So it’s that time of the year again, and the Countdown to Samhain begins, right here. To celebrate my favourite time of the year, I am planning a number of posts with a Halloween theme. Halloween is a relatively new celebration which comes from the Christian celebration of All Hallows. But the origins of Halloween can be traced back thousands of years to the ancient, pre-Christian Gaelic culture and perhaps even further. Although sometimes referred to as a festival of the dead; it is actually the Celtic people’s version of a New Year’s celebration. It was the end of the light side of the year and the beginning of the dark or unknown. The final crop would be harvested in preparation for the long winter ahead and the livestock would be taken in from pasture. These people who were once to be found all over Europe, divided the year by four major holidays. The calendar of our ancestors which differed from the present day calendar was lunar and their day actually started on the previous night. Our ancestors believed that the passage of a day began with darkness which progressed into the light. This explains why Winter the season of long, dark nights marked the beginning of the year and progressed into the lighter days of spring, summer and autumn. The start of their year is said to begin on a day corresponding to November 1st on our present calendar, which is why Samhain starts on the night of 31st October. From a mundane perspective Samhain marked the start of winter. This was a time for the final harvest, were crops would be stored in order to tide the people through the harsh months ahead. Cattle and sheep had to be moved to closer pastures and all livestock had to be secured for the winter months. A great annual feast was held to celebrate this milestone.
On a spiritual level Samhain was the celebration of the end/death of the old and the start/birth of the new. It was believed that during this time the veil between this world and the other side was at its thinnest, resulting in the ability of the dead to return to our world and in some cases the living to visit the other side. Among the specific terrors of Samhain were the Fomorians an ancient race whom inhabited Ireland long before the arrival of man. It is said that they believe they have a right to take back to the Otherworld their share of fresh milk, grains and children. To ward off any evil let loose at Samhain, huge bonfires were lit and people wore ugly masks and disguises to trick the spirits and stop the dead identifying individuals who they may have disliked during their own lifetime. For some, the tradition of leaving food in the home usually a plate of colcannon was more about offering hospitality to their own ancestors. All fires were extinguished and relit by the druids with a sacred flame taken from Tlachtga (spiritual center of Ireland) which would be taken to light the main fire on Tara (home of the High Kings of Ireland). It was from the fire at Tara that all other fires across the country would be lit. The flame was part of a purification ritual; later on it seemed that the Celtic version of Christianity had some influence on tradition. My family celebrate this time each year and include a healthy mix of both old and some new traditions. Hope that you enjoy the selection of images from previous years.
From things that go bump in the night, to Gaelic traditions and practises. As a child, Samhain was always a special time for me, even more so than Christmas, which we also celebrated. There was just something different in the air that even as a child I was able to recognise. Despite the nasty cold and wet weather we are blessed with in Ireland, which can be depressing at the best of times, there is a very sudden sense of magic in the air at this time of year. For many people Halloween is another commercialized holiday, and is about dressing up for the night, trick or treating, drinking too much booze and watching horror movies on the television. For others it represents a more sinister time, full of evil and no good. My aim over the next few posts is to show the true meaning and history of Samhain which has been celebrated by my ancestors for thousands of years, in the mix I hope to include some horror related tales from Irish folklore just for fun :-). Perhaps you might like to share your Halloween customs, beliefs and stories. If you don’t have these, maybe an old ghost story or some horror themed mythology from your part of the world, I would love to hear them all. :-E