What is Samhain

What is Samhain? ~ Written by Tatterhood

Also known as All Hallows Eve, All Saints’ Eve, Last/Blood Harvest, Ancestor Night, Feast of the Dead, Halloween, Hallowed End, Hallowtide (Scottish Gaelis Dictionary), Feast of All Souls and Nos Galengaeof Night of the Winter Calends (Welsh) to name but a few!

Samhain, 31st October (Apr 30May 1 South Hemisphere) marks the final harvest festival. It is said that Samhain marks the beginning of winter & therefore the time of the dark half of the year, in older rural times this would mark the stage where all land work was completed for the year & the community prepared for the winter. Samhain literally means ‘Summers End’.

As the crops are harvested so too was the livestock slaughtered for the winter, therefore Samhain is also marked the time of sacrifice. The world goes to sleep at this point of the year & nature recoils back to the earth, plants & trees die down at winter & creatures hibernate in a death like slumber.

This is the time of year there the veil between the realms of the mortals & that of the dead are at the thinnest point. A time to understand, reflect & respect our own mortality as well as inspiring memories of lost loved ones. It is a time to remember & honour the dead, this can be done by setting a spare place at the dining table, so that those who have gone before are still included as family. Or by lighting a candle in their memory, however you wish, as this is a deeply personal time & will differ from one person to the next.

Though this is but one element of Samhain, other such elements of Samhain include: foreseeing future, divination, honouring/consulting ancestors, releasing the old, power, understanding death, rebirth & reincarnation, entering the underworld & past life regression.

Out of all these folk laws & traditions there are vague remains left amongst today’s world, dressing up in costume, pumpkins & jackolanterns, apple bobbing & trickortreat are what we would now associate with the more common name for Samhain, Halloween. Yet each of these has their roots in Pagan rites.

Times changed, traditions changed, the meanings changed, society has changed, yet these elements of our past still linger to remind us of our ancestors, it feels rather fitting then that at this time of the year we take time to honour the dead & remember our heritage. Samhain is also a fire festival traditionally a huge bonfire was lit. (To encourage the return of the light) Each family would then light their hearth fire from that community bonfire, a communal flame, therefore bonding all of the homes and families within the village or community together.

It is interesting however to note that at the same time of year there are various festivals from different faiths such as: All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, Day of the Dead (Dai de los Muertos) & even Diwali, itself a festival of light.


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