SAMHAIN…The Celts believed that Oidhche Shamhna, Samhain, was an open portal in time.
This weekend marks the prelude to Samhain.
Monday is the day of
and is marked as a holiday here in Ireland.
It is a time of in-between…between worlds as the Celts believed it to be…
The Celts understood the year to be divided into two halves associated with the dark and the light. The dark half begins at sunset on October 31st with Samhain.
Samhain ends at Bealtaine, when the light half begins at sunset on May 1st.
Both festivals are closely linked, but Samhain is considered to be the most important.
In Ireland, years ago, great preparations were made for the sharing of a feast that included the departed as guests of honour.
To enable them to come and go freely, all doors and windows were left unlatched; a special cake was made exclusively for their consumption, and a certain amount of other food was set aside just for them.
This had to be left untouched by any mortal hand for the duration of the ritual period. Eating the food of the dead was considered to be a major sacrilege and it condemned the perpetrator to becoming a hungry spirit after death, forever banned from sharing in the Samhain feast.
As I walked out this morning, taking these photographs, it was apparent that Samhain was close, both in the colours of the trees and the Dragon’s breath along the valley.
So how did Samhain become All Saints Day?
As Bridget Haggerty writes in “Irish Culture and Customs,” “…As with many of the old festivals, Christianity stepped in to do whatever it could to eliminate pagan rituals.
In this case, it was Pope Boniface who took the festival of the dead and made it the festival of all saints and martyrs.
Originally it took place on May 13th, but a century later, Pope Gregory III shifted it to November.
In Ireland, All Saints Day was instituted in 998 AD by Abbot Odilo of Cluny and by the 13th century, although many of the old Samhain rituals persisted as folk customs, November 1st had become firmly established as a Christian festival.”
All Saints Eve is now 31st of October…Samhain!
So what was always and only a great Celtic celebration has been claimed by a relatively contemporary religion as its own!
However, Ireland being an island and its people being thinly removed from its cultural heritage, as John B. Keane once wrote in the play “The Field,” we have not forgotten our roots!
In the play, “The Field,” the parish priest proclaims Christianity to be a “thin veneer” over Irish people, in a derogatory reference both to the people and pre-Christian Paganism alike.
Regarding the compassion displayed for those who grieved and mourned the loss of family and loved ones, we were far removed from how the Romans described us as “Barbarians!”
As for the souls of the dead, all were honoured, unlike the Christian church here in Ireland which regarded the souls of un-baptised babies as being condemned to “Purgatory”.
Such was the the belief as I grew up and for the countless generations of those in my family before me.
Imagine the suffering of mothers who birthed at home and lost their babies, only to be sent to a place of darkness and nothingness.
This Samhain I will try to remember and honour all my family and friends no longer in this mortal sphere.
And celebrate with them in joy!
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Blessings X Colette at Bealtaine Cottage