October 30, 2017
About the author : Earth to Ethereal: Eclectic and Eccentric, Spiritual and Sublime When it comes right down to it, I guess I just really enjoy sharing the human experience, whether through writing stories and poems which, hopefully, resonate with readers or by following the path to a simpler, more earth-friendly lifestyle. Thanks for sharing the experience with me!
Despite the Celtic blood flowing through my veins, my first introduction to Samhain (pronounced SAH-win or SOW-in) came through, of all things, a Danzig song called Soul on Fire. I can’t quote the song (copyright laws), but if you’re so inclined, you can check out the lyrics or give the song itself a listen. (Yup, it’s a little dark.) For what it’s worth, back when I listened to Glenn Danzig’s music (including the Misfits–who I still kind of ♥), I had burgundy-colored hair and wore Doc Martens with baby doll dresses. Altogether, a sign of the times (or at least of my times) in the nineties.
My introduction to Samhain might have occurred in a dark sort of context, but the ancient Celtic celebration was about a different kind of darkness. The Celts recognized two seasons: summer and winter, and Samhain marked the turn from summer’s light and warmth to the chill and darkness of winter.
Samhain was, for the Celts, the beginning of a new year. It was honored accordingly, with celebrations and feasts, and with monuments which captured the sunrise on Samhain, situated halfway between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice. Since the ancient Celts counted nights, rather than days, the celebration of Samhain traditionally began at sundown on October 31st and carried into November 1st.
Samhain not only shares a date with Halloween, but many of its traditions also live on in the modern-day holiday, just as it bears a strong resemblance to the Mexican Dia de los Muertos.
During Samhain, a time when plants died back and animals retreated to their dens, it was believed that the veil thinned between the living and the dead. Spirits would walk the earth, visiting loved ones or, in the case of evil spirits, spreading harm. People refrained from going out at night, or would go out only in disguise, hoping to conceal their identity from darker energies. They might light a single candle in a window to welcome back loved ones who had passed, yet carve a face into a turnip (the precursor to today’s jack-o-lantern) to ward off negative spirits. The dearly departed were invited to attend the feasts of Samhain, and offerings were left for nature spirits, in hopes of receiving blessings in return.
Samhain was (and continues to be) a celebration of contrasts: communal bonfires were lit (*originally called bonefires, with bones from feasts added as offerings), to bring light even as the sun began its fading; the gathering of crops and slaughtering of livestock meant sustaining human life over the long winter; plants were dying, but seeds could be sown in the yet-unfrozen ground; dormant fields would be fed with the remains of unharvested crops and with the ashes of bonfires. It was a waning time, a time of rest in preparation for future growth.
Though the idea of Samhain’s marking the beginning of a new year might be strange for us, there’s no denying that it is a time of great transition. Like the ancient Celts, modern humans can use it as an opportunity to look behind us, even as we prepare to turn forward.
We can remember and honor lost loved ones; we can reflect upon the hard work of the warmer months and reap what we have sown. As life draws in from outdoors and gathers close around the hearth, we can reaffirm bonds among family and friends, while laying the groundwork for creative pursuits and other activities.
Samhain marks a time for us to rest and recharge, to plant the seeds of future growth, and to prepare for those first steps that will lead us to a wide open run, come spring.
Sources and recommended reading: