13 Celtic Myth-Inspired Halloween Costumes

a trio of halloween masks from celtic mythology: dragon, stag, wolf

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Let’s be clear. I’m hand-picking these gods and monsters from Irish and Celtic mythology based on one key criteria:

Are they scary looking?

For example, the sun-god and god-of-many-talents, Lugh? Yeah, he’s super important to Irish mythology. Integral, one could argue, influencing future stories and heroes, like Cú Chullain.

But appearance-wise, he’s…a young, handsome dude. True, he’s a literally radiant dude, which I guess could look cool, as he’s sometimes described as having sun beans glowing behind him…

Nope. Not doing it.

Because as I explained in a previous post about the Celtic origins of Halloween costumes, the original intent of Halloween costumes was for them to be scary.

On Samhain (Halloween’s ancient Celtic predecessor), spirits and demons and fairies (and spirit-demon-fairies, like the banshee) were wont to cross over from the Otherworld and do mischief—or worse. A scary costume helped you blend in so the real scary things would leave you alone.

Bearing all that in mind, here’s my list. 

13 Halloween Costumes Inspired by Celtic* Mythology and Folklore

*Note: I’m using the broadest interpretation of “Celtic” here, so you can look forward to meeting supernatural beings from the religions/mythologies of the ancient Gaulish Celts as well as beings from the later Goidelic/Gaelic (i.e., Irish, Scottish, Manx) and Brythonic/Brittonic (i.e., Welsh, Cornish, Breton) Celtic traditions.

1) Cernunnos

He’s the horned god of the ancient Gauls. Theorized to have been a god of nature, animals, and fertility (amongst other things), little is known about Cernunnos (a.k.a. Carnonos) beyond the fact that he was regularly depicted sitting cross-legged with a torc around his neck and two huge antlers growing out of the sides of his head. The Marvel Comics version of Cernunnos reimagines the Celtic god as an anthropomorphized deer/stag, so that’s another route you could take with the costume. (FYI: author Ed Ahern wrote a short story about Cernunnos, “Cave Canem,” for the urban Celtic fantasy anthology Neon Druid.)

2) Balor of the Evil Eye

He’s the “big bad” of Irish mythology. Leader of the monstrous, marauding Fomorians. Slayer of Nuada of the Silver Hand, king of the “good” Irish gods (the Tuatha Dé Danann). Grandfather of the aforementioned sun-god and god-of-many-talents Lugh. Inspiration for Tolkien’s Sauron. But beyond being all of that, Balor of the Evil Eye is one scary-looking dude. Like the cyclops Polyphemus from Greek mythology, Balor is sometimes described as a giant who has one eye in the middle of his forehead. In other accounts, a team of servants must work together to open Balor’s eyelid, as his is eye is so huge.

3) The Ankou

As the personification of death in Breton folklore, the Ankou is essentially Brittany’s Grim Reaper. Does he dress in a black robe? Check. Does he wield a big scythe? Check. Does he sometimes have his face concealed in shadow and then other times he has a spooky skeleton face? We’re three for three. Breton folklore says each parish in Brittany has its own Ankou—so this is a very localized escorter of souls. However, it’s also clear that the Ankou’s reach extends beyond northwestern France, as Cornwall and Wales both boast their own Ankou traditions. Like the Irish banshee (bean sídhe), the Ankou has a sonic component to its lore: both the screeching of owls and the squealing of passing trains are attributed to the Ankou riding atop his cart or in his death coach. This “death coach” element, of course, makes the Ankou reminiscent of the Dullahan, the Irish headless horseman.

4) The Oilliphéist

The oilliphéist is a category of Irish monster typified by its serpentine appearance and gargantuan size. Its name is comprised of the root words oille, meaning vast, and péist, meaning “fabulous beast,” “monster,” “reptile,” or “worm.” Of course, in many texts, péist is translated simply and directly as “dragon”. Because while it’s not always depicted like your traditional, Western dragon, the oilliphéist is clearly a dragon-esque creature. In fact, some scholars believe that the Irish saga the Táin Bó Fráech (Cattle Raid of Fráech), which features a lake-dwelling oilliphéist, inspired the English Beowulf saga and its draca (dragon), which is also referred to as a wyrm (serpent).

5)  The Banshee

Vocal cords not included. The banshee, or bean sídhe, meaning “woman of the hills” or “woman of the fairies,” is an infamous Irish fairy-demon-spirit (I explain why she’s all three in this post) known for her mournful, hair-raising shriek, which she emits near a household when a family member’s death is imminent. Lady Anne Fanshawe (1625 – 1676) provided one of the earliest written descriptions of the banshee in her Memoirs, making note of the banshee’s white clothing, red hair, and “ghastly” complexion. What’s more, the banshee’s body wasn’t fully solid in Lady Fanshawe’s account, but appeared instead as a “thick cloud.” Still, in other interpretations, the banshee is a dark figure—less cloud-like, more shadowy.

6) Wolfwalker

From the daughters of Airitech to the man-wolves of Ossory, Irish myths and legends are filled with stories of wolfwalkers, a.k.a. Irish werewolves, a.k.a. Irish lycanthropes, a.k.a. faoladh. These beastly beings from the Emerald Isle are less feral than most pop culture incarnations of werewolves and wolf-men. Indeed, as author Patrick Winters explores in his short story “The Faoladh” (featured in Neon Druid), Irish werewolves were known to act as heroic guardian figures which, interestingly (and spoiler alert here for Werewolf by Night), was also the direction in which Marvel decided to take its titular transforming fur-ball in the special presentation Werewolf by Nightbased on the comic of the same name. And of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the 2020 animated feature Wolfwalkers, the final installment—and, arguably, crowning achievement—of Kilkenny-based director Tomm Moore’s Irish Folklore Trilogy.

7) The Dullahan

To my fellow Americans (who happen to be reading this): We do not, it turns out, have a monopoly on headless horsemen who haunt hollows on Halloween. Irish legend and folklore tell of the Dullahan, an omen of death—much in the vein of the aforementioned banshee and Ankou—who takes the form of a headless horseman riding upon a headless horse. The Dullahan is also known to command the Death Coach, or Coach a bower, which he uses to transport the souls of the dead. In one interpretation of the legendary figure, the Dullahan blinds anyone who sees him with a whip made from a human spinal column. Yikes. Eat your heart out, Washington Irving.

8) The Buggane 

Pop quiz, hot shot: What legendary Celtic creature has a dark, mangy mane around its neck, a bunch of gross tusks growing out of its face, and an overall ogreish appearance? If you guessed the buggane (also: boagane) from Manx folklore, you are correct! A supernaturally powerful creature native to the Isle of Man, the buggane has been known to conjure storms and rip the roofs off of churches—most notably St. Trinian’s church. He is essentially one part Scandinavian-esque troll, one part Tasmanian Devil. For a modern take on the buggane, check out author Matthew Stevens’ short story “Under Construction” (from Neon Druid) which sees a buggane loose in a Boston construction site.

9) The Morrígan

A goddess of death; a goddess of battle; a goddess who often takes the shape of a crow or raven; a triune goddess, which means she’s comprised of three personalities or “sub-goddesses” — usually Badb, Macha, and Nemain, but sometimes that lineup changes. The Morrígan is all of these things, and so much more. To the ancient Irish pagans, she was the foil to the mother goddess Danu (from whom the Tuatha Dé Danann derived their name). Whereas the nurturing Danu represented life and growth, the scheming, murderous Morrígan represented death and blight. It’s said that every Samhain the Morrígan would bump uglies with the Dagda, the father of the gods, thus renewing the uneasy alliance that is the seasonal balance between light and darkness, fertility and infertility.

10) Stingy Jack

Did Stingy Jack, that renowned rapscallion from Irish legend and folklore, actually have a giant, scary, jack-o’-lantern head? Who’s to say. But what the stories do tell us is that the origins of the jack-o’-lantern rest on Stingy Jack’s shoulders. (See what I did there?) Jack was a grumpy blacksmith who made a habit of duping and displeasing the devil—to the extent that when Jack died, the devil refused him entrance to hell. And because he was a terrible person, he couldn’t get into heaven. As a result, Jack was cursed to wander Ireland’s boglands, lantern in hand.

11) Púca / Kelpie / Mari Lwyd

There are a lot of horse-monsters to be found across the realms of Celtic mythology. In Ireland, the púca, which also appears in Cornish and Breton storytelling traditions (amongst others), is a mischievous little shapeshifter who often takes the form of a horse.

The Scottish kelpie is similar in nature, only it prefers the water. And then there’s the kelpie’s murderous cousin, the each-uisge (water-horse), which looks pretty much the same but is infamous for dragging its victims to the bottoms of lakes and devouring them. The each-uisge also appears in Irish folklore as the each-uisce, or Augh-iska, where it fulfills the same storytelling function as the Irish lake dragon.

Finally, we have the Welsh Mari Lwyd, which, technically, is already a costume. See, the Mari Lwyd is the Welsh folk custom of going a-wassailing with a big ole horse skull on a stick. (FYI: author Jennifer Lee Rossman wrote a short story for Neon Druid in which the titular Mari Lwyd comes to life.)

12) The Dagda

If it seems like we’re veering into goofy territory here, consider that you can—and absolutely should—augment these costumes in any and all ways that you see fit. Obviously, the Dagda isn’t wearing cheetah-print in the Irish myths. Indeed, his wardrobe is up for debate. But what’s clear from the texts is that the Dagda, the father of the Irish gods (the Tuatha Dé Danann), represents the old ways, the old customs. While Lugh, the new god on the block, famously wields slings and spears—advanced, projectile technology—on the battlefield, the Dagda wields a giant club called the Lorg Mór. In every representation of the Dagda I’ve seen, he’s bearded, often heavily so. So there you have it. The two-piece Dagda ensemble. Get swinging.

13) Abhartach

Did you really think I was going to skip Abhartach? No way I was going to skip Abhartach; the most infamous vampire of Irish legend; the possible inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula; the villain of one of the top-rated Irish mythology movies (2020’s Boys from County Hell). But here’s the thing: While there are some really popular gory vampire masks out there, I wanted to do something different. So I found one option that is reminiscent of your classic, Bela Lugosi-era Dracula, as well as a more Nosferatu-looking one. You can add a torc and maybe some other Celtic-inspired accessories to either and bada-bing bada-boom, you’ll be Abhartach arisen from the grave…again.

Want to meet more monsters from Irish mythology? Check out…

Irish Monsters in Your Pocket (Celtic Pocket Guides 3)

In the Ireland of myth and legend, “spooky season” is every season. Spirits roam the countryside, hovering above the bogs. Werewolves lope through forests under full moons. Dragons lurk beneath the waves. Granted, there’s no denying that Samhain (Halloween’s Celtic predecessor) tends to bring out some of the island’s biggest, baddest monsters. Prepare yourself for (educational) encounters with Irish cryptids, demons, ghouls, goblins, and other supernatural beings. Learn more…

Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Fantasy

“A thrilling romp through pubs, mythology, and alleyways. NEON DRUID is such a fun, pulpy anthology of stories that embody Celtic fantasy and myth,” (Pyles of Books). Cross over into a world where the mischievous gods, goddesses, monsters, and heroes of Celtic mythology live among us, intermingling with unsuspecting mortals and stirring up mayhem in cities and towns on both sides of the Atlantic, from Limerick and Edinburgh to Montreal and Boston. Learn more…

Want to learn the full story of Samhain? Check out…

Samhain in Your Pocket (Celtic Pocket Guides 2)

Perhaps the most important holiday on the ancient Celtic calendar, Samhain marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new pastoral year. It is a liminal time—a time when the forces of light and darkness, warmth and cold, growth and blight, are in conflict. A time when the barrier between the land of the living and the land of the dead is at its thinnest. A time when all manner of spirits and demons are wont to cross over from the Celtic Otherworld. Learn more…

More the listenin’ type?

I recommend the audiobook Celtic Mythology: Tales of Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes by Philip Freeman (narrated by Gerard Doyle). Use my link to get 3 free months of Audible Premium Plus and you can listen to the full 7.5-hour audiobook for free.

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