Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Samhain

Samhain

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Samhain'
Start a new discussion about 'Samhain'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Samhain is a Gaelic
Gaels
The Gaels or Goidels are speakers of one of the Goidelic Celtic languages: Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx. Goidelic speech originated in Ireland and subsequently spread to western and northern Scotland and the Isle of Man....

 harvest festival
Harvest festival
A Harvest Festival is an annual celebration which occurs around the time of the main harvest of a given region. Given the differences in climate and crops around the world, harvest festivals can be found at various times throughout the world...

 held on October 31–November 1. It was linked to festivals held around the same time in other Celtic cultures, and was popularised as the "Celtic New Year" from the late 19th century, following Sir John Rhys
John Rhys
Sir John Rhys was a Welsh scholar, fellow of the British Academy, celticist and the first Professor of Celtic at Oxford University.-Early years and education:...

 and Sir James Frazer
James Frazer
Sir James George Frazer , was a Scottish social anthropologist influential in the early stages of the modern studies of mythology and comparative religion...

. The date of Samhain was associated with the Catholic
Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 All Saints' Day (and later All Souls' Day) from at least the 8th century, and both the secular Gaelic and the Catholic liturgical festival have influenced the secular customs now connected with Halloween
Halloween
Hallowe'en , also known as Halloween or All Hallows' Eve, is a yearly holiday observed around the world on October 31, the night before All Saints' Day...

.

The medieval Goidelic festival of Samhain marked the end of the harvest
Harvest
Harvest is the process of gathering mature crops from the fields. Reaping is the cutting of grain or pulse for harvest, typically using a scythe, sickle, or reaper...

, the end of the "lighter half" of the year and beginning of the "darker half". It was celebrated over the course of several days and had some elements of a Festival of the Dead
Festival of the Dead
Festival of the Dead is held by many cultures throughout the world in honor or recognition of deceased members of the community, generally occurring after the harvest in August, September, October, or November. In Japanese Buddhist custom the festival honoring the departed spirits of one's...

. Bonfire
Bonfire
A bonfire is a controlled outdoor fire used for informal disposal of burnable waste material or as part of a celebration. Celebratory bonfires are typically designed to burn quickly and may be very large...

s played a large part in the festivities. People and their livestock would often walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual, and the bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames.

Samhain is celebrated as a religious festival by some neopagans
Neopaganism
Neopaganism is an umbrella term used to identify a wide variety of modern religious movements, particularly those influenced by or claiming to be derived from the various pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe...

.

Etymology


In Modern Irish
Irish language
Irish , also known as Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language by a minority of Irish people, as well as being a second language of a larger proportion of...

 the name is ˈsˠaunʲ, In Scottish Gaelic, ˈsaũ.iɲ, in Manx Gaelic  and Old Irish  ˈsaṽɨnʲ.
and are also the Irish and Scottish Gaelic names of November
November
November is the 11th month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian Calendars and one of four months with the length of 30 days. November was the ninth month of the ancient Roman calendar...

, respectively.
The Modern Irish word Samhain is derived from the Old Irish samain, samuin, or samfuin, all referring to 1 November (latha na samna: 'samhain day'), and the festival and royal assembly held on that date in medieval Ireland (oenaig na samna: 'samhain assembly'). Its meaning is glossed as 'summer's end', and the frequent spelling with f suggests analysis by popular etymology as sam ('summer') and fuin ('sunset', 'end'). The Old Irish sam ('summer') is from Proto-Indo-European language
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

 (PIE) *semo-; cognates are Welsh
Welsh language
Welsh is a member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages spoken natively in Wales, by some along the Welsh border in England, and in Y Wladfa...

 haf, Breton
Breton language
Breton is a Celtic language spoken in Brittany , France. Breton is a Brythonic language, descended from the Celtic British language brought from Great Britain to Armorica by migrating Britons during the Early Middle Ages. Like the other Brythonic languages, Welsh and Cornish, it is classified as...

 hañv, English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 summer and Old Norse language
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

 sumar, all meaning 'summer', and the Sanskrit sáma ("season").
In 1907, Whitley Stokes suggested an etymology from Proto-Celtic *samani ('assembly'), cognate to Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 sámana, and the Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

 samana. J. Vendryes concludes that these words containing *semo- ('summer') are unrelated to samain, remarking that furthermore the Celtic 'end of summer' was in July, not November, as evidenced by Welsh gorffennaf ('July'). We would therefore be dealing with an Insular Celtic
Insular Celtic languages
Insular Celtic languages are those Celtic languages that originated in the British Isles, in contrast to the Continental Celtic languages of mainland Europe and Anatolia. All surviving Celtic languages are from the Insular Celtic group; the Continental Celtic languages are extinct...

 word for 'assembly', *samani or *samoni, and a word for 'summer', saminos (derived from *samo-: 'summer') alongside samrad, *samo-roto-. The Irish samain would be etymologically unrelated to 'summer', and derive from 'assembly'.

Coligny calendar



The name of the month is of Proto-Celtic age, cf. Gaulish
Gaulish language
The Gaulish language is an extinct Celtic language that was spoken by the Gauls, a people who inhabited the region known as Gaul from the Iron Age through the Roman period...

 SAMON[IOS] from the Coligny calendar
Coligny calendar
The Gaulish Coligny calendar was found in Coligny, Ain, France near Lyon in 1897, along with the head of a bronze statue of a youthful male figure. It is a lunisolar calendar...

, and the association with 'summer' by popular etymology may therefore in principle date to even pre-Insular Celtic times.

Confusingly, Gaulish Samonios (October/November lunation) corresponds to GIAMONIOS, the seventh month (the April/May lunation) and the beginning of the summer season. Giamonios, the beginning of the summer season, is clearly related to the word for winter, Proto-Indo-European
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

 *g'hei-men- (Latin hiems, Latvian ziema, Lithuanian žiema, Slavic zima, Greek kheimon, Hittite gimmanza), cf. Old Irish gem-adaig ('winter's night'). It appears, therefore, that in Proto-Celtic the first month of the summer season was named 'wintry', and the first month of the winter half-year 'summery', possibly by ellipsis
Ellipsis
Ellipsis is a series of marks that usually indicate an intentional omission of a word, sentence or whole section from the original text being quoted. An ellipsis can also be used to indicate an unfinished thought or, at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence...

, '[month at the end] of summer/winter', so that samfuin would be a restitution of the original meaning. This interpretation would either invalidate the 'assembly' explanation given above, or push back the time of the re-interpretation by popular etymology to very early times indeed.

The Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

ish calendar appears to have divided the year
Year
A year is the orbital period of the Earth moving around the Sun. For an observer on Earth, this corresponds to the period it takes the Sun to complete one course throughout the zodiac along the ecliptic....

 into two halves: the 'dark' half, beginning with the month Samonios (the October/November lunation
Lunation
Lunation is the mean time for one lunar phase cycle .  It is on average 29.530589 days, or 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes and 3 seconds...

), and the 'light' half, beginning with the month Giamonios (the April/May lunation). The entire year may have been considered as beginning with the 'dark' half, so that the beginning of Samonios may be considered the Celtic New Year's Day. The celebration of New Year itself may have taken place during the 'three nights of Samonios (Gaulish trinux[tion] samo[nii]), the beginning of the lunar cycle which fell nearest to the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice
Winter solstice
Winter solstice may refer to:* Winter solstice, astronomical event* Winter Solstice , former band* Winter Solstice: North , seasonal songs* Winter Solstice , 2005 American film...

. The lunations marking the middle of each half-year may also have been marked by specific festivals. The Coligny calendar marks the mid-summer moon (see Lughnasadh
Lughnasadh
Lughnasadh is a traditional Gaelic holiday celebrated on 1 August. It is in origin a harvest festival, corresponding to the Welsh Calan Awst and the English Lammas.-Name:...

), but omits the mid-winter one (see Imbolc
Imbolc
Imbolc , or St Brigid’s Day , is an Irish festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is celebrated on 1 or 2 February in the northern hemisphere and 1 August in the southern hemisphere...

). The seasons are not oriented at the solar year, viz. solstice
Solstice
A solstice is an astronomical event that happens twice each year when the Sun's apparent position in the sky, as viewed from Earth, reaches its northernmost or southernmost extremes...

 and equinox
Equinox
An equinox occurs twice a year, when the tilt of the Earth's axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the center of the Sun being in the same plane as the Earth's equator...

, so the mid-summer festival would fall considerably later than summer solstice, around 1 August (Lughnasadh). It appears that the calendar was designed to align the lunations with the agricultural cycle of vegetation, and that the exact astrological position of the Sun at that time was considered less important.

History


Samain or Samuin was the name of the feis or festival at the beginning of winter observed in medieval Ireland. It is attested in Old Irish literature beginning in the 10th century. The festival marked the end of the season for trade and warfare and was an ideal date for tribal assemblies, where the local kings gathered their people. These gatherings in turn are a popular setting for early Irish tales.

Association with All Saints


The fixing of the feast of All Saints on its current date of 1 November is attributed to Pope Gregory III
Pope Gregory III
Pope Saint Gregory III was pope from 731 to 741. A Syrian by birth, he succeeded Gregory II in March 731. His pontificate, like that of his predecessor, was disturbed by the iconoclastic controversy in the Byzantine Empire, in which he vainly invoked the intervention of Charles Martel.Elected by...

 (731–741), but from the testimony of Pseudo-Bede it is known that 1 November was already associated with All Saints in Great Britain by the beginning of the 8th century.
The Roman Catholic festival of All Saints is known to have been introduced in the early 7th century, on the occasion of the dedication of the Pantheon
Pantheon, Rome
The Pantheon ,Rarely Pantheum. This appears in Pliny's Natural History in describing this edifice: Agrippae Pantheum decoravit Diogenes Atheniensis; in columnis templi eius Caryatides probantur inter pauca operum, sicut in fastigio posita signa, sed propter altitudinem loci minus celebrata.from ,...

 as a church, but on the continent, it was celebrated on 13 May throughout the 7th and 8th centuries. It was only in 835 that Louis the Pious
Louis the Pious
Louis the Pious , also called the Fair, and the Debonaire, was the King of Aquitaine from 781. He was also King of the Franks and co-Emperor with his father, Charlemagne, from 813...

 formally installed the festival on 1 November. In this, Louis merely made official the custom of celebrating the festival on 1 November which had been spread to the continent by the Anglo-Saxon mission
Anglo-Saxon mission
Anglo-Saxon missionaries were instrumental in the spread of Christianity in the Frankish Empire during the 8th century, continuing the work of Hiberno-Scottish missionaries which had been spreading Celtic Christianity across the Frankish Empire as well as in Scotland and Anglo-Saxon England itself...

, suggesting that the association of All Saints with 1 November is originally due to an Insular tradition.
However, as Ronald Hutton
Ronald Hutton
Ronald Hutton is an English historian who specializes in the study of Early Modern Britain, British folklore, pre-Christian religion and contemporary Paganism. A reader in the subject at the University of Bristol, Hutton has published fourteen books and has appeared on British television and radio...

 points out, the willingness of James Frazer
James Frazer
Sir James George Frazer , was a Scottish social anthropologist influential in the early stages of the modern studies of mythology and comparative religion...

 to trace the association further to pre-Christian Celtic polytheism
Celtic polytheism
Celtic polytheism, commonly known as Celtic paganism, refers to the religious beliefs and practices adhered to by the Iron Age peoples of Western Europe now known as the Celts, roughly between 500 BCE and 500 CE, spanning the La Tène period and the Roman era, and in the case of the Insular Celts...

 is misguided because the testimony of Óengus of Tallaght (d. ca. 824) makes clear that the early medieval church in Ireland celebrated the feast of All Saints on 20 April. The earliest associations of 1 November with All Saints are thus found in 8th century sources of Northwestern Europe (Anglo-Saxon and German), while the earliest references to the Irish festival of Samhain are found in sources of Irish mythology
Irish mythology
The mythology of pre-Christian Ireland did not entirely survive the conversion to Christianity, but much of it was preserved, shorn of its religious meanings, in medieval Irish literature, which represents the most extensive and best preserved of all the branch and the Historical Cycle. There are...

 compiled in the 10th century and later.

Gaelic folklore (Scotland and Ireland)


The Samhain celebrations have survived in several guises as a festival dedicated to the harvest and the dead. In Ireland and Scotland, the Féile na Marbh "festival of the dead
Festival of the Dead
Festival of the Dead is held by many cultures throughout the world in honor or recognition of deceased members of the community, generally occurring after the harvest in August, September, October, or November. In Japanese Buddhist custom the festival honoring the departed spirits of one's...

" is the name of All Souls', a church festival introduced on the eve of All Saints in the 11th century.

The night of Samhain, in Irish, Oíche Samhna and Scots Gaelic, Oidhche Samhna, is one of the principal festival
Festival
A festival or gala is an event, usually and ordinarily staged by a local community, which centers on and celebrates some unique aspect of that community and the Festival....

s of the Celtic calendar, and falls on the October 31. It represents the final harvest
Harvest
Harvest is the process of gathering mature crops from the fields. Reaping is the cutting of grain or pulse for harvest, typically using a scythe, sickle, or reaper...

. In modern Ireland and Scotland, the name by which Halloween is known in the Gaelic language is still Oíche/Oidhche Samhna. It is still the custom in some areas to set a place for the dead at the Samhain feast, and to tell tales of the ancestors on that night.

Traditionally, Samhain was time to take stock of the herds and grain supplies, and decide which animals would need to be slaughtered in order for the people and livestock to survive 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.

Bonfires played a large part in the festivities celebrated down through the last several centuries, and up through the present day in some rural areas of the Celtic nations
Celtic nations
The Celtic nations are territories in North-West Europe in which that area's own Celtic languages and some cultural traits have survived.The term "nation" is used in its original sense to mean a people who share a common traditional identity and culture and are identified with a traditional...

 and the diaspora
Irish diaspora
thumb|Night Train with Reaper by London Irish artist [[Brian Whelan]] from the book Myth of Return, 2007The Irish diaspora consists of Irish emigrants and their descendants in countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Mexico, South Africa,...

. Villagers were said to have cast the bone
Bone
Bones are rigid organs that constitute part of the endoskeleton of vertebrates. They support, and protect the various organs of the body, produce red and white blood cells and store minerals. Bone tissue is a type of dense connective tissue...

s of the slaughtered cattle
Cattle
Cattle are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos primigenius...

 upon the flames. In the pre-Christian Gaelic world, cattle were the primary unit of currency and the center of agricultural and pastoral life. Samhain was the traditional time for slaughter, for preparing stores of meat and grain to last through the coming winter.

With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit its hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together. Often two bonfires would be built side by side, and the people would walk between the fires as a ritual of purification. Sometimes the cattle and other livestock would be driven between the fires, as well.

The Gaelic custom of wearing costumes and mask
Mask
A mask is an article normally worn on the face, typically for protection, disguise, performance or entertainment. Masks have been used since antiquity for both ceremonial and practical purposes...

s was an attempt to copy the evil spirits or ward them off. In Scotland the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white. Candle lanterns (Gaelic: samhnag), carved from turnips, were part of the traditional festival. Large turnips were hollowed out, carved with faces, placed in windows to ward off evil spirits.

Guisers — men in disguise — were prevalent in the 16th century in the Scottish countryside. Children going door to door "guising" (or "Galoshin" on the south bank of the lower Clyde
River Clyde
The River Clyde is a major river in Scotland. It is the ninth longest river in the United Kingdom, and the third longest in Scotland. Flowing through the major city of Glasgow, it was an important river for shipbuilding and trade in the British Empire....

) in costumes and masks, carrying turnip lanterns, offering entertainment of various sorts in return for food or coins, was traditional in the 19th century and continued well into the 20th century. At the time of mass transatlantic Irish and Scottish immigration, which popularized Halloween in North America, Halloween in Ireland and Scotland had a strong tradition of guising and pranks.

Divination
Divination
Divination is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic standardized process or ritual...

 is a common folkloric practice that has also survived in rural areas. The most common uses were to determine the identity of one's future spouse, the location of one's future home, and how many children a person might have. Seasonal foods such as apples and nuts were often employed in these rituals. Apples were peeled, the peel tossed over the shoulder, and its shape examined to see if it formed the first letter of the future spouse's name. Nuts were roasted on the hearth and their movements interpreted - if the nuts stayed together, so would the couple. Egg whites were dropped in a glass of water, and the shapes foretold the number of future children. Children would also chase crows and divine some of these things from how many birds appeared or the direction the birds flew.

Several sites in Ireland are especially related to the Samhain festival. The "cave of the cats," Oweynagat, is located near Rathcrogan, Co Roscommon
Roscommon
Roscommon is the county town of County Roscommon in Ireland. Its population at the 2006 census stood at 5,017 . The town is located near the junctions of the N60, N61 and N63 roads.-History:...

, once the seat of queen Medb
Medb
Medb – Middle Irish: Meḋḃ, Meaḋḃ; early modern Irish: Meadhbh ; reformed modern Irish Méabh, Medbh; sometimes Anglicised Maeve, Maev or Maive – is queen of Connacht in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology...

 and her consort Ailill mac Máta
Ailill mac Máta
Ailill mac Máta is the king of the Connachta and the husband of queen Medb in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. He rules from Cruachan .-Family background, marriage and offspring:...

. From the cave, on Samhain, the goddess Morrígan
Morrígan
The Morrígan or Mórrígan , also written as Morrígu or in the plural as Morrígna, and spelt Morríghan or Mór-Ríoghain in Modern Irish, is a figure from Irish mythology who appears to have once been a goddess, although she is not explicitly referred to as such in the texts.The Morrigan is a goddess...

 was said to emerge. The Hill of Ward
Hill of Ward
The Hill of Ward, also known as the Hill of Tlachtga, is a hill in County Meath, Ireland. During medieval times it was the site of great festivals, including one at which winter fires were lit at Samhain, the precursor of the modern Halloween...

 in Co. Meath was the site of a Samhain gathering; the Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 ringfort
Ringfort
Ringforts are circular fortified settlements that were mostly built during the Iron Age , although some were built as late as the Early Middle Ages . They are found in Northern Europe, especially in Ireland...

 is said to have been where the goddess or druid Tlachtga
Tlachtga
Tlachtga is the name of a powerful druidess from Irish mythology and a festival celebrated in her honor in early Ireland.Tlachtga was the daughter of Mug Ruith, a druid from Irish legend. She accompanied him on his world travels, learning his magical secrets and discovering sacred stones in Italy...

 died, giving birth to triplets that resulted from rape.

Celtic revival


A connection of the medieval feis of Samhain with pre-Christian traditions was drawn by the "notoriously unreliable" Geoffrey Keating
Geoffrey Keating
Seathrún Céitinn, known in English as Geoffrey Keating, was a 17th century Irish Roman Catholic priest, poet and historian. He was born in County Tipperary c. 1569, and died c. 1644...

 (d. 1644), who claimed that the druid
Druid
A druid was a member of the priestly class in Britain, Ireland, and Gaul, and possibly other parts of Celtic western Europe, during the Iron Age....

s of Ireland would assemble on the night of Samhain to kindle a sacred fire. Ronald Hutton
Ronald Hutton
Ronald Hutton is an English historian who specializes in the study of Early Modern Britain, British folklore, pre-Christian religion and contemporary Paganism. A reader in the subject at the University of Bristol, Hutton has published fourteen books and has appeared on British television and radio...

 notes that while medieval Irish authors do attribute a historical pagan significance to the Beltane
Beltane
Beltane or Beltaine is the anglicised spelling of Old Irish  Beltaine or Beltine , the Gaelic name for either the month of May or the festival that takes place on the first day of May.Bealtaine was historically a Gaelic festival celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.Bealtaine...

 festival, they are silent in this respect in regard to Samhain, apparently because no tradition of pagan ritual had survived into the Christian period. Hutton supposes that Keating's account may be due to a confusion of a tradition pertaining to Beltane.

Its description as "Celtic New Year" was popularised in 18th century literature. From this usage in the Romanticist Celtic Revival
Celtic Revival
Celtic Revival covers a variety of movements and trends, mostly in the 19th and 20th centuries, which drew on the traditions of Celtic literature and Celtic art, or in fact more often what art historians call Insular art...

, Samhain is still popularly regarded as the "Celtic New Year" in the contemporary Celtic cultures, both in the Six Celtic Nations
Celtic nations
The Celtic nations are territories in North-West Europe in which that area's own Celtic languages and some cultural traits have survived.The term "nation" is used in its original sense to mean a people who share a common traditional identity and culture and are identified with a traditional...

 and the diaspora
Celtic diaspora
Celtic diaspora may refer to any of the following diasporas of Celtic people:*Cornish diaspora*Irish diaspora*Scottish people#Scottish_people_abroad*Welsh diaspora#Welsh_emigration...

. For instance, the contemporary calendars produced by the Celtic League
Celtic League (political organisation)
The Celtic League is a non-governmental organisation that promotes self-determination and Celtic identity and culture in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man, known as the Celtic nations. It places particular emphasis on the indigenous Celtic languages...

 begin and end at Samhain.

Related festivals


In parts of western Brittany
Brittany
Brittany is a cultural and administrative region in the north-west of France. Previously a kingdom and then a duchy, Brittany was united to the Kingdom of France in 1532 as a province. Brittany has also been referred to as Less, Lesser or Little Britain...

, Samhain is still heralded by the baking of kornigou
Kornigou
Kornigou are cakes baked in the shape of antlers to commemorate the god of winter shedding his "cuckold" horns as he returns to his kingdom in the Otherworld. This tradition is typically upheld in Celtic households in Brittany and is enacted during Samhain...

, cakes baked in the shape of antlers to commemorate the god
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 of winter shedding his 'cuckold
Cuckold
Cuckold is a historically derogatory term for a man who has an unfaithful wife. The word, which has been in recorded use since the 13th century, derives from the cuckoo bird, some varieties of which lay their eggs in other birds' nests...

' horns as he returns to his kingdom in the Otherworld
Otherworld
Otherworld, or the Celtic Otherworld, is a concept in Celtic mythology that refers to the home of the deities or spirits, or a realm of the dead.Otherworld may also refer to:In film and television:...

. The Romans
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 identified Samhain with their own feast of the dead, the Lemuria
Feast of the Lemures
The Lemuralia or Lemuria was a feast in the religion of ancient Rome during which the Romans performed rites to exorcise the malevolent and fearful ghosts of the dead from their homes. The unwholesome spectres of the restless dead, the lemures or larvae were propitiated with offerings of beans...

, which was observed in the days leading up to May 13. With Christianization
Christianization
The historical phenomenon of Christianization is the conversion of individuals to Christianity or the conversion of entire peoples at once...

, the festival in November (not the Roman festival in May) became All Hallows' Day on November 1 followed by All Souls' Day
All Souls Day
All Souls' Day commemorates the faithful departed. In Western Christianity, this day is observed principally in the Catholic Church, although some churches of Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Churches also celebrate it. The Eastern Orthodox Church observes several All Souls' Days during the...

, on November 2. Over time, the night of October 31 came to be called All Hallow's Eve, and the remnants festival dedicated to the dead eventually morphed into the secular holiday known as Halloween
Halloween
Hallowe'en , also known as Halloween or All Hallows' Eve, is a yearly holiday observed around the world on October 31, the night before All Saints' Day...

.

The Welsh
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

 equivalent of this holiday is called Nos Galan Gaeaf (see Calan Gaeaf
Calan Gaeaf
Calan Gaeaf is the name of the first day of winter in Wales, observed on 1 November. The night before is Nos Galan Gaeaf , an Ysbrydnos when spirits are abroad...

). As with Samhain, this marks the beginning of the dark half of the year and it officially begins at sunset on October 31.

The Manx
Isle of Man
The Isle of Man , otherwise known simply as Mann , is a self-governing British Crown Dependency, located in the Irish Sea between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, within the British Isles. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann. The Lord of Mann is...

 celebrate Hop-tu-Naa
Hop-tu-Naa
Hop-tu-Naa is a Celtic festival celebrated in the Isle of Man on 31 October. Predating Halloween, it is the celebration of the original New Year's Eve...

, which is a celebration of the original New Year's Eve. The term is Manx Gaelic in origin, deriving from Shogh ta’n Oie, meaning "this is the night". Traditionally, children dress as scary beings, carry turnips rather than pumpkins and sing an Anglicised version of Jinnie the Witch and may go from house to house asking for sweets or money.

The Cornish
Cornwall
Cornwall is a unitary authority and ceremonial county of England, within the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Cornwall has a population of , and covers an area of...

 equivalent of this holiday is known as Allantide
Allantide
Allantide is a Cornish festival that was traditionally celebrated on 31 October elsewhere known as Hallowe'en. The festival itself seems to have pre-Christian origins similar to most celebrations on this date, however in Cornwall it was popularly linked to St Allen or Arlan a little known Cornish...

 or in the revived Cornish language Nos Calan Gwaf.

Neopaganism


Samhain is observed by various Neopagans
Neopaganism
Neopaganism is an umbrella term used to identify a wide variety of modern religious movements, particularly those influenced by or claiming to be derived from the various pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe...

 in various ways. As forms of Neopaganism can differ widely in both their origins and practices, these representations can vary considerably despite the shared name. Some Neopagans have elaborate rituals to honor the dead, and the deities who are associated with the dead in their particular culture or tradition. Some celebrate in a manner as close as possible to how the Ancient Celts and Living Celtic cultures have maintained the traditions, while others observe the holiday with rituals culled from numerous other unrelated sources, Celtic culture being only one of the sources used.

Celtic Reconstructionism


Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans
Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism
Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism is a polytheistic, animistic, religious and cultural movement...

 tend to celebrate Samhain on the date of first frost, or when the last of the harvest is in and the ground is dry enough to have a bonfire. Like other Reconstructionist
Polytheistic reconstructionism
Polytheistic reconstructionism is an approach to Neopaganism first emerging in the late 1960s to early 1970s, and gathering momentum in the 1990s to 2000s...

 traditions, Celtic Reconstructionists place emphasis on historical accuracy, and base their celebrations and rituals on traditional lore from the living Celtic cultures, as well as research into the older beliefs of the polytheistic
Celtic polytheism
Celtic polytheism, commonly known as Celtic paganism, refers to the religious beliefs and practices adhered to by the Iron Age peoples of Western Europe now known as the Celts, roughly between 500 BCE and 500 CE, spanning the La Tène period and the Roman era, and in the case of the Insular Celts...

 Celts. At bonfire rituals, some observe the old tradition of building two bonfires, which celebrants and livestock then walk or dance between as a ritual of purification.

According to Celtic lore, Samhain is a time when the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead become thinner, allowing spirits and other supernatural entities to pass between the worlds to socialize with humans. It is the time of the year when ancestors and other departed souls are especially honored. Though Celtic Reconstructionists make offerings to the spirits at all times of the year, Samhain in particular is a time when more elaborate offerings are made to specific ancestors. Often a meal will be prepared of favorite foods of the family's and community's beloved dead, a place set for them at the table, and traditional songs, poetry and dances performed to entertain them. A door or window may be opened to the west and the beloved dead specifically invited to attend. Many leave a candle or other light burning in a western window to guide the dead home. Divination for the coming year is often done, whether in all solemnity or as games for the children. The more mystically inclined may also see this as a time for deeply communing with the deities, especially those whom the lore mentions as being particularly connected with this festival.

Wicca



Samhain is one of the eight annual festivals, often referred to as 'Sabbats', observed as part of the Wicca
Wicca
Wicca , is a modern Pagan religious movement. Developing in England in the first half of the 20th century, Wicca was popularised in the 1950s and early 1960s by a Wiccan High Priest named Gerald Gardner, who at the time called it the "witch cult" and "witchcraft," and its adherents "the Wica."...

n Wheel of the Year
Wheel of the Year
The Wheel of the Year is a Neopagan term for the annual cycle of the Earth's seasons. It consists of eight festivals, spaced at approximately even intervals throughout the year. These festivals are referred to as Sabbats...

. It is considered by most Wiccans to be the most important of the four 'greater Sabbats'. It is generally observed on October 31 in the Northern Hemisphere, starting at sundown. Samhain is considered by some Wiccans as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, 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 departed 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
Beltane
Beltane or Beltaine is the anglicised spelling of Old Irish  Beltaine or Beltine , the Gaelic name for either the month of May or the festival that takes place on the first day of May.Bealtaine was historically a Gaelic festival celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.Bealtaine...

, which Wiccans celebrate as a festival of light and fertility.

See also



Holidays
  • Beltane
    Beltane
    Beltane or Beltaine is the anglicised spelling of Old Irish  Beltaine or Beltine , the Gaelic name for either the month of May or the festival that takes place on the first day of May.Bealtaine was historically a Gaelic festival celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.Bealtaine...

  • Imbolc
    Imbolc
    Imbolc , or St Brigid’s Day , is an Irish festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is celebrated on 1 or 2 February in the northern hemisphere and 1 August in the southern hemisphere...

  • Lammas
    Lammas
    In some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere, August 1 is Lammas Day , the festival of the wheat harvest, and is the first harvest festival of the year. On this day it was customary to bring to church a loaf made from the new crop...

  • Lughnasadh
    Lughnasadh
    Lughnasadh is a traditional Gaelic holiday celebrated on 1 August. It is in origin a harvest festival, corresponding to the Welsh Calan Awst and the English Lammas.-Name:...



Calendars
  • Celtic calendar
    Celtic calendar
    The Celtic calendar is a compilation of pre-Christian Celtic systems of timekeeping, including the Gaulish Coligny calendar, used by Celtic countries to define the beginning and length of the day, the week, the month, the seasons, quarter days, and festivals....

  • Irish calendar
    Irish calendar
    The Irish calendar is a pre-Christian Celtic system of timekeeping used during Ireland's Gaelic era and still in popular use today to define the beginning and length of the day, the week, the month, the seasons, quarter days, and festivals...

  • Welsh Holidays
    Welsh Holidays
    These are the main holidays traditionally celebrated in Wales that are not shared with the rest of the United Kingdom. Except for those that fall at the same time as UK public holidays , none of these holidays are bank holidays...



Early Irish literature
  • Serglige Con Culainn
    Serglige Con Culainn
    Serglige Con Culainn , also known as Oenét Emire is a narrative from the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. It originated in the 10th and 11th centuries, and survives in the Book of the Dun Cow, which combines two earlier versions. It tells of a curse of illness inflicted upon the hero Cú Chulainn...

  • Togail Bruidne Dá Derga
  • Cath Maige Tuired
  • Mesca Ulad
    Mesca Ulad
    Mesca Ulad is a narrative from the Ulster Cycle preserved in the 12th century manuscripts the Book of Leinster and in the Lebor na hUidre. The title Mesca Ulad occurs only in the Book of Leinster version.-Manuscript sources:*Book of Leinster : p 261b-268b . Second part missing...

  • Tochmarc Étaíne
    Tochmarc Étaíne
    Tochmarc Étaíne , meaning "The Wooing of Étaín", is an early text of the Irish Mythological Cycle, and also features characters from the Ulster Cycle and the Cycles of the Kings. It is partially preserved in the manuscript known as the Lebor na hUidre , and completely preserved in the Yellow Book...


  • Samhain in popular culture


Secondary sources


  • Campbell, John Gregorson. The Gaelic Otherworld, edited by Ronald Black. (1900, 1902, 2005). Birlinn Ltd. pp. 559–62. ISBN 1-84158-207-7
  • Danaher, Kevin. "Irish Folk Tradition and the Celtic Calendar." In The Celtic Consciousness, ed. Robert O'Driscoll. New York: Braziller, 1981. pp. 217–42. ISBN 0-8076-1136-0. On specific customs and rituals.
  • Ross, Anne "Material Culture, Myth and Folk Memory". In The Celtic Consciousness, ed. Robert O'Driscoll. New York: Braziller, 1981. 197-216. ISBN 0-8076-1136-0.
  • Vendryes, J. Lexique Étymologique de l'Irlandais Ancien. 1959.


Further reading


  • Carmichael, Alexander (1992). Carmina Gadelica
    Carmina Gadelica
    The Carmina Gadelica is a collection of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, runes, and other literary-folkloric poems and songs collected and translated by amateur folklorist Alexander Carmichael in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1855 and 1910...

    . Lindisfarne Press ISBN 0-940262-50-9
  • Danaher, Kevin
    Kevin Danaher
    Kevin Danaher was a prominent Irish folklorist with a special interest in ethnography and military history....

     (1972) The Year in Ireland. Dublin, Mercier ISBN 1-85635-093-2
  • Evans-Wentz, W. Y. (1966, 1990) The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. New York, Citadel ISBN 0-8065-1160-9
  • MacKillop, James (1998). Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-280120-1
  • Monaghan, Patricia (2003). The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit. Novato, CA: New World Library. ISBM 9781577314585.
  • McNeill, F. Marian
    F. Marian McNeill
    F. Marian McNeill was born in 1885 at Holm in Orkney where her father was the minister of the Free Presbyterian Kirk. She was a Scottish folklorist, best known for writing The Silver Bough , a four-volume set of Scottish folklore, considered essential by many in the field.She is also known as the...

    (1959) The Silver Bough, Vol. 1-4. William MacLellan, Glasgow.


External links