SAMHAIN & THE HALLOWEEN CELTIC
In the Brythonic,
branch of the Celtic languages, Samhain is known as the 'calends of winter'. The Brythonic lands of Wales, Cornwall and Brittany held festivals on 31 October similar to the Gaelic one. In Wales it is Calan Gaeaf, in Cornwall it is Allantide or Kalan Gwav and in Brittany it is Kalan Goañv.
Samain or Samuin was the name of the feis or festival marking the beginning of winter in Gaelic Ireland. It is attested in some of the earliest Old Irish literature, from the 10th century onward. It was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (1 November).
Irish mythology was originally a spoken tradition, but much of it was eventually written down in the Middle Ages by Christian monks, who Christianized it to some extent. Nevertheless, these tales may shed some light on what Samhain meant and how it was marked in ancient Ireland.
Samhain was one of the four main festivals of the Gaelic calendar, marking the end of the harvest and beginning of winter. Traditionally, Samhain was a time to take stock of the herds and food supplies. Cattle were brought down to the winter pastures after six months in the higher summer pastures. It was also the time to choose which animals would need to be slaughtered for the winter. This custom is still observed by many who farm and raise livestock because it is when meat will keep since the freeze has come and also since summer grass is gone and free foraging is no longer possible. It is thought that some of the rituals associated with the slaughter have been transferred to other winter holidays.
s at Beltane, bonfires were lit on hilltops at Samhain and there were rituals involving them. However, by the modern era, they only seem to have been common in parts of the Scottish Highlands, on the Isle of Man, in north and mid Wales, and in parts of Ulster. F. Marian McNeill says that a force-fire (or need-fire) was the traditional way of lighting them, but notes that this method gradually died out. Likewise, only certain kinds of wood were traditionally used, but later records show that many kinds of flammable material were burnt. It is suggested that the fires were a kind of imitative or sympathetic magic they mimicked the Sun, helping the "powers of growth" and holding back the decay and darkness of winter.
hey may also have served to symbolically "burn up and destroy all harmful influences". Accounts from the 18th and 19th centuries suggest that the fires (as well as their smoke and ashes) were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers. In Moray, boys asked for bonfire fuel from each house in the village. When the fire was lit, "one after another of the youths laid himself down on the ground as near to the fire as possible so as not to be burned, and in such a position as to let the smoke roll over him. The others ran through the smoke and jumped over him". When the bonfire burnt down, they scattered the ashes, vying with each other who should scatter them most. Sometimes, two bonfires would be built side by side, and the people sometimes with their livestock would walk between them as a cleansing ritual. The bones of slaughtered cattle were said to have been cast upon bonfires. In the pre-Christian Gaelic world, cattle were the main form of wealth and were the center of agricultural and pastoral life.
People also took flames from the bonfire back to their homes. In parts of Scotland, torches of burning fir or turf were carried sunwise around homes and fields to protect them In some places, people doused their hearth fires on Samhain night. Each family then solemnly re-lit its hearth from the communal bonfire, thus bonding the families of the village together. In the 17th century, Geoffrey Keating wrote that the druids of ancient Ireland would gather on Tlachta on Samhain night to kindle a sacred fire. From this, every bonfire in the land was lit, and from thence every home in the land relit their hearth, which had been doused that night. However, his source is unknown, and Ronald Hutton supposes that Keating had mistaken a Beltane custom for a Samhain one. Dousing the old fire and bringing in the new may have been a way of banishing evil, which was done at New Year festivals in many countries.
During the late 19th and early 20th century Celtic Revival, there was an upswell of interest in Samhain and the other Celtic festivals. Sir John Rhys put forth that it had been the "Celtic New Year". He inferred it from contemporary folklore in Ireland and Wales, which he felt was "full of Hallowe'en customs associated with new beginnings". He visited Mann and found that the Manx sometimes called 31 October "New Year's Night" or Hog-unnaa.
Samhain and Samhain-based festivals are held by some Neopagans. As there are many kinds of Neopaganism, their Samhain celebrations can be very different despite the shared name. Some try to emulate the historic festival as much as possible. Other Neopagans base their celebrations on sundry unrelated sources, Gaelic culture being only one of the sources
The Roman Catholic holy day of All Saints (or All Hallows) was introduced in the year 609, but was originally celebrated on 13 May. In 835, Louis the Pious switched it to 1 November in the Carolingian Empire, at the behest of Pope Gregory IV. However, from the testimony of Pseudo-Bede, it is known that churches in what are now England and Germany were already celebrating All Saints on 1 November at the beginning of the 8th century. Thus, Louis merely made official the custom of celebrating it on 1 November.
Wiccans celebrate a variation of Samhain as one of the yearly Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year. It is deemed by most Wiccans to be the most important of the four "greater Sabbats". Samhain is seen by some Wiccans as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have died, and it often involves paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders of the faith, friends, pets and other loved ones who have died. In some rituals the spirits of the dead are invited to attend the festivities. It is seen as a festival of darkness, which is balanced at the opposite point of the wheel by the spring festival of Beltane, which Wiccans celebrate as a festival of light and fertility.
Wiccans believe that at Samhain the veil between this world and the afterlife is at its thinnest point of the whole year, making it easier to communicate with those who have left this world.
Harvest was celebrated by the Romans with a festival dedicated to Pomona, the goddess of the fruits of the tree, especially apples. The origin of Halloween's special menus, which usually involve apples (as do many party games), probably dates from this period.
Pomona continued to be celebrated long after the arrival of Christianity in Roman Europe. So, too, did Samhainin Ireland and it was inevitable that an alternative would be found to push pagan culture and lore into a more 'acceptable' Christian event.