Samhain (pronounced sow-in) is the word for November in the Gaelic languages. The Scottish Gaelic spelling is Samhainn or Samhuinn (for the feast), or an t-Samhain (for the month). The fire festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, and is generally regarded as the Celtic New Year.
The Celtic year was divided into two seasons: the light and the dark, celebrating the light at Beltane on 1 May and the dark at Samhain on 1 November. Therefore, the feast of Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year. Some believe that Samhain was the more important festival, since it marked the beginning of a new dark-light cycle. The Celts observed time as proceeding from darkness to light because they understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground.
The night of Samhain [in Irish, Oíche Shamhna and Scots Gaelic, Oidhche Shamhna] is one of the principal festivals of the Celtic calendar, falling on 31 October – Halloween. It represents the final harvest. According to Celtic lore, Samhain is a time when the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead become thinner, at times even fading away completely, allowing spirits and other supernatural entities to pass between the worlds to socialize with humans. It is the time of the year when ancestors and other departed souls are especially honored. It is still the custom, in some areas, to set a place for the dead at the Samhain feast and to tell tales of the ancestors on that night. (Perhaps this is where ‘ghost’ stories came from.)
Bonfires played a large part in the festivities celebrated down through the last several centuries, and up through the present day in some rural areas. With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly re-lit their hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together. Often two bonfires would be built side by side, and the people would walk between the fires as a ritual of purification. Sometimes the cattle and other livestock would be driven between the fires, as well.
With Christianization, the Samhain festival became All Hallows’ Day on 1 November by All Souls’ Day on 2 November. Over time, the night of 31 October and the remnants of the festival dedicated to the dead came to be called All Hallow’s Eve which was eventually shortened to Hallowe’en (Hallow’s Evening) and then Halloween.
Samhain is one of the eight annual holidays (Sabbats) observed as part of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. It is considered by most Wiccans to be the most important of the four greater Sabbats. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is generally observed on 31 October starting at sundown. Samhain is considered by most Wiccans as a celebration of death and of the dead and often involves paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders of the faith, friends, pets, and other loved ones who have died. In some rituals the spirits of the departed are invited to attend the festivities in a similar way to some of the modern Celtic practices.
A year of planting. A year of harvest.
A year of forests. A year of healing.
A year of vision. A year of passion.
A year of rebirth. A year of rebirth.
This year may we renew the earth.