Sunday, 14 October 2012

The roots of Halloween can be found in the Celtic (Samain) Samhain

As millions of children and adults prepare to participate in the fun of Halloween, few are aware of its ancient Celtic roots in the Samhain (Samain) festival.

Halloween Costumes
Halloween Costumes (Photo credit: Transguyjay)

In Celtic Ireland about 2,000 years ago, Samhain was the division of the year between summer (the lighter half of the year) and winter (the darker half if the year.

At Samhain the division between the other-world and this world is at its thinnest; allowing spirits to pass between the two.

The honoured family's ancestors were invited into the home. (Whilst warding-off harmful spirits.)
By wearing masks and costumes, the community disguised themselves as harmful spirits, in the hope of preventing being attacked by them.

The festivities would take place on the Eve of Samhain, as Halloween does today. The Samhain festival marked the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of the next one. (Halloween can be seen to the Celtic equivalent of New Year's Eve. This festival being the most important of the four Celtic Festivals: Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain.)

A large part of the festivities surrounded bonfires and food: Household fires were extinguished and started again from the communal bonfire. The bones from the slaughtered livestock used to feed the community were cast into this bonfire.

English bonfire
English bonfire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Both the living and the dead were fed. Because the ancestors were in unable to eat their share, the less well off ritually ate for them.

Great numbers of Irish immigrants flocked to America during the Nineteenth Century (around the time of 1840's famine), taking with them their Halloween traditions. (Where it has become a crucial time of year; one of the USA's major holidays during modern times. The American harvest-time tradition of carving pumpkins has been embedded into these traditions.)

Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is no doubt that that Halloween is loaded with symbolic significance from its Samhain past.

The lighting of these Winter Fires (bonfire) marked the sun's passage across the skies; and preceded its symbolic death in December. Fire being the sun's earthly counterpart, especially during the onset of winter.

More next week
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