Samhain - A Special Season of Surprises in the Celtic Tradition


Samhain is a very special season in the Celtic tradition. Marking the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or the darker half of the year, the celebrations begin on the evening of 31st October, as traditionally the Celtic days began and ended at sunset.

Halfway between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, it’s one of the four quarter days associated with seasonal Gaelic festivals - Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa. Historically it was widely observed across Ireland and Scotland and the Isle of Man, along with similar festivals in Brittany, Wales and Cornwall.

Here are some surprising facts about the season of Samhain:

’Souling’ at Samhain
People around the world know the traditional pastime of ‘trick or treating’ but in Celtic traditions it was originally called ’souling’ and instead of sweets some people made ‘soul cake’ which was a flattened bread made with fruit which was offered to the Gods to placate them for the months ahead.

The Japes of Jack O Lantern
There are many stories about the origins of the carving of pumpkins or Jack O Lanterns (as they’re known in the US and Canada) but one Irish folk tale tells of Jack, a lazy Irish blacksmith who traps the Devil by using a cross and refuses to free him until the Devil agrees not to take his soul when he dies. But when Jack dies, Heaven and Hell both reject him. The Devil then comes back to throw him a flame from hell that will never extinguish. Jack is forced to wander the Earth for all Eternity carrying a lantern made from turnip!

Bonfires and Burials
While nowadays at Halloween, candles and bonfires are lit for fun, traditionally during Samhain in Celtic tradition bonfires were seen as having closer interaction with the world beyond the living and were seen as a channel to communicate with those that had been buried before. They were an important way of keeping in touch with the dead.

Food for the Fairies
Samhain was seen as a ‘liminal’ festival when the boundaries between this world and the other world were said to have thinned, meaning the spirits or fairies could more easily come into our world. This was a time to appease them with food and drink to ensure that people and their livestock would survive the winter. In addition, the souls of the dead were thought to revisit their homes seeking hospitality and a place was always set for them at the Samhain banquets!

Supernatural and spiritual - Samhain is certainly a season of surprises!
Posted on October 27, 2021

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