Samhain - A Short Introduction
"Samhain is a time to remember our dead, but not to mourn them, rather to embrace their spirits and their wisdom to help guide us in time here on earth." - R.J. Schwartz
Oh, Halloween… Halloween and I have had a rocky relationship. Love turned to dislike, and dislike to tolerance.
Halloween is a descendant of the Celtic Pagan holiday of Samhain.
When I was a little kid, I absolutely loved Halloween. Why wouldn’t I? I got to wear cool costumes, I went trick-or-treating in both my and nearby neighborhoods, and I had a great time with my friends.
Most years, my Mom would make me handmade Halloween costumes. They were great! However, being a little kid, I easily fell for the commercialization of the holiday and peer pressure. Despite my Mom’s incredible costumes, I only wanted one of those cheap plastic store-bought costumes that many kids had.
For anybody unfamiliar with these, each costume came in a cardboard box and consisted of a cheap face mask and a one or two-piece plastic costume. If you were lucky, your costume came with a couple of accessories. They were complete crap, but boy, did I want them. What kid doesn’t want to wear a colored plastic garbage bag?
Although my Mom caved a couple of times and bought me plastic bag costumes to wear, I was much better off with the great homemade ones. Sorry, Mom!
I remember in third grade when three kids came to school wearing the exact same plastic Spiderman costume. Boy, were they embarrassed. It was pretty funny because one kid was tall, one average height, and one short. We knew them as Big, Little, and Small Spiderman for the rest of the school year.
When I returned home at the end of Halloween night, I barely had enough energy to go through my candy haul. This was always done with Mom and Dad for safety reasons. Any candy that I didn’t want was claimed by Mom, Dad, or Grandma.
Those were the days…
Then at around ten years of age, my feelings toward Halloween began to change. I didn’t care about trick or treating. I lost interest in wearing costumes; after all, it was just for little kids.
I also learned about and started receiving this great thing called allowance. The wonder of it all! Money that was mine to spend as I chose. I quickly realized I could spend allowance money to buy the candy I wanted! I didn’t have to wear a costume and walk around the neighborhood for hours to get candy, not of my choosing. And best of all, I could buy my candy any time of the year.
Then there was the Halloween vandalism. I hated the vandalism and the fear of being egged on my way to or from school. Between the eggs and the shaving cream, the morning of each November 1st, it looked outside like a giant lemon meringue pie exploded. Surprisingly, there was never much toilet papering done in my neighborhood.
Of course, I softened on Halloween a bit once I had kids. It made the kids happy, so it made me happy.
Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic Pagan holiday of Samhain. As Halloween has become commercialized and taken on a life of its own, many people are attempting to bring back Samhain.
So, first of all, Samhain is frequently mispronounced. It is not pronounced “Sam-Hayn.”
Samhain is an Irish word. In Irish, the letter combination “mh” makes either a “w” or “v” sound. In the case of Samhain, it is a “w” sound.
The correct pronunciation of Samhain is “Sow-In.” The sow is as in a pig.
Here are some quick facts and interesting things about the Samhain holiday:
It is generally celebrated from sundown on October 31st to sundown on November 1st. This is not necessarily the actual date. Samhain is considered the current year's end and the new year's start.
There are different theories as to when the actual Celts celebrated Samhain. One view is that they celebrated it after finishing the last harvest of the year. Another is that they celebrated it at the exact astrological cross-quarter (the midpoint between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice). These theories could result in Samhain being on a date different from October 31st to November 1st.
Lora O’Brien from the Irish Pagan School (www.irishpaganschool.com) celebrates for an entire month, from dark moon to dark moon. Lora also makes an interesting point that Samhain is also the name of the month of November in Irish, so another idea is to celebrate the entire month of November.
Samhain is the most important of the four fire festivals. It is a time when it is believed that the veil between the worlds is the thinnest.
Some important aspects of fire related to Samhain are:
- Bonfires are lit for ancestors, as well as fire lamps to light the way for deceased ancestors crossing the veil to find their way to their families.
- Hearths were allowed to burn out and then be lit again from a new communal fire.
Samhain is also a time of deep reflection and divination. It is thought that more accurate divination results would occur because the veil between worlds is at its thinnest.
Family is a significant aspect of Samhain. Feasts would be enjoyed as people tried to finish up food that could not be preserved. It would also likely be the last opportunity to eat fresh food. There would also be “Dummy Suppers” to honor the deceased ancestors. Food would be set out for their ancestors’ spirits to eat if they visited.
People dressed up in costumes to scare off any fairies, sprites, or the like that crossed over the veil. This is likely the root of wearing costumes on Halloween.
And lastly, turnips were cut open and cleaned out. Then a lump of lit coal was put inside, effectively making a turnip lantern. This is where we get our pumpkin jack-o-lanterns. Since turnips were not as plentiful in North America, the tradition was changed to use pumpkins.
The above is but a very brief introduction to the holiday of Samhain.
I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy and safe Halloween/Samhain!
If you enjoyed reading this piece, I'd like to ask a favor of you. For a limited time, I will be conducting 1-on-1 Zoom calls with select members of my SubStack subscribers.
Think of this call as a Discovery Call. The goal is to discover your vision, your goals, and your challenges, as they may relate to the Celtic way of life, Druidism, and Pagan practices. This call will be beneficial to both of us.
My goal with these calls is to discover a common thread so that I can best add value and serve you. It will help me focus my content to ensure I cater to your true vision and goals.
These 1-on-1 calls are free, of course. And everything you share on the call will be private between you and me.
If you're interested or just want to introduce yourself and say hi, I'd love to hear from you.
You can reach me directly via email, email@example.com.
***End of Special Opportunity***
Have a great weekend!
My name is Mike, and I am a skeptic and recovering accountant just starting to make my way through the world of the Druids, Celts, and Pagans.
Join me on my journey as I use an analytic eye to extract what I believe to be golden nuggets of truth from these fascinating topics. My goal is to find valuable ways, practices, and insights to make your life better today.
If my content speaks to you, please subscribe to my newsletter! Also, feel free to leave a comment to let me know what you think. I am here to serve what I hope will be a great community of curious and like-minded individuals.
“May the Road Rise to Meet You!”
With a skeptical mind and an analytical eye,
P.S. - I release a new newsletter every Friday. Please be sure to subscribe. My past newsletters can also be found at mikeguarneri.com.
P.P.S. - Title Photo by Guido Jansen on Unsplash.
P.P.P.S. - I am hard at work on several projects, which I can’t wait to share with you! Announcements will be made over the coming weeks, so be sure not to miss an issue of my newsletter!