sandel, River Bann and Lough Borra campsites, River Shannon cremations, and middens (rubbish deposits) elsewhere.   We understand their solar cult and funerary customs from their megalithic stone circles and passage mound burials and their archaeoastronomical alignments, dating from 8000-4000 BCE.  We can infer from their alignments and construction that those who built them required astonishing astronomical, engineering, and mathematical knowledge thousands of years before the monumental architecture of the early civilizations and empires was even imagined.  

Their solar cult found in megalithic circles and mound burials challenges the primitive view of hunter-gatherers as these Mesolithic foragers clearly demonstrate complex religion, centuries of astronomical observation (long associated with farming peoples with these hunter-gatherer's solar calendrics) without apparent horticultural or agricultural (gardening or farming purposes) and complex stone masonry without settled civilization. 

Interestingly, modern descendants of the Gaels show very little DNA from these Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, seemingly indicating their conflict and displacement of them must have been violent and near complete rather than by intermarriage and genetic domination through more populous Celtic populations.  And that may corroborate mythical accounts of the Tuatha vs the Fomarians in Irish mythology that indicate near complete destruction of the Fomarians, at least banished back to mainland Western Europe if not eradicated completely.

Their calendrics, unlike agriculturalists, may have evolved more around migratory hunting seasons and to predict preparations for the onset of winter.  We know for example that Paleo to Neolithic hunter-gathers overhunted large animals, megafauna, that went extinct everywhere humans arrived after we left Africa around ~90,000 YBP.  Survivors of the starvation that resulted would have developed taboos against the same and stories to rationalize them.  Traditionally, we know from cultural anthropology that the extant modern foraging peoples don't hunt in the spring today because they know so doing imperils their own survival. In the same way Paleo-Amerindians in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming hunted with nets, herding elk or deer into valleys to catch and release their strongest members to increase the strength of the herd, and foragers around the planet have been involved in the active wildlife management of herds of prey animals through prescribed burns of underbrush at intervals over time to increase herd sizes, early humans may have learned quickly that we can drive our prey animals to extinction if we're not careful and thereby imperil our own groups' survival.  So perhaps Göbekli Tepe in Turkey and Listoghil in Ireland both show the sophistication of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in developing complex religious ideas to govern and moderate their exploitative subsistence strategies.  We may never know but speculation about the same leads to astonishing possibilities. 

Range of Mesolithic flint tools from Mount Sandel; 1-20 microliths and related forms; 21-3 & 26 axes and related forms; 24 micro awl; 24 scraper (after Woodman 1981)

Credit: Research Gate

Bann River flints showing the Mesolithic stone tools of Ireland's original inhabitants who would be displaced by the invading and colonizing Irish Celts (the original mysterious hunter-gatherers inhabitants of the island first migrated to the island between 31,000-10,500 BCE).  

Credit: Wikimedia Notafly: Ulster Museum Mesolithic artifacts: Moss-side hoard near Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, Ireland.

If interested in the Stone Age origins of these passage burial mound tombs or Mesolithic hunter-gatherer menhirs, megalithic stone circles, dolmens, etc., John Waddell's The Prehistoric Archaeology of Ireland (1989) linked here is a good summary.

The Listoghil dolmen (passage grave) and tumulus (mound burial):  Evidence of a Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherer Solar Cult Continued and Adapted by the invading Celts

We should first note that the oldest discovered Neolithic passage tomb dolmen (Tomb 51) with archaeoastronomical alignment to sunrise on the morning of October 31st, Samhain, can be found at Listoghil near Sligo, Ireland.    

Radiocarbon dating yields that the earliest construction of the outer free-standing chamber began there around 5,500 BCE (some 4,500 years before the arrival of Celts in Ireland), the inner walls of the central chamber were constructed around 3,600 BCE, the dolmen and outer stone circle was erected at 3,550 BCE from the dating of the skull of the elderly man entombed there, and a rock cairn (stack or pile of rocks) was added at about 3,200 BCE.  

It's worth noting that the Boyne Valley Megalithic Tumuli (mound burial passage tombs) of Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, Fourknocks, Loughcrew and Tara in County Meath, Ireland date from 3,200-2,000 BCE, older than both the oldest Egyptian Pyramid and Stonehenge.  But their latest construction by Ireland's mysterious original inhabitants occurred about a millennium before the Celts arrived in Ireland.   

What's astonishing is that the Listoghil tumulus and dolmen was constructed some 2,300 years earlier than the earliest construction in the Boyne valley and was already aligned with the Samhain sunrise, proving knowledge of the solar year was already mastered and being applied in burials over seven thousand years ago.

This suggests that the earliest Samhain rites of a Mesolithic and Neolithic (Middle to New Stone Age) solar cult predate the Bronze Age Celts by an astonishing thousands of years.  It appears that Irish Celtic peoples adopted these hunter-gatherers' burial practices and solar cult as they interacted with the original inhabitants of Ireland, who would first be displaced Goidelic Celtic colonization and then wiped out by plague.  The Celts brought cattle, sheep, and pig pastoralism (animal herding), horticulture (limited gardening), and eventually agriculture (farming).

A dolmen is an above-ground (cist burials are below ground but use similar construction to dolmens) single-chamber (presumably for the burial of a Druid priest or chieftain/king) lithic (stone) tomb, usually consisting of two or more megaliths supporting a large flat horizontal capstone or "table".  The Listoghil dolmen is also a passage grave.

A passage tomb is so described because it's a burial that's left open (see pictures, right and below), ostensibly first to allow light to alight its interior at a certain times of year (why the dolmen was carefully aligned for measuring the passage of time and marking the arrival of important festival dates).  Second, we learn from Irish mythology about the purpose of passages in burials left open as portals allow free movement of that person's spirit (or possibly other spirits or supernatural creatures) in and out of the Otherworld.

Mound burials by contrast have tunnels buttressed by stone masonry and stone masonry chambers dug into them called souterrain for the same purposes, but instead of an open burial dolmen or a sealed tomb by contrast, single individuals or many individuals are buried or entombed in the mound which has one or more passageways to the surface—hence passage dolmens, burials or tombs.

Thus it appears the burial practices of early Celts and the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers they encountered as they colonized Ireland involved opening and closing ancient burial mounds in complex religious rites rationalized to deities in order to inter, bury, or entomb the recently deceased, and those mounds were seen as portals or entrances to the Otherworld.  

From ground-penetrating radar studies and limited excavations of ancient mass burial mounds like Tara Hil's (the seat of the Celtic high kings) Mound of Hostages, it appears the deceased were interred in accumulating layers in the mound and then covered.  Thus, the ancient burial mounds are artificial hills made of successive generations of corpses buried on top of other older corpses from the last generation slowly decaying over lifetimes into skeletal remains.  

From ossuaries found inside ancient burial mounds, it appears in later periods as skeletal remains accumulated, due to lack of space inside the mounds (perhaps as populations rose due to increasing pastoralism, horticulture, and eventually settled farming), skeletal remains were removed and concentrated in ossuaries (images illustrating these concepts appear in the section on Tara Hill's Mound of the Hostages below).

It appears in some places the ancient burial mounds were constructed atop natural limestone caverns, sinkholes or crevices as entrances to the Otherworld with archaeoastronomical alignments of passageways or dolmens.  Later, Celts excavated and constructed new passages into the ancient burial mounds or modified older ones, adorning them with artwork and eventually Ogham, and continuing the archaeoastronomical alignments of new passageways to solar events.

At Listoghil, the table is indisputably intentionally tilted downwards from the feet to the head of the burial at a 6˚angle in order to allow sunlight to alight its single megalithic back wall megalith at the head of the burial at Oct. 31st's Samhain sunrise.  The dolmen's base megaliths were selected precisely to fit the table stone at a downward sloping angle from the feet to the head in order to allow sunrise sunlight into the Dolmen (in other words, it couldn't be an accidental or coincidental alignment here and is very obviously constructed for this purpose) so that the first rays of sunlight struck the end megalith at the head of the burial. 

The table's tilting at the feet allows Samhain sunrise sunlight into the dolmen, casting a shadow "spear" onto the back wall of the dolmen at the burial's head only on Samhain and Imbolc.  Its end two megalith table base stones at the feet of the dolmen form an artificial crevice formed under the table between the two base megaliths and the underside of the table aligned with the passageway into the mound, allowing the Samhain sunrise sun's rays into the dolmen to alight its interior (head) wall on the morning of October 31st.  

We know authentically little of these Mesolithic foragers nor the Celts who continued their funerary practices because neither had written languages of their own nor recorded their own histories or mythologies until contact with- and Christianization by- Romans in Britain.  The earliest histories and Irish mythologies weren't written down until the 500s-800s CE during the Early Medieval Period or Dark Ages in Latin by then Roman (Irish) Catholic monks.

Yet, we can be reasonably sure from the passage burial practices of these Mesolithic hunter-gatherers which were then adopted and adapted by the Celts in Ireland after 1000 BCE that they were influenced by these mysterious indigenous people.  Yet the annalistic sources reflect continental Gallic Celts also had a solar cult at the center of their beliefs too centered on Gallic Belinos (the Celtic Lugh or sun god).  

At the Newgrange mound burial, the passage through this tomb is aligned so that at sunrise on the Dec. 21st Winter Solstice (An Grianstad in Goidelic Gaelic, or sun stop)—like Listoghil's passage dolmen on Oct. 31st's Samhain marking the onset of winter—sunlight hits the back of the tomb, marking the arrival of the shortest day of the year in winter.  The earliest construction at Newgrange dates to about the latest construction at Listoghil.  The Bronze Age Celtic invaders and colonizers would adopt the burial practices and solar alignments of the hunter-gatherer's timuli (passage mound burials). 

Listghohill (Tomb 51) tumulus ancient burial mound in the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, 

Credit: The Standing Stone

Aerial view of the Listghohill (Tomb 51) tumulus ancient burial mound and dolmen in the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, 

Credit: Facebook: History with Kayleigh

The dolmen passage tomb (Tomb 51) at Listgohill with archaeoastronomical alignment with the rising sun of Samhain on October 31st Credit: The Standing Stone

The kerbstone known as the 'footprint stone' marks the entrance to Listoghil.  Credit: The Fr. Michael O'Flannigan History and Heritage Centre

The massive ten ton capstone is tilted to six degrees above horizontal and oriented to the south-east towards the lake high up in the Ballygawley Mountains; Samhain Sunrise from dolmen facing the sun.

Credit: The Fr. Michael O'Flannigan History and Heritage Centre

Sunlight strikes the Listoghil Dolmen on Samhain at sunrise (dolmen exterior)

Credit: The Fr. Michael O'Flannigan History and Heritage Centre

Samhain sunrise as it appears from inside the dolmen under its slanted capstone slab and between the two end base megaliths at the dolmen's feet

Credit: The Fr. Michael O'Flannigan History and Heritage Centre

The shadow spear that alights on the head base dolmen at the far (head) end of the dolmen

Credit: The Fr. Michael O'Flannigan History and Heritage Centre 

An illustration of the passage renovated by Celts inside the Newgrange burial mound showing Celtic modification of the more ancient Mesolithic hunter-gatherer burial mounds

Left: Eastern passage of Knowth showing Celtic construction.  Credit: Shutterstock

Right: Stone at Newgrange with Celtic La Tène design, evidence of ancient Celts modifying older structures

Credit: - Johnbod - Wikimedia

We can observe the continued archaeoastronomical alignments of the Celts' own megalithic mound passage tombs (tumulus/i and dolmens) of individuals which they continued to build long after the indigenous inhabitants of Ireland disappeared, aligned to Samhain (Oct. 31st) or Beltane/Beltain (May 1st) sunrises, or the An Grianstad (Dec. 21st) winter solstice.  In more places they appeared to modify the ancient mounds or continue their use, but in both respects the influence of the solar cult of the Mesolithic hunter gatherers is clear.

Celtic renovation of the ancient Meso-Neolithic burial mounds continued through the eighth century CE (700s).  Celts excavated the more ancient Stone Age burial mounds in order to construct new inner chambers or passages for new burials, initiation rites, and more.  Thus, the ancient burial mounds of the original inhabitants of the island seem to have been repurposed and continued by the invading Celts.  Archaeologists have uncovered deposits of excavation spoil (as new passages were dug into the ancient burial mounds erected by those displaced by the Celts) with scattered Neolithic human bones appearing in it, apparently separated from their original skeletal individuals (from mound burials being disturbed as new passages were dug and then buttressed) and (sacrificed) animal bones near Bronze and Iron Age Celtic constructions or modifications, construction that continued even through the late Medieval Period. 

In both regards, in solar or lunar alignments and later modification of burial mounds with new passages and artwork, we can see vestiges of the original solar cult now lost to the ages of the mysterious dark-skinned, blue eyed hunter gatherers who originally inhabited the island before being displaced by the Celts.  The Celts would continue the ancient passage mound burials by modification through annexing, appending, and connecting the hunter-gatherers' ancient mounds.  Their modifications of the ancient mounds continued into the Medieval Period (500s-1200s CE) well after the Roman (Irish Catholic) Christians earnestly attempted to eradicate pagan burial practices from the island. Incidentally, this indicates the overt and covert resistance and survival of Celtic beliefs and practices for centuries after the coming of Roman Catholic (Irish) Christendom.

Sunlight alights the back of the tumulus (passage burial) at Newgrange, Co. Meath on Dec. 21st, the Celtic An Grianstad, or sun stop, proving continuation of the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer solar cult by the newly arrived Goidelic Celts.  

Image courtesy of the Office of Public Works (OPW).

The Tara Hill Tumulus:  Another Passage Tomb Tumulus of Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherer Origin with Samhain Archaeoastronomical Alignment 

Credit: A Neolithic passage tomb on the Hill of Tara, Ireland. 24 July 2018. August Schwerdfeger

Samhain Sunrise illuminates the back of the Mound of the Hostages - Hill of Tara. Credit: Martin Dier at

Hill of Tara, here seen in context with the Tara Hill royal complex of raths (earthen hill forts). Nineteenth century plan of the Hill of Tara based on a survey of the site and historical records (1903). Credit: Wikimedia: Wakeman's handbook of Irish antiquities (1903). p. 166

An archaeological journal illustration of the discoveries at the Mound of the Hostages at Rathcroghan Royal Complex in the Boyne Valley.

Credit:  Essential Tensions: A Framework for Exploring Inequality Through Mortuary Archaeology and Bioarchaeology, De Gruyter.  May 2016Open Archaeology 2(1).  DOI:10.1515/opar-2016-0002

A close-up showing the legend from the Essential Tensions archaeology article shown above showing the Ossuary Remains in Tomb symbols (zoom in on this key and the image to the right to see all the ossuarial evidence mentioned in the Listoghil section). 

Closer to the Ward Hill (Tlachtga, read on) ring hill fort, Great Fire Festival, and tumulus is the Mesolithic Tara Hill Tumulus associated with the High kings of the Celts (after an invading tribe moved the center of communal life from Tlachtga to Tara Hill), another passage tomb tumulus erected by those hunter gatherers before the Celts arrived.  And like Listoghil, it's aligned with Samhain's sunrise on October 31st (see photo)  

Cromm's cult is also associated with Tara Hill culture because according to 12th Century textual descriptions when correlated with land features, Cromm's face originally was aligned to face Tara Hill to the South, more indication that Cromm was the chief cthonic deity worshipped by the Tlachtga and Tara Hill cults.  The Killycluggin Stone's curvilinear La Tène designs predate by centuries modifications to mound burial passages by Tlachtga's and Mug Ruith's cults at Tlachtga Hill.  

The alignment of the Killycluggin Stone's face to Tara Hill associates this ancient mass burial mound and seat of the Celtic High Kings with Cromm's cult (not Tlachtga's or Mug Ruith's cults at Tlachtga [thus suggesting those cults were later tribal variance from the older congruent Cromm cult at Tara and Killycluggin]).  So it could be that Tlachtga Hill's Luigni tribe's eventual absorption by the invading Lagin tribe who moved the communal center of Samhain rites to Tara Hill from Tlachtga Ring Hillfort indicates triumph of Cromm's older cult over a neighboring tribe's younger Samhain cult.

Tara Hill's earliest usage dates from 3350 BCE-2800 BCE.  Again, like the Listoghil tumulus and dolmen, construction began here thousands of years before the Celts would arrive.  It continued to be used and modified by these Neolithic foragers as a late as 1700-1600 BCE.  

Archaeologists estimate that 250-500 bodies were interred in this single ancient burial mound by these pre-Celtic Neolithic foragers with dark skin and bright blue eyes, and it clearly continued to be used as an entombing burial mound and eventual ossuary at the seat of the Celtic high kings.  In funiary rites, it appears as cemetaries or burial mounds run out of space, the now decayed skeletal remains of older burials are removed and concentrated to make room for newer succeeding burials.    

It's important to note that while other Neolithic passage mound burials also represent other origins of Samhain, there are only two known that specifically have indisputably intentional archaeoastronomical alignments—Listoghil and Tara Hill—with sunrise on Samhain.  

Incidentally, Tara Hill also aligns with sunrise on Imbolc (the Celtic holiday marking the midway point between the An Grianstad "sun stop" Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox Ostara [March 20]).

A close-up showing the ossuary remains in the Mound of the Hostages (left).  They're hard to see but if you zoom in on this image next to the threshold stones (see key to the left), you'll see all of the ossuarial evidence aforementioned in the section on Listoghil.

The Killycluggin Stone Circle: Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherer Solar cult beginnings (~2500 BCE) with Celtic La Tène endings (~400 BCE-100 CE)

The Killycluggin Stone was destroyed likely by early Christians trying to stamp out pagan Samhain rites to Cromm, Dagda or Lugh, with only two (and a partial third) surrounding stone remaining at their original site.  Credit: Megalithic Ireland

Thus, the central Killycluggin Stone (and surrounding stone circle) represents the more likely place that Celtic Samhain Halloween traditions actually began in it Celtic central stone addition predating the Celtic additions to all of the other early sites by centuries. 

Our Samhain traditions and beliefs began with the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer solar cult associated with mound passage burials and megalithic stone circles throughout Ireland and became fully developed at the Celtic La Tène Killycluggin Stone.  

The Killycluggin stone circle's twelve encircling late Bronze Age surrounding stones date from 2500 BCE, much earlier than the central Killycluggin Stone (400 BCE-100 CE).  As such, the surrounding stones must have been erected by Ireland's original human inhabitants, the dark-skinned, blue-eyed Mesolithic foragers from ~11th Century BCE England second and mainland Europe ~42nd Century BCE first that the Celts drove out.  

Only two (with a partial third resting against one of the two remaining) of the original twelve surrounding megaliths remain in situ, either destroyed and carried off by farmers or Christians trying to stamp out the Samhain Celtic Druid cult.  Credit:

While the earliest associated Celtic Samhain archaeological evidence is associated with the Killycluggin Stone of its older Mesolithic Megalithic Stone Circle, so are the earliest and broadest allusions to Cromm in Christian annalistic evidence in the earliest sources, including: The Quarta Vita of Saint Patrick written c. 800 CE, The Vita tripartita Sancti Patricii written c. 1100 CE, The Metrical Dindsenchas (place lore poems) written c. 1160 CE, the 1290 CE The McGovern Duanaire, Book of Magauran, or Book of McGovern (book of Goidelic poems), and the 1636 CE Annals of the Four Masters.   Anglo-Irish historian, Classical Roman and Byzantine historian, and philologist (study of language in oral and written historical sources) J.B. Bury contended there is textual evidence that there may be a deletion of a passage about Cromm from St. Patrick's biographer Tírechán's Collectanea published between 688 and 693 CE.  Correlated from the cult icon's textual description in The Vita tripartita Sancti Patricii written c. 1100 CE with the topography on the Plains of Slaughter where the Killycluggin Cromm cult icon was erected, it'd appear that Cromm's face on the Killycluggin Stone faced towards the Tara Hill rath (circular earthwork fort) to the South.

These historical records corroborate or match the archaeological dating of Samhain traditions to the Killycluggin megalithic stone circle depicted in our logos, thus representing the truest Celtic birthplace for our traditions.  A more thorough discussion of Cromm's cult at the Killycluggin stone follows this section describing the early sites associated with Samhain. 

Tlachtga (Ward) Hill: The Place Samhain Survived and Spread

Geoffrey Keating's Foras Feasa ar Éirinn: A history of Ireland from the creation of the world to the coming of the Normans in the twelfth century, shortened to A History of Ireland, was completed in approximately 1634.  In it, he contends Tlachtga, known locally as the Hill of Ward after the family who owned it, as the origin place of our Samhain traditions.  

Tlachtga hill (pronounced Clackda) was named after the Druidess daughter of a Druid (alternately, a sun god) named Mug Ruith who carried the sun in a machine across the sky called roth rámach or “rowing wheel.” According the the legend, she was attacked and raped by the three sons of her father's teacher Simon Magus. She died giving birth there to triplets, each sired by one of her rapists.  Later, she was associated as a goddess of the harvest here, so it appears she came to be imbued with Cromm's attributes. 

The fabled Killycluggin Stone circle wasn't discovered until the 20th Century (one half discovered in 1921, the second in 1954) and had been all but destroyed by early Christians.  Similarly, the historical records referencing Cromm/it were not recognized for their significance in corroborating the Killycluggin Megaliths as the truest origin of Samhain traditions.  Thus, Tlachtga hill represented the earliest then-known center of Samhain rites in the 17th Century, and one of a few cultural hearths from which the Samhain solar cult survived.

The Celtic ring fort at Tlachtga or Ward Hill appears to be one place Samhain traditions were centered and spread from, a cultural hearth, as they survived Roman (Irish) Catholic attempts to stamp out Cromm's cult well into the Medieval Period  Credit: 

How Tlachtga may have looked in Celtic times from John Gilroy's book:  Tlachtga: Celtic Fire Festival.  Credit:

Unfortunately, his claim still circulates today, even among active academics and research archaeologists and probably has a lot more to do with tourism and securing funding for preservation and digs.

The earliest construction here dates to the Bronze Age (1200-800 BCE), much later than the aforementioned sites.  The latest building appears to have occurred between 400-520 CE in the early Medieval Period.  Tlachtga may have legitimately evolved by the arrival of the third century (200 CE) to become a central cultural hearth for the Druids for the celebration of Samhain in Ireland.  There appears to be a middle building phase between 800 BCE-400 CE, currently the least understood by archaeologists.  It was certainly the place Samhain traditions survived and continued into the Medieval Period after Christians stamped it out near the Killycluggin Megaliths in the early centuries.  

According to early histories the Tlachtga Celts (and their Samhain Great Fire Festival) began with the Luigni, an Erainn Celtic tribe to fertility goddess Tlachtga, daughter of the deified Druid sun god Mug Ruith (analagous to the pan-Celtic Lugh), thereby as his heiress, a sun goddess.  So, it appears that Cromm's cult had a rival thirty miles away by 200 CE in the Ward Hill (Tlachtga) ring hill fort.  Yet, the County Cavan Killycluggin Megalithic stone circle (associated with the cult of underworld, fertility, and harvest god Crom Cruach) site appears centuries older (from its La Tène curvilinear designs), dating 400 BCE-100 CE compared to Tlachtga's (400-520 CE) Celtic constructions, so better represents more original Celtic Samhain belief and traditions.  Ironically, Tlachtga's cult at Ward Hill, actually can be construed as parallel evidence for the evolution of Lugh's solar festivals (to give Lugh power to escape darkness and winter) into more solemn rites placating Cromm's tributes to ensure Lugh's return.  Her identification with her father as a deified Druid solar deity Mug Ruith in Irish mythology seems to provide clear textual evidence that Samhain traditions likely originated in solar worship.

The Tlachtga hill ring fort mound passage burial was likely influenced by Cromm's older cult in just being thirty miles from the Killycluggin stone circle with Tlachtga replacing sun god Lugh as a stand-in for her father, and her association with fertility and the harvest.  Or it could be just as likely that the Celts around Tlachtga evolved their own solar cult and mythology independently. But Tlachtga's Samhain cult appears to have transferred to Tara Hill after it was invaded and colonized by a rival tribe, the Lagin, who moved the seat of royal Celtic power to Tara.  13 miles from Tlachtga (Ward) hill was the Hill of Tara, long the seat of the High Kings of Ireland.  

Consequently, we can only suggest that the evidence points to Halloween starting at the Killycluggin stone circle with Cromm's cult despite Keating's now debunked 17th Century competing claim about Tlachtga (by the discovery of Cromm's circle in 1921 and 1954) despite what the tourism bureau and guides tell us because Killycluggin's stone circle is actually centuries older.   

The Hellcave Sidhes to the Otherworld

An artist's depiction of what the Rathcroghan, Cruachan Aí, royal burial complex temple and fort (the Ancient Capital of Connacht) may have appeared like in the early centuries CE.   The royal burial complex mound was connected to the Cave of Cats (called the hellgate by medieval Irish Catholics).  

Credit: Rathcroghan Visitor's Centre

Entrance to Oweynagat (the Cave of Cats), a souterrain at Rathcroghan neolithic site, Co Roscommon. In Irish mythology it is known as the gateway to the underworld, the birthplace of Queen Maedhbh and where the Morrigan, the cthonic (underworld) goddess who decides who lives and dies in battle emerges at Samhain to spread winter according to Medieval sources.  

Credit: Wikimedia Commons Gillaween

Entrance to Oweynagat (the Cave of Cats) from the inside.  

Credit: Hamish Fenton / The Megalithic Portal

Entry from inside Oweynagat "the cave of the cats," or, "hellgate," just south-west of Rathcroghan Mound; the name Oweynagat means "cave of the cats", which could refer to the large wild cats that inhabit it or the three mythical creatures recorded as cats or wolves said to leave the sidhe portal on Samhain or Beltaine eve to wreak havoc to livestock and harvest.  Credit: User Flickr / The Megalithic Portal

A 3D model of the cave Credit: BBC/UK Discovery Programme

The Rath Airthir Telltown burial mounds are the third major fabled burial mounds from which the supernatural creatures and spirits of the Otherworld entered ours at the liminal festivals at the site of the Royal assembly at Tailtu.  It is even suggested the the Normans may converted the site for use as a motte and bailey. 

Credit: Jim Dempsey: Megalithic Ireland 

A sidhe is a portal or doorway to the Otherworld.  As if the Listgohil Dolmen and Tumulus, Newgrange Tumulus, Tara Hill, or Tlachtga Hill burials needed any more sites with competing claims to being the birthplace of Samhain, we have the two other of the three total great burial sites recorded annalistically (Tara Hill already having been mentioned, we'd add Oweynagat Cave's and Teltown burial mound's portals or sidhes) associated with Samhain bonfires and festivals, here involving Otherworld portals (see the following sections for a discussion of sidhes).  Normally in Irish mythology, that Otherworld Land of Youth is a land of peace and plenty, but sometimes in mythology it takes a more nefarious turn and such is the case with these legendary great portals at ancient burial mounds associated with Samhain rites, but could represent Christian corruption of Irish Celtic mythology.

NatGeo's Ronan O'Connell repeated archaeologist Daniel Curley's bold claims that Oweynagat cave, in Rathcroghan, Ireland, was the birthplace of Halloween on Oct. 4, 2021 with his sensationalistic headline, "Inside the Irish ‘hell caves’ where Halloween was born: Go in search of the ancient royal capital that spawned our favorite night of the dead."   Ronan quotes Curley doth protesting too much, belying Curley's assurances to the contrary, revealing the actual motivation: “If Rathcroghan got a UNESCO listing and that attracted more attention here that would be great, because it might result in more funding to look after the site.  But we want sustainable tourism, not a rush of gimmicky Halloween tourism.”  Then why all the sensationalism about claiming to be the birthplace of Samhain rather than a professional nod to the complex and confusing evidence for a solar cult that evolved over time at several different cultural hearths to different solar or cthonic deities in different tribes or in different regions, and really unclear evidence?   

Not to be outdone, Ian Lee writing for CBS followed suit on Oct. 31, 2021, appearing to echo NatGeo's Ronan by asserting it as the birthplace of Halloween in a similarly sensationalistic headline, "The Irish cave known as the entrance into hell — and the birthplace of Halloween."  

The Washington Post's Gillian Brockell toned it down a notch when she dubbed her October 31st, 2022 article with less sensationalism:  Hell caves, evil fairies and animal sacrifice: Halloween’s intense Irish roots.  The more storied and measured BBC's Barra Best at least asked skeptically a year later on October 31, 2022, "Halloween: Did it descend from a Roscommon cave?" acknowledging the dubiousness of the claim even if she—like The WashPo, CBS or National Geographicdidn't help viewers and readers understand the existence of- or evidence for- competing claims, or that the earliest Celtic origins, both archaeologically and annalistically-speaking, belong to the Killycluggin Stone and megalithic circle.   

The cave is located within the context of the Neolithic Rathcroghan royal burial complex complex, also known by the Goedelic Cruachan (note the unmistakeable linguistic reference to Cromm Cruach of the eponymous toponym, potentially further evidence of the most ancient Celtic origin of Samhain in Cromm Cruach), the ancient provincial capital of Connacht.  

Its fort was associated with goddess-queen Medb.  The current entrance to the ancient burial mound descending into the Oweynagat Cave (a natural limestone cave) was dug very late in comparison to other sites claiming Samhain origins—at earliest in the 4th-6th Centuries CE (300s-500s) from the Bryonnic Ogham early Celtic writing (which didn't exist until then) and then more likely much later in the 8th-13th Centuries CE (700s-1200s CE) from the fact the Celts didn't build souterrrains like these until then. 

The Cave of the Cats Hellgate, so named by later Roman (Irish) Catholic Christians, conflates a Celtic sidhe (read on to the next section about Celtic cosmology and portals to the Celtic Otherworld) with a gate to hell due to the centuries of demonization of Celts by early Christians.  But it's hardly undeserved given the lore of the place.  

The cave was definitely well known to all Medieval Irish people due to the Irish myths telling of: heroes who entered the Otherworld through it for their heroic tales and journeys; orangeish-yellowish saffron-colored demonic birds whose breath stripped trees of their leaves who issued from it; nasty creatures and devils who emerged from it who would burn down your house; magic black pigs that withered your crops, left land barren for seven years, and could shed their flesh when captured and also vanish; magical wildcats or wolves who emerged from the cave; a triple-headed monster that laid waste to the surrounding land before being killed; supernatural beings or departed spirits who appeared from them to permanently kidnap you to the Otherworld, or the cthonic warrior goddess Morrigan who the Rathcroghan Celts believed emerged from it to spread winter (likely a mythological derivation from Cromm).  

These "hell caves" were supposed to connect to the Keshcorran Caves in County Sligo by a tale of a maiden dragged by a cow's tail from the Cave of the Cats to them, and of course the Tír na nÓg (Teer-na-nohg) subterranean Otherworld of immortals, monsters, demons, creatures, fairies and elves.

In the Irish myths, there were two remaining other ancient "Great Burial Mounds" associated with sidhe portals to the underworld from which the departed and supernatural creatures could enter our world at liminal Samhain and Beltaine in addition to the burial mound atop Oweynagat Cave of the Cats:  

Of course Donn's Island sea mouth represents a fourth, with Donn possibly replacing Cromm as Irish mythology marched through the ages (mentioned and pictured in the upcoming section on Celtic Cosmology and the Celtic Otherworld).  

It can't be doubted that these portals were places where annual ritual deposits have been found to supplicate Cromm, Morrigan, Medb, or any of the supernatural beings that lived in the Otherworld in solar rites dedicated to ensuring the sun's triumph over winter.  

But the archaeological dates at Oweynagat just don't support it as the birthplace of Halloween.  It was a major cultural hearth of Samhain like Tlachgta served through the late Medieval Period.  But the oldest parts of the complex's construction dates from the Neolithic to Bronze Age (4000 BCE-400 CE), associated with and constructed by our dark-skinned hunter-gatherers.  But the more significant Celtic features of the chambers inside the burial mound in its souterrain passage and tunnel construction (associated with Samhain rites and myths there) date to the Early Medieval Period (400 CE-1100s CE), again bested by the central Killycluggin Stone's curvilinear La Tène designs by centuries.  

Most of the passages in the burial mounds here in the Boyne Valley and at nearby Knowth (near Newgrange) all date from the Early Medieval Period, and many of them were dug to connect to each other indicating they had more spiritual than storage significance.  The current souterrain passage into the cave's Ogham inscriptions suggest it can't be earlier than the 4th-6th (300s-500s) Century CE (which didn't exist before then) and the souterrain construction methods are definitely dated to the middle half of the 8th Century CE (~750s CE) to the first half of the 13th Century CE (~1250s CE), dating relatively from other souterrain Celtic construction in Ireland.  We know Celtic constructions here began centuries after those at Killycluggin. While no doubt Samhain festivals happened annually at Rathcroghan's royal complex of Connacht for centuries, and it is one cultural hearth, it's not likely the birthplace claimed dubiously by Curley.  

The function of these myths could have been initiation rites in warrior culture or perhaps instructed that natural nature of the social stratification and hierarchy of warrior and Druid elites as bringing order the chaos of the Underworld, to effectively scare commoners into submission to their will much like cthonic myths worldwide do.  And of course they all provided explanations for misfortune—from drought to crop failures to disease and stillborn livestock or children or miscarriages.   

The Goedelic Celtic "Otherworld" & Cosmology

If readers are interested in an excellent scholarly summary of the Celtic view of the Otherworld, and a dispassionate rendering of the archaeological evidence for it, archaeologist John Wadell's The Cave of Crúachain and the Otherworld appearing in the journal Papers in Mediaeval Studies (26) deriving from The Celtic Cosmology & The Power of Words Colloquium from February 14-16, 2008 in Coleraine by the Research Instittue for Irish and Celtic Studies at the University of Ulster (from its section on Perspectives from Ireland and Scotland) is a thorough rendering.   

In Celtic mythology, there are many chthonic gods associated with the Otherworld.  The ancient continental Gallics (🔊,a reference to the Roman name of the territory of the Celts, Gallia in Latin and Gaul in English, in Western mainland continental Europe spanning France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy but centered mostly on France) divided their universe into three parts: the Albios (🔊, heaven, white world, or upper world), the Bitu (🔊, the world of the living beings), and the Dubnos (🔊,hell, the lower world, the black world).  

The continental Gallic view is more analogous with the more familiar Judeo-Christian heaven and hell or heavenly Elysium and hellish Tartarus within the Greek Hades that had evolved by the time of Alexander the Great but had not originally existed (with Hades simply being synonymous with the grave where all people, good and bad, went after they died) in early Greece. Mainland Gallic Celtic views of the Otherworld were likely influenced by Hellenistic Greek and then, in turn, Roman Catholic Judeo-Christian concepts of reward or punishment in the afterlife by the time Celtic worldviews began to be recorded by the Romans.

However, it appears possible from Celtic mythology describing the Land of Youth that an earlier conception of the Otherworld may have once been common to all Celts who once imagined the Otherworld to be a place of eternal youth, endless food, joy, and beauty that was a sort of mirror dimension to our own that existed parallel to it, perhaps invisibly on top of it, or as a heavenly realm beyond the sea beyond the reach of the living most of the time—more analogous to the Judeo-Christian heaven where everyone went when they died.  In fact, it's really only around these cultural hearths of Samhain and the sidhe portals descried in the last section where the myths turn dark and more menacing, although many of the fairy creatures are definitely mischevious, but hardly evil.  Perhaps the advent of Christianity also imbued Irish mythology with a more sinister tone, just as it did with Samhain in conflating its deities with the devil. 

This rosier view of the Otherworld seems to be shared by the Irish Goidelic (🔊) Celts, the Scottish Gaelic (🔊) Celts and the Welsh, Cornish, and Breton/Briton Brythonic (🔊) / Brittonic Celts of the British Isles, unlike the Gallic Celts of mainland Gaul likely influenced by Greek views and then Roman Catholic views towards the afterlife in church teachings.

Entrances to the Otherworld could be found in graves, in caverns, in burial grounds for commoners, inside or under ancient burial mounds or barrows (timulus/i) of Druids or chieftains, under bogs, under bridges, under bodies of water or rivers, under sacred wells, in lakes, in sacred groves of trees, under boulders, near megaliths (one of many large stones forming prehistoric stone monuments), inside or under dolmens (megalithic [large stone] tombs with a large flat stone erected on top of upright small to medium erected stones), or near menhirs (a single megalithic large upright stone) which were magically concealed for most of the year by the Fé Fiada (🔊) magical mist that hid the spiritual realm from mortals but cleared and opened twice a year on the liminal solar festivals.

They were opened first on Samhain (Oct. 31st) on second on Beltain (Beltane, May 1st, May Day 🔊) when spirits of the dead and supernatural beings and creatures, some good, some mischievous, some evil, were able to roam the Bitu through the portals that opened then from the Gallic Albios or Dubnos or the Goidelic, Gaelic, and Bryonthic undifferentiated Otherworld Land of Youth.

The ancient burial mounds (called sídhe in Gaelic) were portals through which the Otherworld could be accessed by the heroes of Irish mythology.  The inhabitants of the Otherworld were known as the aos sí or daoine sí ("Otherworld folk"), who retreated into the ancient sídhe burial mounds (with the colonization of Ireland by the Celts) and by each dawn on the days following Beltane and Samhain.  

"Plucked from the Fairy Circle". A man saves his friend from the grip of a fairy ring.  Sikes, Wirt (1880). British Goblins: Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions pp. 74. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington.  Illustrator: T. H. Thomas

Denis Gliksman, Inrap

One of the satellite tombs at Knowth.

(Photo by Photolifer/Marc Gautier via cc license/Flickr)

Donn's Island where the annual dead gather before departing to the Otherworld and from whence they may be released, Donn is a deified mortal but may serve as a resurrection of Cromm in Irish mythology. 

But to the Irish Celts, the Otherworld was called Oisin in Tír na nÓg (🔊 also known as Mag Mell and Emain Ablach), or the Land of Youth and was often associated with water (under or around sacred wells, across a sea, in a lake, etc.).  To the Welsh Celts, there was Annwn, Annwfn, or Annwfyn.  It was called Avalon in the Arthurian Brittonic Celtic folklore.  

The first century Roman poet Lucan reported that the Irish Celts believed departed human souls went to the Orbis alius (Latin), or Otherworld, who gather before the former mortal "lord of the dead" Donn in Tech Duinn or the "House of Donn" on his stormy island associated with Bull Island off the Beare Peninsula before departing to the Otherworld for a time before eventually being reincarnated (or deified [turned into a god]).  Celtic belief in reincarnation can explain the deification of former Druids and Druidesses into gods and goddesses imbued with immortal power. 

But elsewhere some accounts have Donn, despite his misleading moniker as lord of the dead, serving as Greece's Charon did to ferry the dead across the River Styx into Hades, for Charon didn't rule Hades.  Hades did, just as Cromm ruled the Celtic underworld.  So either Donn is derivative of Cromm, or is his minion whose function is to gather then ferry souls to the Otherworld like the later personification of Death in Christendom. 

In Celtic mythology, there are many chthonic (underworld) deities associated with death, dying, and the Otherworld to wit (including, but not limited to): 

Arwan (ruler of Annwn, Welsh ruler of the Otherworld);  Gwynn ap Nudd (another Welsh underworld god), Manannan mac Lir (Welsh ruler of the liminal spaces between the spirit world and ours);  The Cailleach (the Welsh lord of the dark half of the year, storms, and the dying of crops); Aed (the prince of the Daoine Sidhe and god of the underworld); Cerridwen (a goddess of the underworld, also the goddess of rebirth and transformation); Manannan (The God of the Otherworld and Sea); Donn ("the Dark One," associated with shipwrecks and sea storms, he gathers the dead on his stormy island before they depart for the Otherworld); the Goddess Morrhigan (who decided if you died in battle); Cernunnos (protector of the souls of the ancestors in the Underworld, guided their rebirths in the mortal realms); and Bilé (The Irish god of death, Gaelic/Goidelic iteration of older Bryonthic [Welsh] god Bel or Belinos for which Beltane/Beltain was named [19th Century Celticists John Rhy̌s and M. H. d'Arbois de Jubainville insisted Bilé/Bel/Belinos was god of darkness and death in the underworld, an opinion no longer shared by serious Celticists and the result of sloppy linguistic scholarship]; according to mythology, Bilé/Bel/Belinos was a sacred oak nurtured by the mother of the good gods Danu, the mother of all the Tuatha (the good Irish Celtic deities), and giving birth to the "all good" overgod  of the Tuatha, Dagda).  

It turns out that separated in small villages and migrating by fits and starts over many centuries, especially in contact with other Indo-European people (through, for example, the Greek colonies in Marseilles [France]) produces a dazzling and dizzying array of creatures, gods, and cosmologies (conceptions of the universe, this world, and afterlife) and as many chthonic gods. 

And, no, Samhain is NOT the name of the Celtic lord of darkness or death, contrary to the bad scholarship of British Colonel Charles Vallancey writing in the 1770s (exposed by folklorist W.J. Bethancourt III, in his 1994 essay Halloween: Myths, Monsters and Devils) that ended up appearing in the campy 1980s Christian Jack Chick Tracts (Christian evangelical religious pamphlets).  Nor is Cromm Baal.  Both of these links will help you understand those long-standing misunderstandings. 

Cromm: THE Goidelic Fertility & Underworld God

But according to the Annals of the Four Masters, a compilation of the earliest Irish histories compiled in the 1630s, Cromm Cruach is perhaps the first and oldest iteration of the Irish Celts' chthonic lords of death and the Otherworld or Underworld.  Cromm, quite clearly, is among the oldest of the old Celtic gods

Vallancey's fancies (about a god he made up called Samhain based upon a minor human character in a myth given the name of the fall solar cult rite by the same name) are like the equally wrong insistence of Rhy̌s and Jubainville about Bilé/Bel/Belinos being a dark god of the underworld versus the truth of Bilé in an Irish mythological sacred oak.  Their error in the 1800s led Victorian scholars to wrongly conflate the Goidelic Celtic Bilé/Bel/Belinos through false linguistic associations with the Sumerian Baal through false etymology, and thereby also the child-eating Greek Cronos, the biblical Sumerian derived Canaanite fertility and underworld child-eating deity Moloch, and the Sumerian god Baal, and subsequently, the devil. 

Some scholars suggest Cromm was the Greek Cronos (father of the Olympians who ate his children and lead Titan), or influenced by ideas of him as an underworld child-eater equated with the Greek understandings of the biblical Canaanite (Sumerian derivative) underworld fertility god of Moloch.  They do so on the basis of  the Medieval Irish tale of “The Siege of Druim Damhgaire," with Lugh's (the light bringer's) triumph over Fomarian Baylor (darkness) tracking Zeus' victory over Cronos.  The implication from this medieval tale is that Baylor is Cronos and Cromm and Lugh is Zeus or the biblical Yahweh, or Cromm with St. Patrick.  The 12th-century (1100s CE/AD) Dinsenchas poem records a fabled confrontation between Crom Cruach and Saint Patrick, but thus described Cromm: 

“At Magh Slecht used to stand a lofty idol,

whose name was the Crom Cruach;

it caused every tribe to live without peace.

The valiant Gael used to worship it:

with tribute they asked of it their share in hard times.

He was their god, the wizened Crom, hidden by many mists:

those that paid him tribute shall ne’er see heaven.

For him ingloriously they slew their firstborn,

to pour the blood round Crom Cruach.

Milk and corn they asked of him.

From his worship came many crimes to Magh Slecht.

Thither came Tigernmas, prince of distant Tara, one Samhain eve,

with all his host, to meet their sorrow.

They stirred his evil eye, they beat their fists,

they bruised their bodies, wailing to the demon who held them in thralls,

they wept storms of tears, weeping prostrate.

Dead the men, void of strength. Hard their fate.

One man in four there made his escape with death on his lips.

Round Crom Cruach there the hosts did obeisance:

though it brought them under mortal shame,

the name cleaves to the mighty plain.”   

The 12th Century Dinsenchas is suspect in being anti-Celtic Irish Catholic Medieval propaganda against the old Celtic cults in recording how King Tigernmas, who introduced Cromm's worship according to the Dinsenchas, had a three-fourths of his host smited by Cromm.  It also triumphantly records Cromm's cult icon's destruction by Saint Patrick who would stamp out Druidism, just as Lugh had overcome the Fomarians, and Dadga/Lugh overcomes Cromm.  

Cromm means bent or broken in Celtic Gaelic, and Cruach means pile or stack and refers to hills or mountains that look like stacks or piles of corn or grain.  Thus the Celtic underworld boss Cromm's name appears to be eponymous and toponymous in that the deity's name describes the actual physical appearance of Cromm's central stone icon and twelve surrounding stones upon the Plains of Slaughter (a three mile square tract of land in central north Ireland situated in the south-eastern part of the Parish of Templeport, Barony of Tullyhaw, in the west of County Cavan).  Cromm is known colloquially as The Crouching Darkness, or The Bent One of the Hill, and is depicted as a wizened old man shrouded in mist. His holiday heralded the end of summer and beginning of winter.  

Cromm may also be derived from cenn meaning head or chief as well or cruim meaning thunder.  However, these proposed origins may represent false etymological associations (word origins) in a likely erroneous attempt to equate Cromm with Zeus, Ukko, and Oden/Thor, as both Indo-European and Finno-Ugric pantheons of gods tend to be ruled by lightning, weather, or sky over gods.  Also, Tiranus, not Cromm, was the Celtic god of thunder.  Nor was lightning or electricity associated as a power of either Dagda or Cromm, although Dagda could control weather by playing a harp, so there is a chance thunder could be linguistic residue from Dagda.  Also, derivation from cenn's head or chief could serve as linguistic evidence of Cromm's derivation from Dagda, who was the original chief of the Celtic gods. 

However, the modern English moniker of The Bent One of the Hill by which he's known colloquially known today seems to indicate the more accurate understanding of his name described the physical appearance of his cult icons situated on the plains where they were erected, just as the silhouetted appearance of the Celtic Britonic Stonehenge's appearance on Salisbury Plain near Wiltshire, England has become similarly iconic and the stone circle's English name describes the icon itself.  

More description and explanation is required to understand Cromm's actual megalithic icons of the Killycluggin Stone and its twelve surrounding stones depicted in our logos, but first the solar cults that explain them require elucidation, pun intended (to elucidate means to enlighten).  For example, some Celticists insist Cromm's central Killycluggin Stone and its twelve surrounding megaliths are evidence of a solar cult on the basis that the twelve surrounding stones represented the twelve ecliptic constellations of the Zodiac in addition to the folklore chronicled in The Annals or earlier sources.  

The Coming of Cromm:  The Evolution of Samhain's Solar Cult

Early Irish royalty may have been buried in Newgrange tomb, shown at dawn on the winter solstice.  KEN WILLIAMS / SHADOWSANDSTONE.COM

For an excellent discussion of Cromm Cruach in the written literature sources, John P. Dalton's "Cromm Cruaich of Magh Sleacht" in The Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, & Literature, 1921 - 1924, Vol. 36 (1921 - 1924), pp. 23-67, a 1920s distillation, remains instructive.

The pan-Celtic (shared by Gallic, Goidellic, and Gaelic Celts) "Wheel of the Year" is observed by Neo-Pagans and Celtic Reconstructionists (those who identify religiously as modern Celtic pagans and who've tried to reconstruct what it means to be so from the existing sources) to this day.  The year is first divided into the dark half (the approach to winter and its departure) and the light half (spring and summer).  They observed four primary holidays according to their lunar calendar:  first Samhain on October 31st marking the start of a new pastoral year; second, Feb. 1st's Imbolc, announcing the time lambs give birth (taking five months to reach summer grazing maturity); third, May 1st's Beltane/Beltain/Bealtaine, on May 1, marked the end of winter and involved frolicking around decorated trees (where we get May Day pole customs), washing faces with dew, and plucking the spring's first blooming flowers; and finally, August 1st's annual royally sanctioned Lughnasadh, the sun god Lugh's festival signaling the coming harvest.

In more ancient prehistory, there is some question of whether Samhain was always devoted to Cromm, or if instead it was devoted to the older pan-Celtic over god Dagda or pan-Celtic sun god Lugh from which Cromm's Samhain derived.  Recall in Irish mythology the sacred oak nurtured by the mother goddess of all of the Tuatha gods of light Danu named Bilé/Bel/Belinos that gave birth to Dagda, the burly omnipotent Celtic king god of the Tuatha with a stick that granted and withdrew life.   Thus most scholars trace the name of the holiday to this healing god of fire Belinos, but the festival definitely was all about Lugh's liberation from Cromm. The second liminal festival of the solar year, May 1st's May Day Beltane/Beltain (the first being Samhain), is thought to be the source of the name of this holiday that in time came to truly celebrate the start of summer and Lugh's victory over winter death.  

Samhain may have been originally or transitionally devoted to the Celtic solar deity (sun god) Lugh who eventually succeeded and replaced Dagda as king of the gods and was Dagda's great grandson.  But as the Celtic sun god, eventual king of the gods of light as Dagda's heir, and chief vanquisher of the evil deities of darkness, Lugh's Samhain would have charted his annual death march from Samhain on October 31st—marking the end of summer and the start of the dark half of the year—to the deepest depth of winter on the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21st, or An Grianstad in Gaelic, sun stop in English).  The dark half of the year began with Samhain (Oct. 31st) and his capture and subding and ended with Beltane (May 1st, the night of the bright fires) with his liberation, with the light half starting with Beltane and ending at Samhain.

In our culture, our days begin and end with sunrise, unlike the ancient Celts whose days began at sunset and with sleep.  Winter then was like a nightly sleep that began our years.  In Roman culture, from which our way of conceiving of a day or year came, years begin with spring and end in winter, just like days began and ended at dawn. For the Celts, their years began with Samhain signaling the onset of winter, the slumber before the spring.  But as our Latin framework is more familiar, with our seasons beginning with spring and ending in winter, we'll chart Lugh's journey from the springtime first (skipping Gallic Celtic's start in winter, the actual start of the Celtic year like we begin our days without sleep and attach sleep to the prior day).  

To understand Samhain as a rite of a solar cult, one must first deeply understand the importance of the sun to agrarian farmers and ranchers.  Winter thus did not end the year but rather served as the beginning of the new year and its arrival was a time for solemn supplication to the gods who ruled their fates, without whose blessing, they might not have a new year let alone a fortunate one.  So, for them, their year began with contemplation of the ubiquity and certainty of death and payment of tribute to the god of the underworld who had subdued Lugh in order to ensure blessings in the new year.

Lugh is the Celtic sun god and his solar cult is intimately tied with Samhain.

The Celtic Wheel of the Year calendar began and ended with Samhain on October 31st, the first of two liminal solar rites (the second was Beltain/Beltane on May 1st [May Day]).

Lugh is one of the Celtic old gods, along with Dagda and Cromm Cruach

Beltane Fire Festival Red Men

May Day's (May 1st) Beltane was definitely devoted to Lugh by any other name throughout Gaul, the Roman name for their then-unconquered frontier peopled by uncivilized barbarian semi-nomadic pastorilists who herded sheep and cattle and practiced horticulture in limited farming, and those remaining foraging bands who still hunted and gathered.  

In other words, Gaul (Gallia in Latin) was the land of the Celtic peoples of the British Isles and Western Europe although it's most often used to refer to continental mainland Gaul.  In Central Europe, tradition holds Belenus or Beil, the Goidelic and Gaelic Lugh's Gaulic counterpart—all of them being solar deities like Greece's Apollo—is the namesake of Beltane (and thus the name of the holiday isn't a reference to the Sumerian Baal as commonly misunderstood owing to pseudoetymological error, but rather the same god as the Goidelic, Gaelic, and Brythonic Lugh).

Lugh's May Day Beltane festival marked the start of the light half of the year and the bright return of Lugh from his epic yearly struggle with darkness.  Beltane in Gaelic means bright fires if not derived from Bilé/Bel/Belinos the sacred oak (personified in later mythology as god of healing and fire) from whence Dagda sprang, here too tying Lugh and Dagda to Beltane.  

The May Day festival was the second of two liminal (threshold between the dark and light halves of the year) holidays of the Celtic year following the first of two in October's Samhain in which the dead and otherworldly spirits and supernatural creatures and beings found it easier to manifest themselves in our living world. 

The fire jumping traditions of Beltane when youth leaped over bonfires three times marked when to turn the cattle out to pasture after winter and prepare to plant crops for tending in the fieldsAs the Celtic day began and ended with each sunset, so too did the Celtic year begin with "solar night" or the start of the dark half of the year (Oct. 31st to May 1st, preceding the light half between May 1st and Oct. 31st).  So the two liminal festivals marked the turning of the year from light to dark (first) and then dark to light (second). 

The Celtic Carnyx was played in battle but some imagine may have been played ritualistically as well at sunset on Beltane/Beltain & Samhain to announce the onset of festival activities.

Jumping Beltane fires three times for good luck on May Day Eve is still a tradition throughout much of Celtic Europe

Otherwise, if not originally devoted to Lugh, the Celtic sun god, it is thought to have been devoted to the chief Celtic "good god" of life and death Dagda.  Dagda's Samhain would have involved supplication appealing to him to intervene to ensure the safe return of Lugh in the spring, and lend his great grandson an assist.  His powers and domain in Irish mythology are limitless as chief of the gods with power to compel the other gods.  Lugh's daily appearance in the sky in the fall after Mabon (September 24th) shrank with each passing day.  His increasing daily absence accelerated in ever shortening hours of daylight after Samhain (October 31st) until the Winter Solstice of Dec. 21st.  The arrival of the shortening of days foretold and marked the annual march of the seasons and the annual death of crops and livestock that winter brought.

Lugh (like the Roman god Vertumnus) was believed to cause the ripening of the fruits of the field in mid- to late- summer.  So the August 1st Lughnasadh or Lammas, one of the four cross quarter holidays of the Celts, is named after him.  It was named after him because it marked a change of the seasons in being halfway between the start of summer (Beltane, May Day, May 1st) and the Mabon autumnal equinox when harvesting began (Sept. 24th).  These festivals helped ancient celtic pastoralist ranchers and horticulturalist farmers keep track of time as Lughnasadh reminded them as much time had passed since planting as laid ahead before the harvest must begin.  Druids were keepers of these calendars and stone circles and tunnel burials with archaeoastronomical alignments with certain constellations or stars at certain points of the year to direct the annual tasks of the agrarian people, the keepers of the fire so to speak in a calendar of the Celtic year round.

Lughnasadh then signaled the approaching harvest season starting with the Celtic Mabon on September 24th (the autumnal/fall equinox) which ended on Samhain (October 31st, ushering in the dark half of the year).  Harvest started with Mabon and ended with Samhain.  Thus Samhain marked the last hours of twilight before annual sunset in the metaphorical solar cycle round of the year—Goidellic twilight.  The arrival of winter was actually the start of the next year, like slumber before one's day begins.  And although it may seem foreign to us today, it was actually more in tune with nature's cycles with autumn mating seasons meaning winter incubation of spring offspring and many varieties of early seeds planted in the fall lain dormant to awaken and germinate effortlessly in the spring.

Precise understanding of the original deity to whom Samhain was at first devoted seems to have been lost to the ages as the Celts had no written language and early Roman sources and later medieval sources are dubious, confusing, and contradict each other—and could represent misunderstandings of their authors to whom the Celts were foreign and largely hostile.  The earliest written sources are Roman sources (Catholic) from the 7th-9th Centuries (600s-800s), and digests of them from the 17th Century (1600s). In all cases, these accounts were written by Roman Catholic Christians hostile to Celtic paganism and intent on wiping out their cults and strongholds, an effort being undertaken in the first century CE by the Romans in Britain. 

It may be that Cromm was likely derivative from the older Dagda, once the "good God" of both Life AND Death who, over the centuries, permuted and differentiated into Dagda as the omnipotent god of life or creator god and Cromm as the god of death. 

Dagda appears to have evolved over the millennia from serving both functions as god of life and light and death and darkness to eventual differentiation of Dagda as the "good god" of life from Cromm as the god of death.  Linguistic evidence for the same is captured in the fact that even today near the Plains of Slaughter (Mag Slécht) in County Cavan Ireland, Cromm's other name is Cenncroithí, meaning "the head of all gods," which wouldn't make sense unless Cromm was derivative from Dagda.  Cromm was never the ruler of the Tuatha (good gods) in mythology and Balor, not Cromm, is always the ruler of the Fomarians (evil gods).  Lugh's eventual slaying of Baylor is thought by Dáithí Ó hÓgáin to personify the harmful aspects of the sun like scorching heat and drought, and to be echoed by St. Patrick's overcoming of Cromm, a recognition of Lugh's dual natures (not unlike our own).

It was Cromm who definitely subdued the sun each winter, and ruled the domain where departed human spirits dwelt, so he was definitely vilified at least by the 17th Century Christian compendiums. Thus, Cromm appears to be a derivative deity from Dagda who used to be the god of life AND death but by the time the Romans arrived had evolved to be the "all good god" of only light and life with Cromm now serving as the god of darkness and death which is how Christians equate him with the devil, but to do so shows profound willful ignorance of Celtic or even Jewish or Christian folklore, mythology, theology and cosmology.     

However, oral tradition (stories passed down by word of mouth by ancestral Celts) and the later historical accounts (Roman and Irish Medieval, and 17th Century sources) trace Samhain definitively to the cult of Cromm Cruach (known to commoners as Cromm Dubh), the Celtic God of the Underworld—not to be confused with the Canaanite/Sumerian God of Baal mentioned in the Holy Bible who Judeo-Christians by then had conflated with the devil, the lord of hell.  

Because anyone can stumble upon sources insisting Samhain supplicated Dagda, Lugh, or Cromm, it was important to explain the nuance, diversity, and evolution of Celtic belief as well as the permanent limitations of our source material in being scant, contradictory, and written by hostile cultural outsiders millennia and centuries later in deciphering either their authenticity and validity.  While this proposed evolution of Samhain cosmology (its possible earliest devotion to Dagda which evolved over time into devotion to Lugh or Cromm) is speculative based upon contradicting sources, it's reasonable just as the trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, & Shiva becoming integrated with Indra) evolved in Hinduism as Dravidian animism was influenced by the beliefs of Aryan invaders that Dagda gave way to Lugh and Cromm and devotions on Samhain probably evolved to supplicate those deities over time in that order. 

So, it appears in ancient times from contradicting sources, Samhain rituals may be interpreted alternately to: 

(I) supplicate the "good god" Dagda to use his omnipotent power to ensure Lugh's freedom from the grips of the underworld spirits or beings subduing him, who would eventually be personified and deified as Cromm, or 

(II) to give Lugh the direct power (by enhancing his heat and power through burnt offerings) to escape Cromm through burnt offerings to Lugh on Samhain by immolation (fires being local manifestations of the sun), or, 

(III) to gravely and solemnly give due tribute to Cromm, in paying the annual tribute, tax, or ransom to guarantee Lugh's liberation in the spring, just as the Tuatha gods of light once were forced to pay a third tribute to the Fomarian gods of darkness 

Perhaps by the time the Romans left the British Isles, Celtic Samhain sacrifices continued in secret were made by invocation to potentially their over god Dagda, their sun god Lugh, and/or their death god Cromm alternately depending upon the individual, family, or village, or all at once.  Maybe it varied from family to family and household by household. Perhaps over the ages, as each succeeding generation of people had more time to contemplate death, they seem to have developed more involved and complex supernatural explanations for death or aspects of death became deified, and regional differences developed.

But by the time of Roman contact, all early sources agree, Samhain became more strictly the domain of the god of death and the underworld Cromm, the wizened bent one shrouded in mist, indifferent to the affairs of humans and demanding tribute for release of his hostage sun god Lugh.  It certainly was one way to answer a child's question about why there are seasons and why winter exists.  The lord of the Otherworld or darkness simply captured and subdued the sun once a year who demanded ransom to release his hostage.  It fits the mood of a dreary, cold, and rainy winter, and reinforced the truth of eventual triumph of the light Tuatha led by the ascendant son Lugh over the dark Fomarians who once exacted a third tribute, just as Cromm is alleged to have demanded in scions or firstborn livestock.   

But it appears that the Celtic over god Dagda and his cult, over time, was replaced by the cult of the sun god Lugh who would replace him as king of the Tuatha de Dannon gods of light after he led their forces in the second battle that banished evil Fomorian sea demons of darkness back to the sea in a metaphorical victory of light over darkness.  Later, Lugh's negative aspects in his duality of both lightness and darkness (likely inherited from the older cult of Dagda as the good god of light and darkness, life and death), codified in both his mixed good (Tuatha) and evil (Fomarian) parentage, led to the eventual deification of Cromm as a separate deity and god of the underworld or death, and his Samhain rituals from which our modern ones evolved.

How Christians Confused the Celtic Underworld Boss Cromm Cruach with the Sumerian Baal and Biblical Devil

Baal's Story & The Neolithic Agrarian Revolution

Astronomically, first day of summer rites in many cultures have often been associated with cattle with the sun in the constellation Taurus, the bull.  In ancient societies from the first cattle pictographs (picture writing that precedes syllabary and a phonetic alphabet in the evolution of writing) at Çatalhöyük that would eventually lead to the first Sumerian cuneiform writing system, to the Sumerian overgod El and his son Baal and their eventual cthonic underworld biblical Moloch, to the Greek Cretan Minoan Minotaur of King Minos on Crete, to the ritual sacrificial rites of Celtic Samhain, cattle have ancient associations with the first days of summer when they would be turned out to graze.  It's no accident because cattle domestication, the Neolithic Agrarian Revolution, drastically changed how humans on earth lived in exploding their population, enabling cities, civilizations, and empires.   

El, chief god to the Sumerians (like Zeus was to the Greeks) was the literal father of all of their gods.  El means the god or creator and his symbol was the bull which is son Baal would later inherit.  Agriculture developed during the Natufian Neolithic Agrarian Revolution (11 KBP-9 KBP [~9,000-7,000 BCE]) in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East of Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in modern day Iraq.  It wasn't until roughly 3500 BCE that the first true civilizations, or empires, in Sumer and Egypt had emerged, taking roughly some five millennia to develop after the domestication of the first plants (~11 KBP, ~9,000 BCE) and then animals (~9 KBP, ~7,000 BCE).  

Before, people lived in small bands of 20-50 people governed by chieftanships, women possessed more power because they produced a majority of our food through foraging than men did by hunting, and people were more equal and had more leisure time, but their total population numbers were limited by natural carrying capacity of their habitats like all animals.   People migrated following animal herds or seasonally migrated to take advantage of certain plants flowering or ripening or the arrival of insect swarms.   After farming and ranching, populations grew, technological advancement increased, annhilative warfare appeared, inequality between people and genders grew, and people lived in cities. 

The first civilization that produced the first complete writing system in the world, cuneiform (predating Egyptian hieroglyphs by ~300 years, Sumerian cuneiform developed around ~3500 BCE compared to 3200 BCE for Egyptian hieroglyphs by comparison): the Sumerians.  Sumer was the first civilization that developed in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia of Iraq on the crops and animals the Natufians domesticated developed the first cities in barley and wheat and sheep, pigs, goats, and cattle.   Cities like Jericho and Ur and Uruk and their empire laid the foundation for the derivative Babylonian, Akkadian, Assyrian, and Persian empires who grew from the foundations Sumer laid, overpopulated themselves, and then laid waste to neighbors and assimilated them over the same region which lent itself geographically to the development of conquest and empires at the commercial crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe who would in Classical Antiquity subsequently face Classical Greek (in the Persian Wars), Hellenistic Greek (in Alexander the Great's conquest of the ancient world which laid the foundation for the Romans), and then Greco-Roman Civilization (in their domination of the Mediterranean world and the continent of Europe).   

Historical archaeologists and anthropologists suggest that the Genesis story of the murder of Adam and Eve's son Abel by Cain in the Garden of Eden in the first fratricide in Cain's murder of his brother Abel told in Chapter 4 actually captures the transition from nomadic foraging (hunter-gathering) to settled pastoralism (ranching) and farming (to agriculture and civilization).  It turned out that domestication of animals was more important than domestication of food crops because hooking a plow to a cow drastically increased food production and suprluses and dramatically increased human populations and freeing them from the search for food.  The preference of the biblical God of Abel's sacrifice of the fat of the firstborn of his flock (Hebrew: צֹאנֹ֖ו (tzo·nov); tson: small cattle, sheep and goats, Strong's Concordance 6629; NASB translation: lambs or sheep), causing Cain's jealousy and fratricide of his brother captured this transition and supernatural endorsement of the domestication of animals and served as a nod to the Hebrews to continue it.  

God, being more pleased by a blood sacrifice of an animal over Cain's sacrifice of the fruit of the soil in plant sacrifice captures the radical transformation of human life brought by the Agricultural Revolution that spurred civilizations across the planet after the last Ice Age.  It represented probably the most radical revolution in the entirety of human history or prehistory, so it can't be understated.  It simultaneously explains why some nation-states are rich and powerful today and others are not, and why some individuals and families are and others not.  It explains human inequality as well as enhanced tribalism and warfare.    

Farming and ranching meant that the human population would rapidly increase, leading to civilizations or empires across the world to arise and interact and attempt to conquer and dominate other empires—or those aboriginal, indigenous nomadic foragers and pastoralists without the advantages farming and ranching brought.  The Roman Empire likewise subjugated the pastoralist Celtic Britons' due to those advances.

When the Natufians first hooked cattle to a plow, they transformed the productivity of the land which enabled much larger settled populations of humans and an explosion in technological innovation.  More people meant as more connections between individuals and different communities grew, the greater the diversity in information and cultures that would develop.  More people also meant more potential innovators, leading to the relatively rapid technological advancement of humans ever since, explaining the acceleration in the pace of technological advancement.  People could now accumulate and improve knowledge enabled by writing and the collective learning that resulted from freeing people from the never ending quest for food—enabling job specialization and social stratification/hierarchy and ultimately technological advancement through irrigation, textiles, plumbing, religion, advanced technology, etc.   

El's Cult Challenged by Baal's Cult:  Attempted Religious Patricide Results in Moses' Filicide

Thus, it's no wonder that the Canaanite god of El is symbolized by the bull as cattle, more than any other domestic crop or animal, led to a revolution in the way humans lived on earth. In the same way the biblical God (Abraham's God, El) approved more of blood or animal sacrifice than plant or crop sacrifice, the domestication of animals more explained our development than farming ever could.  Oddly enough, initially and over time, El's son Baal became associated with the harvest of the field while El himself remained more associated with livestock, just as Cain was associated with the field and AbEL with livestock.  It's no wonder the biblical Yahweh more approved of Abel's sacrifice than Cain's because livestock had real consequence to human lifeways.  The Genesis story seemed to be God's approval of the domestication of animals and admonishing his creation to do more of it.  However, contrary to its biblical endorsement, for unknown reasons, over time, Baal's cult increased in popularity, meaning that El's cult shrank as Baal's increased.

This seems corroborated by recent discoveries in the early 21st Century at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey seem to indicate an animal worshiping religion predated and preceded the appearance of ivilization or empire itself (until recently, associated archaeology suggested religion comes from civilization, not the other way around).  El's older cult, whose symbol is the bull, can thus be equated with the cattle domestication cult.  Therefore, it tracks these recent discoveries about an older animal worshiping cult suggesting animal domestication was key in the development of religion.  But as the crop domestication cult in El's son Baal's cult rose, most associated with the harvest and fertility, El's cult began to decline, and El's symbol in the bull transferred to Baal in cattle, and along with it El's associations with cattle domestication.  

It could track the strange burial of the old icons at Göbekli Tepe, just like the older Egyptian polytheistic pantheon's devotees tried to wipe Pharaoh Nefertiti's sun-god Aten monotheism from history and memory.   Newer cults threaten older cults, and the older cults often respond violently and afterwards justify the same religiously. Perhaps Baal's cult endeavored to stamp out the older animal domestication cult, and it backfired to boomerang in its own destruction.

Thus, in this manner, El's son Baal became associated with fall harvest and fertility festivals—that is, farming and ranching.  The cultural and religious ideas of the Indo-Europeans from Central Asia who migrated into Europe deep in prehistory, the ancestors of the ancient Celts, traveled with them.  And that's exactly the source of the error that still circulates, wrongly connecting Cromm with Baal on the basis of them being both fertility and harvest gods.  Thus early linguists and scholars of comparative religion and mythology falsely made Cromm the analogue of the Sumerian Baal as harvest and fertility gods but ignored that Cromm's actual function to the Celts was more analogous to Sumer's Nergal as underworld boss of the dead.  And thus they wrongly associated Celtic Samhain with Satanism. Baal (the Sumerian god of fertility [like the Roman Bacchus or Greek Dionysus]), was being worshipped alongside his father El in the land of Canaan.  Baal would eventually supplant El, becoming the king of the gods in the Sumerian pantheon and replacing his father El.  Baal's popularity overrode his father's cult.  Both were being worshipped as the one true God simultaneously by the Sumerian Canaanites, and both had vigorous cults.  

The father of Judaism (via Isaac), Christianity (via Isaac's descendant Jesus Christ), and Islam (via Ishmael) was Abraham (alternately, Abram).  Abraham's cult to El (ELShaddai, ELohim, IsraEL) succeeded in stamping out the then ascendant but competing god Baal's worship when the Levites killed 3,000 golden calf worshipers of Baal (his father's iconography and domains eventually were transferred to Baal).  The son's cult was wiped out by the father's cult in filicide, and the rest is recorded in the Holy Bible.  The destruction of Baal's cult is recorded in Exodus 32 by Moses' commandment with the rest of Baal's worshipers finished off by plague.  So, eventually, El's cult destroyed Baal's cult, became Judaism, and the rest is the history of Judeo Christianity and Islam, the Abrahic faiths of the Bible.  Thus Baal's cult was demonized ever after by the Jews and Christians and Muslims consequently.  And the parental abuse of Baal's cult that initially threatened El's ultimately led the father's cult of El to triumph, and ever after its devotees demonized remnant Baal cultists to ensure that Baal would eventually become synonymous with evil and the devil/Satan—just as El's cultists had demonized Baal's devotees in a similar manner.   

It's through that convoluted process that the Celtic Cromm is often confused with the Sumerian Baal because both were fertility and harvest gods with festivals in the fall.  As Indo-Europeans brought their religious cults with them as they settled Europe and migrated into Europe from Central Asia and the Middle East (from Mesopotamia) over the centuries.  As a result,  there are both accurate or valid and false linguistic cognates (when those who study mother and daughter languages over time can make errors because of mistaken similarities in word roots).   

In the same way Cromm evolved from joyful and festive Dagda or Lugh fall solar fertility traditions of thanksgiving into far more somber remembrance and contemplation of the certainty of death, those original Indo-European religious beliefs hailing from the Sumerian, Egyptian, and Babylonian origins likewise continued to evolve and change.  As a result of attempts to find common language roots and origins, Judeo-Christians had a tendency to lose nuance and generalize, lumping all pagan festivals to nature fertility gods of the harvest together, they did the same with those that more solemnly or frightfully contemplated death, life after death, the underworld, and the annual death of winter, and, in turn, to equate them with devil worship.  Thus, in this way, attempts to understand "other" were perverted in vilifying or demonizing "other" in equating Baal with Beelzebub and the god of healing Biel for whom Beltane was likely named, and eventually Celtic Cromm as analogous because he was the god of the Celtic underworld like Beezlebub and Satan became synonymous as other names for Satan the great deceiver.   

As Christian monks and missionaries undertook the study of others as scholars to report back to Crown and Pope, and undertook the study of the cultures of people different from themselves and record their histories, they made sense of their beliefs and practices by relating them to analogues more familiar in their own cultures.   They did so in the similar manner many people today falsely say nirvana is Buddhist heaven (actually it's freedom from rebirth, nonexistence) and thus represents a terrible misconception.   

One way that happened was due to people associating fertility gods like Baal and Cromm, and then taking the Celtic holiday of Beltane and saying it was a festival to Baal (false etymology), in sharing falsely made linguistic roots and then saying Baal was actually another name for the biblical Satan (which is not true even biblically).   And as the devil to Judeo-Christians (influenced by Greek mystery cults with resurrection myths and concept of Tartarus as a place of punishment for wrongdoing with its lord Hades who tortured) was culturally created by Jesus' times, Baal became conflated with the devil who theologically was lord of the underworld, hell, of the Judeo Christian afterlife.  Early Jews, Egyptians, and Greeks had no concept of hell, and only a concept of the afterlife or death and underworld, the place where both the righteous and unrighteous went.  But by the Hellenistic Greek period, Hades had evolved to include a place of reward in the Elysian Fields and place of punishment in Hades, and the same thing happened within Judaism and within Egytian mythology.    

The Egyptian analogue of the Celtic Cromm would have been Osiris; the Greek, Hades; the Roman, Pluto; and the Sumerian, Nergal or Moloch both similarly derivative from Baal in the same way Cromm was derivative of Dagda, and Baal of El.   And so the logic of these scholars was to group the fertility gods and gods of the underworld then presuppose common origins in Indo European belief and was inductive in nature.  They started from a premise, and sought evidence for their foregone conclusions, leading them to miss the nuance that in no way was Cromm actually derivative of Baal and they never in reality had any real or imagined relationship whatsoever.     

The claim that Baal was the chief God of the Celts is flatly erroneous but still circulates today, especially in Christian sources. Ruth E. Kelley's seminal 1919 The Book of Halloween, the first book published on Halloween history, is one major source of this falsehood.  Baal was notas not one single Celtic deity is mentioned in the Holy Bible—the chief god of the Celts, nor was he ever.  Thus this misunderstanding appears to derive from association of Baal, the Sumerian god of fertility, weather, and rainstorms (the son of their over god El), with the Sumerian god of the underworld Nergal in associating Cromm and Baal in both being fertility gods to whom sacrifices were made, irrespective that Baal was never an underworld god, and the false etymological linguistic (word origins) attempts to trace cosmologies from early proto-Indo-European people to the Celts.

Today, most scholars recognize that Baal is in no way remotely related to Cromm other than the fact they are both fertility Gods.  But neither El nor Baal were ever gods of the underworld like Cromm was.   Cromm got infected with the stigma of Baal because he had the misfortune of being a fertility god like Baal, and Baal had become associated with Satan/the devil.  It's a case of guilt by false association, false etymology, and sloppy ethnocentric scholarship.

It was also likely influenced by projection and conflation by Christians of the devil or Lucifer in hell with the underworld.  The chief god of the Irish Celtic pantheon was always and has always been Dagda, the "good god," or chief over god of life and death (and of seasons, agriculture, fertility, and magic).  Cromm over the centuries evolved to replace aspects of Dagda as the god of seasons, agriculture, fertility, and magic, a necessary scapegoat like Lucifer evolved to become in the adversary biblically.   But in reality, Lugh was the Celtic sun god like either Roman Sol or Greek Apollo, and Cromm the Celtic analog to the Greek Hades or Finnish Tuoni.  There definitely were analogs in Indo-European and Finnic-Ugric peoples, the ancestors of all Europeans, but not all associations made by scholars were accurate.  

But to group fertility gods and then take a function of one who also was associated with death as well as fertility and then equate the same to evil because hell was conceived of as being literally under the ground just like the Celtic underworld (likely inferred from hot springs and geothermal locations, enhancing imagery of hell as the midden burning pit of Sheol outside Jerusalem) was how people have unfortunately long incorrectly equated Cromm with the lord of hell Satan (by the 16th Century, Baal was strongly associated with Satan by the Roman Catholic Christians).  

Thus, in the same way Westerners tried to convey the meaning of Buddhist nirvana to mean Buddhist heaven because it was a more familiar analogue, sources by the 1600s dedicated to these topics equated the Greek Hades, the Sumerian Baal, the Egyptian Osiris, and the Celtic Cromm and they were all used loosely and interchangeably by the Protestant Reformation to be synonymous with Beelzebub (the Lord  of the Flies) and synonymous names for the devil. Because the underworld was underground below us (and heaven above us), all gods of the underworld in all cultures became to be seen as different names of Satan, the deceiver, who appeared to different people as different counterfeit deities instead of the one true god of El/Yahweh. Hades was just the Greek name for Lucifer, as Cromm was to the Celts it seemed.  But these interpretations were vastly polluted by Christian emotional baggage.       

Transliteration of the king of hell Bael mentioned in mid-17th Century (1600s) demonological grimoires is likely a corruption of Baal.  In those sources, this king's name is alternately spelled Baal (also Baall or Boel),   suggesting the hoarse-voiced king of hell who appears as a man, toad, or cat (imbuing the power of invisibility and commanding sixty-six legions of demons) had been by then equated by Christians with Satan, Lucifer, and Beelzebub.  This suggests the equation of Baal with all things Satanic was complete by the start of the Enlightenment and Age of Reason, and poor Cromm just had the bad luck of being wrongly implicated as Baal's Celtic analogue.