Characters and Decorations for a Celtic Folklore Halloween
Halloween has its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain. This year, why not pay homage to that ancestry by using Celtic folklore as the inspiration for your celebration? Keep reading for ideas.
Recently, I heard a man only half-jokingly complain about not being about to trick-or-treat anymore. “Why,” he asked, “can’t adults get Halloween candy too?” Well, of course adults still can get and eat Halloween candy. They just need to buy it for themselves. But I’ve always thought the best part of Halloween is dressing up. And that’s something we adults can still do too! Throw a costume party with Celtic folklore characters as the theme. Here are a few possibilities.
Ghosts: Samhain, in part, celebrates the return of the ancestors. On Samhain’s Eve (October 31st), the veil between our world and the supernatural one is at its thinnest. Inhabitants from both sides can pass through. Celtic belief is that those who have died, especially those who’ve died recently, come back to visit on Samhain’s Eve. Being a ghost—well, dressing up as one—is a great way to pay homage to the heart of this Celtic holiday.
Faeries: Ghosts aren’t the only ones who pass through the veil on All Hallows’ Eve. All residents of the Otherworld can cross over. That’s why ghouls and all manner of monsters roam the streets on All Hallows’ Eve. But, in Celtic folklore, the supernatural beings you’re most likely to bump into (other than ghosts) if you’re foolhardy enough to be out on Samhain’s Eve are faeries. Now, you can get a stereotypical faerie costume with the magic wand and the butterfly wings, if you want, but most Celtic faeries do not have wings. There are many types of faeries. Not all are beautiful. Not all look human. Some take the shape of animals. And some of them are pretty scary! Coming up on this list are some interesting Irish faeries you might want to consider when planning your costume.
Leanan Sidhe: This beautiful, seductive faerie woman has a penchant for poets. She takes them as her lovers and inspires them to write works of great beauty. But there’s a catch. W. B. Yeats called her a “malignant faerie” who enslaves poets and leads them to an early death.
Sluagh Sidhe: The members of this faerie collective are terrifying to look at and even worse to encounter. Their main occupation is seeking, stealing, and enslaving human souls. They are skeletal in appearance, except for a bit of flesh clinging to their bones and a few strands of dark hair hanging from their skulls. Sharp, pointed teeth protrude from their beak-like mouths. Their hands and feet are nothing more than bony claws. They have bat-like wings that, when closed, envelope the body like a cloak. Flying together in the night sky, they look like a flock of crows.
the Puca: A mischievous shapeshifting faeries, the Puca can look like anything he wants. He seems to prefer animal forms. Even when he appears in human form, he will have an animal feature of some kind, such as a cat’s tail or bunny ears. Read my post, My Five Favorite Faeries from Irish Folklore, to find out more about this fascinating faerie.
Banshee: Neither ghosts nor the predatory, homicidal monsters the American entertainment and online gaming industry portrays them as, Banshees are faerie women who adopt and watch over a human family. Their main ministry is to warn the family of the imminent death of one of its members. Thus, it is frightening to see or hear a banshee. (They don’t scream, by the way. They wail in grief.) Banshees appear in one of three forms. They may look like the stereotypical old hag they’re often depicted as, but they also often appear to be middle-aged noblewomen of dignified beauty. Finally, they’ve been reported to look like young women who are exquisitely beautiful but sad. Usually, their hair is long and dark. Their eyes are grey, red-ringed and swollen from crying.
Dullahan: The Dullahan is one the scariest faeries in Irish folklore. A combination of the Grim Reaper and the Headless Horseman, this faerie, caped and dressed all in black, carries his glowing head like a lantern. He rides a dark horse that snorts flames and spurs the horse on with a whip made of a human spine. It is said that wherever the Dullahan stops, someone dies.
The Green Lady: A Scottish ghost, the Green Lady is the specter of a beautiful blonde-haired woman in a long, flowing green dress. Her skin is gray. She doesn’t seem to mean any harm as she wanders about whatever castle she haunts. Many Scottish castles claim her as a resident ghost.
Daerg Dhu: Not a faerie, Daerg Dhu is a kind of Irish vampire. A beautiful woman who was horribly abused both by her father and by the man she was forced to marry, Daerg Dhu died young. But she didn’t stay dead. She returns annually in search of men. She seduces them then kills them by sucking their blood.
The Morrigan: An Irish triple goddess often depicted as a single entity, she is beautiful and young with long, dark hair. Usually, dressed in black. She often partially cloaks her face with a hood. A shapeshifter whose favorite alternate form is that of a crow, she is a goddess of war, among other things. The Morrigan is thought to be the inspiration for Morgan le Faye of Arthurian legend fame.
Dewi: A Welsh god, Dewi appears as a red dragon and has become the national symbol of Wales.
Decorations and themes
Decorating for Celtic folklore inspired Halloween is easy as you’ll already have most of the decorations.
Autumn: Samhain, among other things, marks the end of autumn and the beginning of winter, so go full Fall: turning leaves, apples, corn, grains, scarecrows
Haunted / Spooky: As mentioned above, this is the night of the return of the ancestors. But ghosts don’t just come for a quiet visit. On Samhain, they can be found at all in-between places, such as crossroads and the boundary between two properties. So go ghost-crazy with your decorations and sound effects.
Death: Not a fun theme in itself, but it can be combined with the ghost theme for a more enjoyable celebration. Samhain ushers in winter with its dark coldness, leafless trees, and apparent lack of life. But it also celebrates a belief in the cycle of life-death-rebirth. Tombstones and skeletons are appropriate here but so is ivy, a plant that stays fresh and green throughout the harshness of winter.
Divination: Samhain is a time of powerful magic and divination was a part of the festival for ancient Celts. Decorate with crystal balls, crystals, Tarot cards, tea leaves, gypsies, and mystical décor.
Otherworld: As mentioned above, the Faeries are out and about on Samhain’s Eve, so why not have an Otherworldly celebration? Remember Irish (and all Celtic faeries) come in many shapes and kinds, including in animal form. For a Faerie All Hallows’ Eve party, you could add some Otherworldly-type music. Here are three songs from Celtic Woman to consider adding to the playlist:
a) “Tír na nOg.” Tír na nÓg is the Irish name for the land of the faeries and, in this song, the faerie narrator encourages her lover to come with her beyond the mists (to the Otherworld). He’d be best not to go! Click here to read more about Tír na nÓg.
b) “Granuaile’s Dance” an instrumental that’ll help you see faeries dancing.
c) “Níl Se n’Lá.” Listen to it and you’ll understand.
All three are on Spotify.
Animals: Celtic folklore is full of faeries, gods, and goddesses that appear in animal form: crows, horses with and without wings, bats, and of course a red dragon. The typical Halloween black cat—back arch, hackles raised, tail straight up, fits this theme too, but it has nothing to do with witches. Each Samhain’s Eve, the Cat Sidhe / Cat Sith, a faerie in the form of a black cat, makes the rounds of the houses looking for a saucer of cream. It blesses those families that have remembered to leave this offering for the faerie. But it curses those families who’ve forgotten or neglected to do so. They will find themselves suffering lifelong misfortune. This faerie appears in both Irish and Scottish folklore (thus the two different spellings of its name).
Of course, every good Halloween party needs holiday-themed food. For some ideas, click here.
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Slán go fóill
All artwork for this post (except for the Ukrainian flag and the GIF) by Christine Dorman via Bing Image Creator.