The Celtic festival of Samhain signifies summer’s end. “In the tenth-century Gaelic text Tochmarc Emire”, Samhain is the first four quarter days in the medieval Irish calendar, marking the start of summer’s resting period…
In contemporary American culture the festival of Halloween appears to be derived from the pagan traditions of Samhain, although Halloween is based on Christian beliefs. From observing the customs related to Samhain, the roots, core features and stereotypical concepts associated with Halloween become evident. Thesis Statement: The purpose of this paper is to investigate the Celtic festival of ‘Samhain’, and examine its rituals and symbolism in relation to Halloween. According to Ohogain (2003), the influence of the Celts is far more extensive than is indicated by its fragmented survival beyond the fringes of western Europe. This culture which had been once been considered a highly significant one, continues to remain as a vital component of European civilization and heritage from east to west. Among the Celts, the feast of Samhain involved stock-taking, and reorganizing communities for the winter months which included the arranging of quarters for traveling warriors and religious teachers. Samhain also denoted a period of supernatural intensity, when darkness and decay prevailed, emerging from the ancient mounds of the countryside, known as sidh. For protection against these spirits, the Irish built large, symbolically life-sustaining bonfires, and appealed to the gods for help by means of “animal and perhaps even human sacrifice”...
Of the two great doorways of the Celtic year, Samhain on November 1st was more important than Beltane on May 1st, since it marked the beginning of a completely new cycle; similar to the Celtic day which begins at night. “The most magically potent time of this festival is November Eve, the night of October 31st” (Freeman, 1999), known today as Halloween. Samhain marked took place between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Halloween is derived from All Hallow Even, or the eve of All Saints Day, 1st November. Together with All Souls Day on the 2nd November, the Christian calendar assigns the festival “for honoring the saints and the newly departed” (Rogers, 2003, p.22), and in past centuries for praying for souls in purgatory. Samhain distinguished the first day of winter, “when the herders led the cattle and sheep down from their summer hillside pastures to the shelter of stable and byre” (Freeman, 1999). All the harvest should be gathered in by this time, of barley, apples, turnips, wheat and oats; with the beginning of November the faeries were believed to destroy any remaining crops or plants. Peat and wood for winter fires were stocked up close to the hearth. “It was a joyous time of family reunion, when all members of the household worked together baking, salting meat, and making preserves for the winter feasts to come (Freeman, 1999). Samhain was the major feast of the year; and everyone gathered together for the “Feast of Tara”, when the royal seat of the High King as the heart of the sacred land, and the creator of the new year was celebrated. Every household in the country put out their hearth fires, and waited for the Druids to light the new fire of the year. At Samhain the gods came ...
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