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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Samhain!

Back before Halloween became a sugar induced candy grab populated by polyester wearing little goblins, it was known as Samhain (pronounced SOW-in).  Being that I homeschool Indy, and he's curious about pretty much everything, we spent a few days learning about the origins of Halloween.  Since there are soooo many misconceptions about Halloween (Satan, Devil worshiping, etc), I thought I'd share some information with all  my readers.

Samhain, means "End of Summer", and is the third and final Harvest. The dark winter part of the year commences on this day.  The Celts divided the year into four quarters: Samhain (winter), Imbolc (spring), Beltane (summer), and Lughnasadh (autumn). The Celtic year began in November, with Samhain. The Celts were influenced principally by the lunar and stellar cycles which governed the agricultural year - beginning and ending in autumn when the crops have been harvested and the soil is prepared for the winter.

It is generally celebrated on October 31st, but some traditions prefer November 1st. It is one of the two "spirit-nights" each year, the other being Beltane (May 1). 

Originally the "Feast of the Dead" was celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the "wandering dead". Today a lot of practitioners still carry out that tradition. Single candles were lit and left in a window to help guide the spirits of ancestors and loved ones home. Extra chairs were set to the table and around the hearth for the unseen guest. Apples were buried along roadsides and paths for spirits who were lost or had no descendants to provide for them. Turnips were hollowed out and carved to look like protective spirits, for this was a night of magic and chaos. This has evolved into today's practice of carving Jack O'Lanterns.  The Wee Folke became very active, pulling pranks on unsuspecting humans. Traveling after dark was was not advised. People dressed in white (like ghosts), wore disguises made of straw, or dressed as the opposite gender in order to fool the Nature spirits.

This was the time that the cattle and other livestock were slaughtered for eating in the ensuing winter months. Any crops still in the field on Samhain were considered taboo, and left as offerings to the Nature spirits. Bonfires were built, (originally called bone-fires, for after feasting, the bones were thrown in the fire as offerings for healthy and plentiful livestock in the New Year) and stones were marked with peoples names. Then they were thrown into the fire, to be retrieved in the morning. The condition of the retrieved stone foretold of that person's fortune in the coming year. Hearth fires were also lit from the village bonfire to ensure unity, and the ashes were spread over the harvested fields to protect and bless the land. 

When the Romans made contact with the Celts, they added their feast of the dead to Samhain. The Christians subverted the recognition of Samhain to honor the saints, as All Saint's Day on November 1st and named October 31 as All Hallow's Eve. This latter became a secular holiday by the name of Hallowe'en. Although using different nomenclatures, all of these festivals and feasts are celebrating the accessibility, veneration, awe, and respect of the dead

I wish you all a happy and safe Halloween!


Charlene said...

Now Halloween seems to be "pre" Christmas. The local circulars had a page advertising artificial decoraged trees in the "Getcher Halloween candy here cheap!" ads.

Michele Feltman Strider said...

Such an elegant and evocative description!

tarichuck said...

Thank you for the history lesson. I had several online friends post Samhain greeting today, and I had no idea what they were talking about.

Joyfulness said...

Very interesting. Thanks!

Satakieli said...

I love the origins of halloween. We don't really celebrate it, I've never been trick or treating my whole life. But we do carve pumpkins and this year watched some old horror movies together.

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