Samhain   11 comments

Halloween has always been a sort of ho-hum holiday for me. I grew up in Alaska, where winter arrives in mid-October, so by October 31st, it’s usually cold, there’s snow on the ground and it’s dark by the time school let’s out. You can’t really do a costume because you have got to wear a coat, boots, a hat, and gloves. I guess you could go as a hockey player.

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Image result for image of halloweenAnother reason that I’m a bit ambivalent about the holiday is that I’m not a huge candy eater. I’m not generally a picky eater, except when it comes to sweet things. I like chocolate without nuts or anything else and pretty much everything else is disgusting to me. So I often ended up with a bag full of stuff I wouldn’t eat. The year I turned 8, a bunch of local kids were hospitalized when some college students at an apartment complex dosed the candy with some chemical that induced violent vomiting. After that, my parents would only allow me to trick-or-treat at homes with people we knew. The year I turned 10, I chose to not trick-or-treat and pretty much never did again.

When my kids were little, a local church would do a fun holiday festival that allowed them to dress up, do activities indoors and get some candy out of the deal. Our daughter trick-or-treated with friends in high school. Our son has accompanied younger kids as a body guard. But mostly, it is still too cold by October 31 to enjoy going door to door in a costume.

Image result for image of samhainSo, that’s all I have to say about Halloween, but that holiday is a modern recreation of an ancient Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. In ancient times, it was the start of the new year, celebrated from sunset on October 31 to sunset on November 1, about halfway between the autumnal equinox (September 21) and the winter solstice (December 21). It was one of the four Celtic seasonal festivals, along with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh. Back then, it was called Samhain (pronouced Sow-in).

Of course it was a pagan festival that is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature. It was a time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and livestock was slaughtered for the winter. Special bonfires were lit that were meant to have protective and cleaning powers. The rituals involved were meant to protect the living from the dead as Samhain was considered a liminal time when the boundary between our world and the Otherwould could easily crossed. People sought to propitiate the fairies (or the dead) to ensure that people and livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink were left outside for them. Costumes were worn door to door, perhaps as a way of imitating the fairies.

Image result for image of samhain

In the 9th century AD, Western Christianity shifted the date of All Saints Day to November 1. All Souls’ Day was held on November 2. Eventually, the two holidays became a single modern celebration of Halloween.

Daermad Cycle (The Willow Branch and Mirklin Wood) is a Celtic-influenced fantasy series, so I borrow heavily from Samhain traditions for scenes in the third book. I have the village where Padraig is staying gather for observance. They build a bonfire, there is discussion of the fall slaughter, the sheep being brought to the winter pastures, the local priest performs a ritual. People are meant to extinguish their fires before they go to the observance and then kindle them anew from the Samhain bonfire in the village. I use these details to create tension between my Believer main character and the society in which he is residing.

Image result for image of samhainBecause the boundary between the world and the Otherworld is considered thin at Samhain, I make use of it for my own purposes. You’ll have to read the book (Fount of Dreams) to find out what I did with it.

Several years ago, Brad and I lived next door to some neopagans (they might also have been Wiccans. They were kind of hostile to Christians, so we never asked them). One Halloween night, when we were coming home from the fall festival with our children, the neighbors had built a bonfire in their front yard. They were walking around it muttering invocations of some sort and tossing what we assumed to be salt over their shoulders. That was actually what caused me to research Samhain in the first place. It fit perfectly into Daermad Cycle, so I included it in my research.
Of course, modern Halloween includes traditions from many cultures. Check out what my fellow authors found in their research.
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11 responses to “Samhain

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  1. Yes, Hallowe’en is definitely a ho-hum time for me too. I’m glad when it’s November 1st!

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    • I look forward to your article because I think Halloween must be different in England. I know it is in South American countries.

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      • We never celebrated Hallowe’en when I was a child. But now I think it’s similar to the US, with kids going out trick or treating. Personally I don’t care for it.

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      • My mom grew up in North Dakota during the Depression. My father grew up in Washington State in the 20s. Dad said there was never any Halloween when he was growing up. He never saw it until he was in the Merchant Marines in SanDiego during the Depression and then it was the Hispanic Dia de la Morte. Mom said it was a time of playing pranks in her farm community. They both said it really became Halloween in the 1950s. Neither of them was particularly sold on it. So I probably got my ambivalence from them. My mom especially saw it as a changing of our culture that she didn’t think was a good thing.

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      • I think your mother is right. I don’t think it’s a good thing either.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I see it as giving kids a chance to let their imaginations run free. That makes it a good thing in my book.

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    • We’ve had years where we’ve been a very good house to come to and others when we haven’t. This year, the weather is lovely for trick-or-treating, but I didn’t plan for it, so I’m going to be antisocial. Some years we volunteer at our church’s Fall Festival. When it’s cold out, it’s packed. But we’re not doing it this year and I plan to enjoy myself doing something self-centered. It starts with a bath and candlelight.

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  3. It just a shame when people have to ruin the fun by doing something so awful. When I was a kid it was people sticking straight pens into candy bars. Personally, I don’t get the thrill.

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    • Yeah, Halloween got ruined for me when some local college students tainted candy with a non-lethal poison. I’m sure they thought it was funny, until the police showed up at their door. After that Halloween just wasn’t fun anymore. My husband always made the Halloween candy inspection fun for the kids, but they weren’t going to wait for him to start blowing chunks, so I could never really have fun with it until the next day.I preferred the Fall Festival because I know the candy is safe and the kids were warm and they could show off their costumes. Alaska sucks for outdoor trick-or-treating.

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  4. Ty for sharing the Gaelic traditions! Very much appreciated, as one lover of theology to another.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think Halloween is great for kids.They get excited about their costumes and have great fUn trick or treating with their friends.

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