SAmhain Lore 2

> copyright 1989, Rowan Moonstone
> In recent years, there have been a number of pamphlets and
books put out
> be various Christian organizations dealing with the
> origins of modern- day Halloween customs.
> Being a Witch myself, and a student of the ancient Celts from
whom we
> get this holiday, I have found these pamphlets woefully
> inaccurate and poorly researched. A typical example of this
> is contained in the following quote from the pamphlet
> entitled "What's Wrong with Halloween?" by Russell K. Tardo.
"The Druids
> believed that on October 31st, the last day of the
> year by the ancient Celtic calendar, the lord of death
gathered together
> the souls of the dead who had been made to enter
> bodies of animals, and decided what forms they should take the
> year. Cats were held sacred because it was believed
> that they were once human beings ... We see that this holiday
has its
> origin, basis and root in the occultic Druid celebration of
> the dead. Only they called it 'Samhain', who was the lord of
the dead (a
> big demon)".1 When these books and pamphlets cite
> sources at all, they usually list the Encyclopedia Britannica,
> Encyclopedia Americana, and the World Book Encyclopedia. The
> Britannica and the Americana make no mention of cats, but do,
> list Samhain as the Lord of Death, contrary to Celtic
> scholars, and list no references. The World Book mentions the
cats, and
> calls Samhain the Lord of Death, and lists as its
> sources several children's books (hardly what one could
> scholarly texts, and, of course, themselves citing no
> references).
> In an effort to correct some of this erroneous information, I
> researched the religious life of the ancient Celtic peoples
> the survivals of that religious life in modern times. Listed
below are
> some of the most commonly asked questions concerning the
> origins and customs of Halloween. Following the questions is a
> bibliography where the curious reader can go to learn
> more about this holiday than space in this small pamphlet
> 1. Where does Halloween come from?
> Our modern celebration of Halloween is a descendent of the
> Celtic festival called "Samhain". The word is pronounced
> "sow-in", with "sow" rhyming with "cow".
> 2. What does "Samhain" mean?
> The Irish-EnglishDictionary published bythe IrishTexts
> Societydefinesthewordas follows:"Samhain,AllHallowtide, the
feast ofthe
> dead inPagan andChristian times,signaling theclose ofharvest
and the
> initiation ofthe winter season, lasting till May,during which
> troopswere quartered. Fairies were imagined as particularly
active at
> this season. From it, the half-year is reckoned. Also
> calledFeile Moingfinne (Snow Goddess).2 The Scottish Gaelic
> defines it as "Hallowtide. The Feast of All Souls.
> Sam + Fuin = end of summer."3 Contrary to the information
published by
> many organizations, there is no archaeological or
> literary evidence to indicate that Samhain was a deity.
> Encyclopedia of Religion states as follows: "The Eve and day
> Samhain were characterized as a time when the barriers between
the human
> and supernatural worlds were broken... Not a
> festival honoring any particular Celtic deity, Samhain
acknowledged the
> entire spectrum of nonhuman forces that roamed the
> earth during that period."4 The Celtic Gods of the dead were
Gwynn ap
> Nudd for the British and Arawn for the Welsh. The
> Irish did not have a "lord of death" as such.
> 3. Why was the end of summer of significance to the Celts?
> The Celts were a pastoral peopleas opposed to an agricultural
> The end of summer was significant to them because it
> meant the time of year when the structure of their lives
> radically. The cattle were brought down from the summer
> pastures in the hills and the people were gathered into the
houses for
> the long winter nights of story- telling and handicrafts .
> 4. What does it have to do with a festival of the dead?
> The Celts believed that when people died, they went to a land
of eternal
> youth and happiness called Tir nan Og. They did not
> have the concept of heaven and hell that the Christian church
> brought into the land. The dead were sometimes believed to
> be dwelling with the Fairy Folk, who lived in the numerous
mounds, or
> sidhe, (pronounced "shee" or "sh-thee") that dotted the
> Irish and Scottish countryside. Samhain was the new year to
the Celts.
> In the Celtic belief system, turning points, such as the
> time between one day and the next, the meeting of sea and
shore, or the
> turning of one year into the next were seen as magickal
> times. The turning of the year was the most potent of these
times. This
> was the time when the "veil between the worlds" was at
> its thinnest, and the living could communicate with their
beloved dead
> in Tir nan Og.
> 5. What about the aspects of "evil' that we associate with the
> today?
> The Celts did not have demons and devils in their belief
system. The
> fairies, however, were often considered hostile and
> dangerous to humans because they were seen as being resentful
of man
> taking over their land. On this night, they would
> sometimes trick humans into becoming lost in the fairy mounds,
> they would be trapped forever. After the coming of the
> Christians to the Celtic lands, certain of the folk saw the
fairies as
> those angels who had sided neither with God or with Lucifer
> in their dispute, and thus were condemned to walk the earth
> judgment day.5 In addition to the fairies, many humans were
> abroad on this night, causing mischief. Since this night
> neither to one year or the other, Celtic folk believed that
> reigned, and the people would engage in "horseplay and
> jokes".6 This also served as a final outlet for high spirits
> before the gloom of winter set in.
> 6. What about "trick or treat"?
> During the course of these hijinks, many of the people would
imitate the
> fairies and go from house to house begging for treats.
> Failure to supply the treats would usually result in practical
> being visited on the owner of the house. Since the fairies
> abroad on this night, an offering of food or milk was
frequently left
> for them on the steps of the house, so the homeowner could
> gain the blessing of the "good folk" for the coming year. Many
of the
> households would also leave out a "dumb supper" for the
> spirits of the departed.9 The folks who were abroad in the
> imitating the fairies would sometimes carry turnips carved to
> represent faces. This is the origin of our modern
> 7. Was there any special significance of cats to the Celts?
> According to Katherine Briggs in Nine Lives: Cats in
Folklore,, the
> Celts associated cats with the Cailleach Bheur, or Blue Hag
> of Winter. "She was a nature goddess, who herded the deer as
her cattle.
> The touch of her staff drove the leaves off the trees
> and brought snow and harsh weather."7 Dr. Anne Ross addresses
the use of
> divine animals in her book Pagan Celtic Britain
> and has this to day about cats."Cats do not play a large role
in Celtic
> mythology ... the evidence for the cat as an important cult
> animal in Celtic mythology is slight"8 She cites as supporting
> the lack of archaeological artifacts and literary
> references in surviving works of mythology.
> 8. Was this also a religious festival?
> Yes. Celtic religion was very closely tied to the Earth. Their
> legends are concerned with momentous happenings which
> took place around the time of Samhain. Many of the great
battles and
> legends of kings and heroes center on this night. Many of
> the legends concern the promotion of fertility of the earth
and the
> insurance of the continuance of the lives of the people
> the dark winter season.
> 9. How was the religious festival observed?
> Unfortunately, we know very little about that. W.G.
Wood-Martin, in his
> book, Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, states,
> "There is comparatively little trace of the religion of the
Druids now
> discoverable, save in the folklore of the peasantry, and the
> references relative to it that occur in ancient and authentic
> manuscripts are, as far as present appearances go, meager and
> insufficient to support anything like a sound theory for full
> development of the ancient religion."10 The Druids were the
priests of
> the Celtic peoples. They passed on their teachings by oral
> instead of committing them to writing, so when they
> perished, most of their religious teachings were lost. We do
know that
> this festival was characterized as one of the four great
> "Fire Festivals" of the Celts. Legends tell us that on this
night, all
> the hearth fires in Ireland were extinguished, and then re-lit
> from the central fire of the Druids at Tlachtga, 12 miles from
the royal
> hill of Tara. This fire was kindled from "need fire" which
> had been generated by the friction of rubbing two sticks
together, as
> opposed to more conventional methods (such as the flint-
> and-steel method) common in those days.11 The extinguishing of
the fires
> symbolized the "dark half" of the year, and the
> re-kindling from the Druidic fires was symbolic of the
returning life
> hoped for, and brought about through the ministrations of the
> priesthood.
> 10. What about sacrifices?
> Animals were certainly killed at this time of year. This was
the time to
> "cull" from the herds those animals which were not
> desired for breeding purposes for the next year. Most
certainly, some of
> these would have been done in a ritual manner for the
> use of the priesthood.
> 11. Were humans sacrificed?
> Scholars are sharply divided on this account, with about half
> that it took place and half doubting its veracity. Caesar
> and Tacitus certainly tell tales of the human sacrifices of
the Celts,
> but Nora Chadwick points out in her book The Celts that "it
> is not without interest that the Romans themselves had
abolished human
> sacrifice not long before Caesar's time, and references
> to the practice among various barbarian peoples have certain
> of self-righteousness. There is little direct
> archaeological evidence relevant to Celtic sacrifice."12
Indeed, there
> is little reference to this practice in Celtic literature. The
> only surviving story echoes the tale of the Minotaur in Greek
> the Fomorians, a race of evil giants said to inhabit portions
> of Ireland before the coming of the Tuatha de Danaan (or
"people of the
> Goddess Danu"), demanded the sacrifice of 2/3 of the
> corn, milk, and first born children of the Fir Bolg, or human
> inhabitants of Ireland. The de Danaan ended this practice in
> second battle of Moy Tura, which incidentally, took place on
Samhain. It
> should be noted, however, that this story appears in
> only one (relatively modern) manuscript from Irish literature,
and that
> manuscript, the "Dinnsenchus", is known to be a collection
> of fables. According to P.W. Joyce in Vol. 2 of his Social
History of
> Ancient Ireland, "Scattered everywhere through our
> ancient literature, both secular and ecclesiastical, we find
> descriptions and details of the rites and superstitions of the
> pagan Irish; and in no place - with this single exception - do
we find a
> word or hint pointing to human sacrifice to pagan gods or
> idols."13
> 12. What other practices were associated with this season?
> Folk tradition tells us of many divination practices
associated with
> Samhain. Among the most common were divinations dealing
> with marriage, weather, and the coming fortunes for the year.
These were
> performed via such methods as ducking for apples
> and apple peeling. Ducking for apples was a marriage
divination. The
> first person to bite an apple would be the first to marry in
> the coming year. Apple peeling was a divination to see how
long your
> life would be. The longer the unbroken apple peel, the
> longer your life was destined to be.14 In Scotland, people
would place
> stones in the ashes of the hearth before retiring for the
> night. Anyone whose stone had been disturbed during the night
was said
> to be destined to die during the coming year.
> 13. How did these ancient Celtic practices come to America?
> When the potato crop in Ireland failed, many of the Irish
people, modern
> descendants of the Celts, immigrated to America,
> bringing with them their folk practices, which were remnants
of the
> Celtic festival observances.
> 14. We in America view this as a harvest festival. Did the
Celts also
> view it as such?
> Yes. The Celts had 3 harvests. Aug 1, or Lammas, was the first
> when the first fruits were offered to the Gods in
> thanks. The Fall equinox was the true harvest. This was when
the bulk of
> the crops would be brought in. Samhain was the final
> harvest of the year. Anything left on the vines or in the
fields after
> this date was considered blasted by the fairies ("pu'ka") and
> unfit for human consumption.
> 15. Does anyone today celebrate Samhain as a religious
> Yes. many followers of various pagan religions, such as
Druidism and
> Wicca, observe this day as a religious festival. They view
> it as a memorial day for their dead friends and family, much
as the
> world does the national Memorial Day holiday in May. It is
> still a night to practice various forms of divination
concerning future
> events. It is also considered a time to wrap up old projects,
> take stock of one's life, and initiate new projects for the
coming year.
> As the winter season is approaching, it is a good time to
> do studying on research projects, and also a good time to
begin hand
> work such as sewing, leather working, woodworking,
> etc., for Yule gifts later in the year. And while "satanists"
are using
> this holiday as their own, this is certainly not the only
> of a holiday (or even religious symbols) being "borrowed" from
an older
> religion by a newer one.
> 16. Does this involve human or animal sacrifice?
> Absolutely NOT! Hollywood to the contrary, blood sacrifice is
> practiced by modern followers of Wicca or Druidism.
> There may be some people who THINK they are practicing Wicca
> performing blood sacrificing, but this is NOT condoned
> by reputable practitioners of today's neo-Pagan religions.
> 1 Tardo, Russell K., What's Wrong with Halloween?, Faithful
> Publishers, (Arabi, LA, undated), p. 2
> 2 Rev. Patrick Dinneen, An Irish English Dictionary, (Dublin,
1927), p.
> 937
> 3 Malcolm MacLennan, A Pronouncing and Etymological Dictionary
of the
> Gaelic Language, (Aberdeen, 1979), p. 279
> 4 The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, "Halloween"
> Primiano, (New York, 1987) pp. 176-177
> 5 Katherine Briggs, Nine Lives: Cats in Folklore,
(London,1980), p.5
> 6 Dr. Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain, (London,1967), p.
301-302 7 W.G.
> Wood-Martin, Traces of the Elder Faiths of
> Ireland, Vol. II, (Port Washington, NY, 1902), p. 5
> 8 Kevin Danaher, The Year in Ireland, (Cork, 1972), p. 214
> 9 Alwyn & Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage, (New York, 1961), p.
> 10 Wood-Martin, op. cit., p. 249
> 11 Rees & Rees, op. cit., p. 90
> 12 Nora Chadwick, The Celts, (Harmondsworth, 1982), p. 151
> 13 P.W. Joyce, A Social History of Ancient Ireland, Vol.2,
(New York,
> 1968), pp. 282-283
> 14 Madeleine Pelner Cosman, Medieval Holidays and Festivals,
(New York,
> 1981), p. 81
> BIBLIOGRAPHY: *Bord, Janet & Colin, The Secret Country,
(London: Paladin
> Books,1978)
> *Briggs, Katherine, Nine Lives, Cats inFolklore, (London:
Routledge &
> Kegan Paul, 1980)
> *Chadwick, Nora, The Celts, (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin
> 1982)
> *Coglan, Ronan, ADictionary of Irish Myth and Legend, (Dublin:
> *Cosman, Madeleine Pelner, Medieval Holidays and Festivals,
(New York:
> Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981)
> *Danaher, Kevin,The Year in Ireland, (Cork, Ireland: The
Mercier Press,
> 1972)
> *Dinneen, Rev. Patrick S., M.A., An Irish-English Dictionary,
> (Dublin: The Irish Texts Society, 1927)
> *Joyce, P.W., A Social History of Ancient Ireland, (New York:
> Blom, 1968)
> *MacCana, Proinsias, Celtic Mythology, (London: The Hamlyn
> Group Limited, 1970)
> *MacLennan, Malcolm, A pronouncing and Etymological Dictionary
of the
> Gaelic Language, (Aberdeen: Acair and Aberdeen
> University Press, 1979)
> *MacNeill, Maire', The Festivalof Lughnasa, (Dublin: Comhairle
> Bhealoideas Eireann, 1982)
> *Powell, T.G.E., The Celts, (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1980)
> Leonard Norman, "Halloween" from The
> Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, (New York,
> Publiching Co., 1987)
> *Rees, Alwyn and Brinley, Celtic Heritage, Ancient Tradition
in Ireland
> and Wales, (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1961)
> *Ross, Dr. Anne, Pagan Celtic Britain, (London: Routledge and
> Paul, 1967)
> *Sharkey, John, Celtic Mysteries, (New York: Thames & Hudson,
> *Spence, Lewis, British Fairy Origins,
> (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1946)
> *Squire, Charles, Celtic Myth & Legend, Poetry & Romance, (New
> Newcastle Publishing Co., Inc., 1975)
> *Toulson, Shirley, The Winter Solstice, (London: Jill Norman &
> Ltd., 1981)
> *Wood-Martin, W.G.,Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland,
Vols. I & II,
> (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1902)
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