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Samhain Meaning and History Leave a comment

Samhain

Samhain- Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). It is the time between Samhain (pronounced “Sow-in” in Ireland, Sow-een in Wales, “Sav-en” in Scotland or even “Sam-haine” in non-Gaelic speaking countries) and Brigid’s Day “the period of little sun.” Thus, Samhain is often named the “Last Harvest” or “Summer’s End”. The Earth nods a sad farewell to the God.

Symbolism of Samhain – Third Harvest, the Dark Mysteries, Rebirth through Death.

Symbols of Samhain – Gourds, Apples, Black Cats, Jack-O-Lanterns, Besoms.

Herbs of Samhain – Mugwort, Allspice, Broom, Catnip, Deadly Nightshade, Mandrake, Oak leaves, Sage and Straw.

Foods of Samhain – Turnips, Apples, Gourds, Nuts, Mulled Wines, Beef, Pork, Poultry.

Incense of Samhain – Heliotrope, Mint, Nutmeg.

Colors of Samhain – Black, Orange, White, Silver, Gold.

Stones of Samhain – All Black Stones, preferably jet or obsidian.

We know that He will once again be reborn of the Goddess and the cycle will continue. This is the time of reflection, the time to honor the Ancients who have gone on before us and the time of ‘Seeing” (divination). As we contemplate the Wheel of the Year, we come to recognize our own part in the eternal cycle of Life. While almost all Celtic based traditions recognize this Holiday as the end of the “old” year, some groups do not celebrate the coming of the New Year until Yule. Some consider the time between Samhain and Yule as a time which does not even exist on the Earthly plane. The “time which is no time” was considered in the old days to be both very Magickal and very dangerous. Even today, we celebrate this holiday with a mixture of joyous celebration and ‘spine tingling” reverence.

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their New Year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.

On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future.

For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter. To commemorate the event, Druid priests built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.

When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter. By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st ‘All Saints’ Day’, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils.

Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints’, All Saints’, and All Souls’, were called Hallowmas. Halloween is the eve of Hallowmas, better know to modern Christians as All Saints’ Day. Hallowmas celebrates God’s harvesting into heaven the faithful of every age, culture and walk of life. It is a day of glorious rejoicing. Saints are people who, by their joyful service, have extended the love of God to others. The martyrologies, the list of the saints officially honored by the church, contains over 10,000 names – and those are only the saints we know of. All Saints’ Day also remembers those holy people whom no one but God any longer knows. The reading for the day from Revelation describes a great multitude that no one can count.

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