The celebration of the Gaelic pagan festival of Samhain arrives on the 31st of October. This Celtic celebration came at a time, when the harvest was in. Stored and protected.When the animals which had been out for the summer months were now brought down from their pastures. To be slaughtered for winters food as well as sheltered from the bitter winds of the season coming. This time was a time of being Thankful for the bounty that mother nature had provided.
However, it was much more then the simplicity of gathering, collecting or giving thanks. Although this was important, it was also a time of acknowledging the end of one season. The wheel turns when the Sun moved across the summer lit sky to rest at the point between worlds. When it rested in the between zone of light and dark. Samhain referred to the end of the Summer season and beginning of the Winter season. This was the New Year coming. The beginning of the new, but yet the end of the old dying vegetation of the harvest as well as the slaughter of cattle to sustain until the next summer arrived. Essentially there were only two main seasons. Summer and Winter.
Before the New on November 1st, and the end of the Old was a point of juncture. The cusp point of one to the next. At this precise juncture lies the boundary. The eve of the celebration of the New Year. This was a time when the two worlds collided. When one world can cross the boundary of the next with little trouble. The spirits of long dead ancestors, spirits, fairies merged upon each other with the living. As a result of this deep held belief that one could be snatched by a spirit from the other side. To be carried off into their world. It is believed that the living thus must appease the land of the dead to avoid various repercussions for the coming year.
The bonfires were lit. Atop the hills of Tlachtga and Tara in the land of Ireland. Where the Rising Sun aligns with the Mound of Hostages. This point is 2,500 years old. Suggesting the long reaching traditions of yesteryear being embedded in the souls of the living today. The light of the fires, symbolic of the Sun's journey were to assist the journey of the Sun God to the other side. As these huge bonfires were lit, it gave the citizens acknowledgement to light their own hearths for the long night ahead.
This cusp point was considered to be a time to gather in celebration. A time to acknowledge heritage, ancestors as they moved between the worlds. Families gathered around. Preparing large feasts. Setting a place for both themselves and their long dead relative. The feast was shared by giving wine and food to the dead soul whom sat with them on this eve. It was customary not to talk during this feasting, as to not offend the spirit of the dead ancestor. Following the meal the ancestors meal which had been untouched was taken out to leave in the woods. Perhaps this was a distribution of food to those less fortunate.
This was a time when things move around in the night. When travelling alone could mean running into some fairy or spirit. When the witches gathered in Scotland for the Great Sabbat. Spells cast, riding between the hedge of one world and the other. Perhaps the Blue faced Hag or the Queen of Witches might snatch you away. To be sure, one wanted to avoid the crossroads, or the boundaries between the neighboring lands. Usually places where people gathered for celebration or meetings became meeting places for the unearthed spirits. One wonders if it also was to ensure no interruption occurred with the Sun's journey into the underworld. The fairies were also on the move during this night. Moving from the summer hillocks to the winter barrows. The opportunity would arise to retrieve a loved one on this night if they had been snatched by the fairies during the year. Avoid the bridges as well least the dead be crossing. The division lines were places where it was understood to be dangerous. The boundaries between land and sea another troubling place. Spirits sought to gather within these places. Perhaps as they did when they lived.
It was also a time to appease the spirits of the dead through entertainment, divination or prophesies. In some stories the druids appeased the spirits for blessings, by walking around bonfires with the skulls of the ancestors. Dressing up and giving prayers or performing rites of protection. One does not know for sure the rolls of the many whom participated during this significant celebration of the New Years Eve of the Celtic year.
What we do know is other cultures also celebrated this time of the dying as All Hallows Eve. All souls day, or All Saints Day as well as "lord of death". According to the Celtic legend, Donn the God of the Dead, whom isolated himself during the year would emerge from his isolation to travel throughout the land. Perhaps gathering souls as he traveled.
The holiday of the North people was known as Vetrnaetr. Marking the beginning of winter. Bonfires were lite to scare away any spirits that might want to emerge upon the villages, as the veil was thinned. Promoting the worlds to merge upon one another. The Norsemen celebrated the division between the light and dark periods of season through the holiday known as Winternights (Vetrnaetr) from October 29th to November 2nd. Feasts to celebrate the gathering of the harvest. The end to storing and preserving to ensure survival through the long winter nights. This celebration was marked with wild enthusiasm. Marking the beginning of the winters hunt. This, like the Celts wanted to know the future. As many of us today seek. Thus much divination was done. Estimating the future of the time coming for people on an individual basis.
The God, Odin would lead his horsemen through with his hounds. The hunt begins until the next holiday of Yule's night.
Today we celebrate Halloween. Participating in various practices similar to acknowledging the old holidays of yesteryear. The bobbing for Apples, as they were considered to be a fruit for the other world. For divination or fortune telling. Perhaps a hazel nut for wisdom of the seer. Dressing up, travelling from house to house, for blessings with a little something sweet given.
Be wary the crossroads, bridges or boundaries on this eve of the New Year. If you're really brave you can seek the graveyard at the midnight hour by three times walking around the graves to see your future. Watch the fairies to snatch you away or witches to cast their spells. As we celebrate the land between the light and the dark.
On Hallowmas Eve, ere ye boune to rest,
Ever beware that your couch be blest:
Sign it with cross and sain it with bread,
Sing the Ave and the Creed.
For on Hallowmas Eve, the Night Hag shall ride,
And all her nine-fold sweeping on by her side.
Whether the wind sing lowly or loud,
Stealing through moonshine or swathed in cloud.
He that dare sit in St Swithin's Chair,
When the Night Hag wings the troubled air,
Questions three, when he speaks the spell,
He must ask and She must tell.
(Sir Walter Scott)
Written by : Colleen Jorgensen
Newgrange.com: Samhain (Samain)-The Celtic roots of Halloween
Deeper into Samhain: Susan Morgan Black (Druid, FSA Scot)
Wikipedia: The myth of Samhain
Wizardrealm.com: Norse Holidays and Festivals