Samhain is a pagan religious festival originating from an ancient Celtic spiritual tradition. In modern times, Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “SAH-win”) is usually celebrated from October 31 to November 1 to welcome in the harvest and usher in “the dark half of the year.” Celebrants believe that the barriers between the physical world and the spirit world break down during Samhain, allowing more interaction between humans and denizens of the Otherworld.
Ancient Celts marked Samhain as the most significant of the four quarterly fire festivals, taking place at the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. During this time of year, hearth fires in family homes were left to burn out while the harvest was gathered.
After the harvest work was complete, celebrants joined with Druid priests to light a community fire using a wheel that would cause friction and spark flames. The wheel was considered a representation of the sun and used along with prayers. Cattle were sacrificed, and participants took a flame from the communal bonfire back to their home to relight the hearth.
Early texts present Samhain as a mandatory celebration lasting three days and three nights where the community was required to show themselves to local kings or chieftains. Failure to participate was believed to result in punishment from the gods, usually illness or death.
There was also a military aspect to Samhain in Ireland, with holiday thrones prepared for commanders of soldiers. Anyone who committed a crime or used their weapons during the celebration faced a death sentence.
Some documents mention six days of drinking alcohol to excess, typically mead or beer, along with gluttonous feasts.
Because the Celts believed that the barrier between worlds was breachable during Samhain, they prepared offerings that were left outside villages and fields for fairies, or Sidhs.
It was expected that ancestors might cross over during this time as well, and Celts would dress as animals and monsters so that fairies were not tempted to kidnap them.
Some specific monsters were associated with the mythology surrounding Samhain, including a shape-shifting creature called a Pukah that receives harvest offerings from the field. The Lady Gwyn is a headless woman dressed in white who chases night wanderers and was accompanied by a black pig.
The Dullahan sometimes appeared as impish creatures, sometimes headless men on horses who carried their heads. Riding flame-eyed horses, their appearance was a death omen to anyone who encountered them.
A group of hunters known as the Faery Host might also haunt Samhain and kidnap people. Similar are the Sluagh, who would come from the west to enter houses and steal souls.
One of the most popular Samhain stories told during the festival was of “The Second Battle of Mag Tuired,” which portrays the final conflict between the Celtic pantheon known as the Tuatha de Danann and evil oppressors known as the Fomor. The myths state that the battle unfolded over the period of Samhain.
One of the most famous Samhain-related stories is “The Adventures of Nera,” in which the hero Nera encounters a corpse and fairies, and enters into the Otherworld.
Samhain figured into the adventures of mythological Celtic hero Fionn mac Cumhaill when he faced the fire-breathing underworld dweller Aillen, who would burn down the Hall of Tara every Samhain.
Samhain also figures into another Fionn mac Cumhaill legend, where the hero is sent to the Land Beneath the Wave. As well as taking place on Samhain, it features descriptions of the hero’s holiday gatherings.
Neither new holiday did away with the pagan aspects of the celebration. October 31 became known as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, and contained much of the traditional pagan practices before being adopted in 19th-century America through Irish immigrants bringing their traditions across the ocean.
Trick-or-treating is said to have been derived from ancient Irish and Scottish practices in the nights leading up to Samhain. In Ireland, mumming was the practice of putting on costumes, going door-to-door and singing songs to the dead. Cakes were given as payment.
Halloween pranks also have a tradition in Samhain, though in the ancient celebration, tricks were typically blamed on fairies.
Originally posted on History.com
Exploring the cultural and spiritual practices of death and dying with the authors of a new book 'The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Beginners'
Our fear of dying can sometimes lead to a fear of living the best versions of ourselves.
Interview of Matthew Fox by Andrew Harvey regarding the new book, "Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality"
Do you think peace requires an end to war? Or tigers eating only vegetables?
We look back at a selection of talks of Peter's from SAND conferences and host a discussion about his history with science and spirituality
A wide ranging discussion with interdependent spiritual mystic master
A conversation with Joan on the simplicity and depth of awareness of being
...As you walk back by the little farmhouses, the meadows, and the railway line, you will see that yesterday has come to an end: life begins where thought ends...
An in-depth conversation at the heart of Nonduality with a disciple of Nisargadatta Maharaj
An hour long conversation with mystical nondual teacher at the nexus of compassion and the infinite
A conversation on Rumi, Sufism, and the deep mysteries of being
from The Wisdom of Islam: An Introduction to the Living Experience of Islamic Belief and Practice
In episode 4 of our Podcast we explore the traditional Tibetan Buddhist beliefs of death and dying
A conversation with photographer and explorer of sacred sites for the past 40 years.
"I will take two pens to write this. One can dip into the ink of understanding. Under the reign of the sun..."
An enlightening conversation with the creative mind behind Sati-AI, a unique blend of technology and ancient wisdom
In this live SAND Conference talk Mona offers some beautiful sacred wisdom from her Islamic tradition with that special Science and Nonduality flavor weaving her talk through the ancient and the modern, the light and dark in this talk.
Please enter your email and we’ll send you instructions to reset your password