For the Celts, Samhain, the last day of October, was when the air separating the living from the dead grew thin. It marks the end of the old year, a time when the spirits of our ancestors roam the earth once more, and the beginning of the new year, a fresh start. Samhain is also a great time for letting go of the things in your life that just didn’t work – I know we all have a few of those!
On Samhain eve it’s customary to wear disguises (guising) to trick the spirits into believing that the wearer is also from the spirit world. Some other customs are placing a burning candle in the window to light the way and putting out a plate of food to provide sustenance for departed loved ones.
Today, the American style ‘trick or treating’ has largely replaced the traditional Scottish guising; a tradition whereby, to earn sweets or toffee apples, children sang, recited, ducked for apples with forks in their mouths, and tried to eat treacle slathered bread suspended from a washing line. Yet Halloween retains some of its eerie allure.
Thanks to a folk tale loving relative of his mother, the Scottish poet Robert Burns was brought up on spooky yarns, scary songs, and superstitious lore of every spine tingling sort. Burns wrote a poem in 1785 about the customs of Hallowe’en in his day and despite some creepy foreboding, the locals in his story that enjoy the Hallowe’en party end up blithe enough.
Wishing you and your loved ones a joyous Samhain!