(aka Sauin; Souney; Shamna; Second night of Shamna; All Soul's; Feast of Mongfind; Summer's
End; Feast of the Dead; Wiccan New Year; A celebration of the Gods and
Goddesses of the Otherworld; Oidhche Shamhna; La Samhna; Nos Galen-gaeof
(Night of the Winter Calends); Nos Kentan r' Bloaz ("The First Night of the Year"); "the Day
Between Years"; All Hallows Eve; Hallowmass Eve; Halloween; Hallowstide;
Hollantide; All Hallows; All Holys; All Saints; Laa Houney (Hollantide
Day); November Eve; Oidhche na h-aimloise (Night of mischief); Fleadh nan;
Mairbh (Feast of the Dead); La Toussaint; El Dia de los Muertos)). The evening of the 31st, the
day of the 1st)
Beginning of the New Year, and the Beginning of Geimhredh [Gevruh],
or the first quarter of the year; the Beginning of Giamon "Winter".
Samhain is Irish Gaelic for "summer's end." The standard Irish pronunciation
is "sow-in" with the "ow" like in "cow", because "mh" in the middle
of an Irish word is a "w" sound. Other pronunciations that
follow with the many Gaelic dialects include "sow-een" "shahvin" "sowin"
(with "ow" like in "glow"). The Scots Gaelic spelling is "Samhuin" or "Samhuinn."
There is no linguistic foundation for saying this word "samhane" (SAM-HAYNE)
the way it might look if it were English. When in doubt, you might
just say "Hallows" or even "Hallowe'en" (The evening before Hallows)
(There is some thought among some scholars that this wasn't the Celtic New Year)
- This is the beginning of winter, and the end of the old year. It
is the end of the old cycle of and the beginning of the next. The
crops are all in and the livestock are being moved inside, or to their
winter pasturage. People are being moved in to their winter quarters,
and social bonds of kinship are retied. Supplies are being readied
for the long dark months to come. It is a time for remembering, and
for looking ahead.
- Beginning of the dark part of winter, and acknowledgement of the necessity
for the "darker aspects" of the world.
- This is a time of great energy, when momentous events can take place.
- For some Celtic peoples, this is the big annual ritual, the time of renewing
land tenures, and setting laws. (Of course, there were a number of Celtic
peoples for whom the Big Annual Holiday wasn't Samain, but rather Cet-Samain
(Beltaine), for instance, it was relatively unimportant to the British
- The day before Samhain is the last day of the old year and the day after
Samhain is the first day of the new year. Being between the years,
it is a period of "no time", or "outside time", and it is considered a
very magical time, when the dead walk among the living and the veils between
past, present and future may be lifted in prophecy and divination.
- Many important events that occur on this day in legend. It was on a Samhain
that the Nemedians captured the terrible Tower of Glass built by the evil
Formorians; that The Dagda mated with the Morrigan; that the Tuatha De Danann were defeated by the
Formorians once and for all; that Pwyll won his wife Rhiannon from Gwawl; and that many
other events of a dramatic or prophetic nature in Celtic myth happened.
Many of these events had to do with the temporary victory of the forces
of darkness over those of light, signaling the beginning of the cold and
dark half of the year.
- Drinking and feasting and hiring of farm servants.
- Remembrance for the past year. Memorial for the Dead.
- The day of the connection of the spiritual world with the real world, sacred
to the Spirits of the Dead.
- It is believed by many that it is on this day that the Otherworld of the
Gods/The Summerland is made visible to humankind. Some people believe
that the gods may play tricks on their mortal worshipers at this time (while
others believe that they do so the whole year long...). As the transition
between the years occurs, the Otherworld comes close to the real world,
the shields between them are lowered, and the spirits of the dead, all
those ancestors as yet disincarnate may visit, mingle with the living,
as the souls of those who had died during the year traveled to the Otherworld,
and souls, some trapped in the bodies of animals are released to their
new incarnations. On this date, the dead often return to those places that
they knew in life. Some people view this as the gates of the Abyss,
or of Hell, being unlocked allowing the ghosts, fairies, and demons spirits
from below to roam free. It can be a time that is fraught with danger,
charged with fear, and full of supernatural episodes. It is dangerous
to be out in the evening because the dead come out of their graves after
dark to dance with the fairies on the hills.
- Blodeuedd leads her husband Llew Llaw Gyffes to his death at the hands of
his evil twin, the Dark Lord of Winter. Llew's spirit leaves in the form of an
- Conversely, there are those who feel that the properly prepared can journey
in relative safety to the 'other side', and return having contacted the
spirits of the wise departed.
- To be alone and unprepared at this dangerous time is to risk exposing,
and perhaps losing, your soul to the Otherworld.
- Some people believe that sacrifices and propitiations of animals, fruits,
and vegetables, are required to prevail over the perils of the season,
and to placate the gods, and the spirits of the night.
- Coincidentally, there are numerous beliefs about the dressing up like the
spirits of the night and/or extorting such offerings from the locals.
- Holy cakes/triangular bannocks are eaten as soul-mass cakes. In old England
cakes were made for the wandering souls, and people went "a' soulin'" for
these "soul cakes."
- Gangs of "boys", led by horn-blowers, visit all the homes in the region,
and in a good humored fashion, extorted money or white bread from the households
visited. The horns were blown to warn the householders to get inside.
- Some traditions claim that it's best to disguise oneself, and throw parties
where everyone is in costume and the spirits can mingle with the living
and the dead. [There are in some cultures times when the rigidly
structured order is relaxed a bit and chaos is allowed to reign, with people
doing things they would not normally do, like playing pranks, or in pretending
to be other people. People began dressing like the horrors and fears of
the night, mumming for food and drink. The antics of these Mummers
challenging, mocking, teasing, and appeasing the night-dark elements of
soul, and on this night of reversible possibilities, inverted roles, and
transcendency, and reaffirming death and its place as a part of life.
It is important to note that the Festivals of Death serve an important
function with regards to keeping people "in balance" with the "supernatural",
their own feelings of mortality, and allow them to experience a certain
catharsis. The "Memento Mori", or rememberance of Death, the reminder
that we are all going to die, and to face our fears of the unknown is in
many ways, the most important aspect of this holiday. Another is
that you can look at this depressing crap and get over it BEFORE being
sealed up in your house for the winter.]
- Lanterns made from gourds, pumpkins or turnips, and lit by candles ("jack-o-lanterns")
have a number of reputed meanings, including that they are intended to
light the way for passing spirits, to confuse them into thinking that they
are still in the land of the dead, that represented the heads of the children
of the house and are placed outside to protect them from the spirits of
evil and faeries like some vegetable "Portrait of Dorian Grey", or with
the frightening face driving away those who might otherwise lead them astray.
They may also render this protective service over the whole household.
- Purportedly, elements of the Celtic festival for the dead were incorporated
into the Christian holiday of All Hallows' Eve, the night preceding All
Saints' (Hallows') Day (or the Christian remembrance of Saints past and
present, and the dead). "Halloween" is often considered to now be little
more than a children's holiday, though children's pranks replaced witches'
tricks in the 19th century.
- Until recent times in some parts of Europe, it was believed that on this
night evil witches, warlocks, and other spirits of Evil and Bane flew abroad;
and huge bonfires were built to ward off these things, as well as in
honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away
from the living.
- In some places, bonfires were lit upon hilltops, either to drive away the
spirits, or to guide them home.
- Bonfires are also burned as a thanksgiving to the sun at the end of the
Harvest, or to honor the descending sun. These are called Tlaghtgha
(Tinegin or Needfires), and are produced by a wheel (spun clockwise) and
a spindle with tow. The wheel is a solar symbol.
- Since this is a time "between time", this is also considered by many to
be the best time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and
death. This is a night existing outside of time, and is superior
for viewing any other point in time. There are a number of forms
of divination traditional for this time, many of which are intended for
young people to try and see who their future mates will be.
- As the New Year as well, it is there time for banishing what ails them
and making resolutions for their betterment.
- In some places, this is the date to celebrate the union of the Sky God
with the Earth Goddess.
- For some people, this is a festival honoring the Horned God Cernunnos,
and the Goddess Morrigan.
- This is also considered by many to be the night the Horned God emerges
to lead the Great Hunt (although it is unlikely that this is the reason
that the full moon that occurs during this time is called a "hunter's moon").
- For some people, the goddess goes to sleep at this time, to be awakened
at Beltane (Spring Equinox).
- In some forms of Wicca, the Goddess is dominant through the light half
of the year, and the God through the dark half, and it is upon this night
that the Lady Summer recedes to the shadows and Lord Winter steps forward.
For others, Winter is the season is the season of the Crone, the ancient
Wise Woman, the destructive aspect of the Goddess, and the Horned One,
the Sun Lord in his waning, introspective aspect as lord of death.
- Wheel turning may be forbidden [n.b. The wheel turning prohibition
is intended to mean that ALL work stops. No spinning, making pottery,
and so forth. It could be argued that circle dances are also prohibited
at this time. The basis of this is several very old (and mostly lost)
local traditions in Britain]
- Some ways modern pagans recognize this holiday are "Dumb suppers", or silent,
saltless meals, held for the Ancestors; "kid Circles"; costume parties,
and traditional games; Divination; honoring those who've died within the
previous year; and contemplating their own mortality
- This holiday was completely unknown to the Anglo-Saxons.