by Karleen E. Page
There is a debate among scholars as to whether human sacrifices were performed during Druid/Celtic celebrations of Halloween. Of course modern druids will say that they were not. They say that the only evidence that this custom was practiced is a reference in an ancient Roman document by Julius Caesar (see below). We do know that human sacrifice was practiced in this part of the world in ancient times because of several "bog men", mummies preserved in the peat bogs that show signs of ritual killing. Of course, there would be no remains of any humans that were sacrificed in the fire. At any rate, the word "bonfire" comes from a compound of the Middle English words bon (bone) and fir (fire) ... meaning a fire kindled upon bones.
Merle Severy, "The Celts," National Geographic (May 1977), pages 625-626, describes "the eve of Samhain... the start of the Celtic new year:
"According to the Dinshenchas, a medieval collection of "the lore of prominent places," firstborn children were sacrificed before a great idol to ensure fertility of cattle and crops. Samhain eve was a night of dread and danger. At this juncture of the old year and the new, our world and the otherworld opened up to each other. The dead returned, ghosts and demons were abroad, and the future could be seen.. . . Behind such Halloween games as bobbing for apples lie Celtic divination arts to discern who would marry, thrive, or die in the coming year. Behind the masks and mischief, the jack-o'lanterns and food offerings, lurk the fear of malevolent spirits and the rites to propitiate them."
Page 601 gives additional insight:
"Tacitus tells us of the bloodstained Druid altars of Anglesey in Wales."
Julius Caesar on Celtic Sacrifices
The whole nation of the Gauls is greatly devoted to ritual observances, and for that reason those who are smitten with the more grievous maladies and who are engaged in the perils of battle either sacrifice human victims or vow so to do, employing the druids as ministers for such sacrifices. They believe, in effect, that, unless for a man's life a man's life be paid, the majesty of the immortal gods may not be appeased; and in public, as in private life they observe an ordinance of sacrifices of the same kind. Others use figures of immense size whose limbs, woven out of twigs, they fill with living men and set on fire, and the men perish in a sheet of flame. They believe that the execution of those who have been caught in the act of theft or robbery or some crime is more pleasing to the immortal gods; but when the supply of such fails they resort to the execution even of the innocent.
The classical author Diodorus Siculus also reported scenes of human sacrifice [by the Druids].
'When they attempt divination upon important matters they practice a strange and incredible custom, for they kill a man by a knife-stab in the region above his midriff.' After the sacrificial victim fell dead...'they foretell the future by the convulsions of his limbs and the pouring of his blood." [Ancient Wisdom and Secret Sects (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books), pages 17-19.]
"The 1984 discovery of a sacrificial victim in Cheshire, England, helps validate the reality of ritualistic human sacrifice. The well-preserved young man had apparently belonged to an elite social class in the second century BC. After two sharp blows to the head, he had been strangled. Then, like the countless sacrifices to Aztec and Mayan gods, his body had been drained of the human blood needed to please and appease their god(s)."
Ancient Wisdom and Secret Sects (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books), page 10.]
The LORD your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, "How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same." You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it. Deuteronomy 12:29-32