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ong ago, in a dark, far off place, Halloween was actually New Year's Eve. For people who practice the Wiccan religion and other pagan faiths, it still is.

The tradition leads back to the ancient Celtic people known as the Druids, whose religion was based on the cycles of nature. The holiday known to modern-day pagans as Samhain marked the end of the harvest, the onset of winter and the death of the sun -- the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one. On the first night of the New Year, the spirits of the dead came out to play.

In the modern age, pagan practices live on. This fact isn't widely recognized, mainly because most of what the pagans consider good has been reinterpreted as evil. Just as the horned god of pagan religions became a common way of representing the devil, and the "abyss" from which the Samhain spirits sprang was renamed Hell, Halloween itself has been adopted as a high holiday by Satanists.

Now Halloween is a time for kids to dress up as devils and pumpkins and gorge themselves on candybar minis. It's also a time for grownups to drop the veil of reason and consider what's lurking beyond the autumn shadows: vampires, werewolves, monsters and other weird creatures.

With all the real-life horror on the news every night, scaring ourselves with a bit of Halloween fantasy is exhilarating, cathartic. And what better place to safely plunge into the dark side and celebrate horror than the weird wide Web? Check out our hand-picked crop of the most frightening Halloween sites, from monsters, ghouls and horror flicks to spooky kidstuff. So grab a handful of the kids' candycorn and let the dance macabre begin...

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