It's the most wonderful time of the year!... Yes, Halloween that is. It's always been my favourite holiday, ever since I was a little kid pretending to be a witch. I've loved magic and spookiness from a very young age, gravitating towards horror movies that leave me hiding behind a cushion — and I have a horror movie scream to match.
Halloween is the time of the year where everyone celebrates something that I was kind of shunned for as a kid. Loving witches is weird, unless it's Halloween. Wearing all black as a kid? Weird, unless it's Halloween. Halloween has always spoken to my dark magic little heart.
I write urban fantasy, so of course I'm going to adore the holiday that celebrates witches, werewolves, vampires, and the paranormal walking our streets alongside humans! It's that kind of thing that had me reading urban fantasy while everyone else was getting in with the cool crowd. Spoiler alert, we are the coolest.
Halloween is pretty much the only day of the year that celebrates werewolves and shifters. Unless Ireland decides to add yet another bank holiday to our calendar (we love a long weekend!), but I think I'll have a hard time pushing for 'National Shifter Day'.
Thousands of years ago, Samhain was the division between the lighter and darker halves of the year in Celtic Ireland. Festivities took place on the eve of Samhain to mark the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of the new one, because they believed night preceded day — their version of New Year's Eve.
We invited our ancestors (the nice ghosts) inside our homes, wearing costumes and masks to disguise ourselves and ward off harmful spirits. Food was prepared for both the living and the dead. We believed that during this time, the division between our world and the otherworld was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. Spooky, eh?
There are even some sites in Ireland linked to Samhain. Tlachtga, the Hill of Ward, in County Meath is known as the birthplace of Halloween. Fires were lit here and people would come from all over the country to celebrate the Celtic New Year to honour their ancestors. Pilgrims would rekindle the household fires they had extinguished with fire from the sacred Samhain Fires of Tlachtga.
Another is Rathcroghan Cave in County Roscommon, known as Cruachan or Oweynagcat, the cave of the cats. It's said to be the entrance to the otherworld where the shapeshifter The Morrigan, the Great Warrior Queen of the Tuatha dé Danann, comes forth on the night of Samhain.
Now for a more recent urban legend. Nestled amongst the Dublin mountains on the top of Montpelier Hill, lies the burnt out remains of The Hellfire Club. The topic of many ghostly tales and stories circulating, The Hellfire Club is believed to be haunted, a site at which history and urban myth intertwine.
First built in the early 1700’s by William Connolly, this lodge plays host to many dark and mysterious stories. Originally, on the top of Montpelier Hill, there was a neolithic passage grave called a cairn. When William commissioned the lodge, he destroyed the cairn, using one of the standing stones as the lintel of the fireplace. When the roof of the lodge blew off during a storm, locals believed it was angry spirits seeking vengeance for his defilement of the ancient site. That was only the beginning.
Left abandoned after William’s death, the lodge was rented out by the Connolly family to the Irish Hellfire Club (Club Thine Ifrinn), a group known to involve the rich congregating and engaging in immoral acts. Local accounts paint a disturbing picture, the secrecy surrounding the club led to many believing that they were Satanists, the group was heavily believed to have dabbled in black magic. The president of the club was called ‘The King of Hell’, and even dressed up as Satan, horns and all. Members were believed to hold black masses involving sacrifices, and it is said that they set a place at each meeting for the devil, in the hopes that he would show up.
The most well-known Hellfire Club story is one in which the devil himself appears. One dark and stormy night, a stranger was invited inside to join a game of cards. All is going well, until he dropped a card on the floor. When he bent to retrieve the card, under the table he noticed the stranger had cloven feet. When confronted, the stranger burst into flames and vanished before his very eyes.
One of the famous stories involves a black cat. A visitor to a local farmhouse went to check out the club during the night, the following morning he was found dead. The local priest, along with the man’s host, suspect that he has been murdered and go to the club to investigate, only to find a banquet laid out. But the centre of attention is a black cat sitting in the chair reserved for the devil, with ears so pointed they resembled horns. The priest attempted an exorcism, spraying the cat with holy water. It morphed into a devil-like figure and bolts outside, burning the roof in its wake, leaving the host covered in deep cuts.
Another story involves a young farmer who snuck to the top of the hill to spy on one of the Hellfire Club meetings. He was found the next morning, terrified and mute. He never spoke another word. There are many other tales of black masses and human sacrifices, or stories of servants being set on fire, all of which involved the lodge catching fire and killing several members.
Eventually, the Hellfire Club burned the lodge so badly it was unusable. Since then, visitors have reported all sorts of strange paranormal activity, from necklaces snapping and hearing the screams of a woman in the dead of night.
The Hellfire Club, as foreboding as ever, still stands on the top of Montpelier Hill. Overlooking the city, the burnt-out and abandoned lodge is still the source of many a ghost story. It’s a stunning spot for a hike, but at night people have reported an eerie atmosphere and traces of satanic rituals… or so they say.
So, maybe loving Halloween is in my blood. I must do a Halloween tour of Ireland someday and visit all of our creepy places.
What's your favourite part of Halloween?