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Samhain
Also called Samhuinn (Gàidhlig)
Sauin (Gaelg)
Observed by Gaels
(Irish people, Scottish people) (Welsh people),
Neopagans
(Wiccans, Celtic Reconstructionists)
Begins Northern Hemisphere: Sunset on October 31
Southern Hemisphere: Sunset on April 30
Ends Northern Hemisphere: Sunset on November 1
Southern Hemisphere: Sunset on May 1
Celebrations Bonfires
Guising
Divination
Apple bobbing
Feasting
Related to Halloween, Calan Gaeaf, All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day

Samhain (pronounced /ˈsɑːwɪn/, /ˈsaʊ.ɪn/, or /ˈsaʊn/[1] is a festival held on October 31–November 1 in Gaelic cultures. A harvest festival with ancient roots in Celtic polytheism, it was linked to festivals held around the same time in other Celtic cultures, and continued to be celebrated in late medieval times.

Contents

Overview

Samhain marked the end of the harvest, the end of the "lighter half" of the year and beginning of the "darker half". It was traditionally celebrated over the course of several days. Many scholars believe that it was the beginning of the Celtic year.[2][3][4] It has some elements of a festival of the dead. The Gaels believed that the border between this world and the otherworld became thin on Samhain; because some animals and plants were dying, it thus allowed the dead to reach back through the veil that separated them from the living. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. People and their livestock would often walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual, and the bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames.[5]

The Gaelic custom of wearing costumes and masks, was an attempt to copy the spirits or placate them. In Scotland the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white.[6][7] Samhnagturnips which were hollowed-out and carved with faces to make lanterns — were also used to ward off harmful spirits.[7]

The Gaelic festival became associated with the Christian All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, and has hugely influenced the secular customs now connected with Halloween, a name first attested in the 16th century as a Scottish shortening of the fuller All-Hallows-Even.[8] Samhain continues to be celebrated as a religious festival by some Neopagans.[3][4][9]

Etymology

In Modern Irish the name is Samhain [ˈsˠaunʲ], In Scottish Gaelic, Samhuinn [ˈsavɯɲ], in Manx Gaelic Sauin and Old Irish Samain [ˈsaṽɨnʲ] — roughly translated as "summer's end". Samhain and an t-Samhuinn are also the Irish and Scottish Gaelic names of November, respectively.

The Modern Irish word Samhain is derived from the Old Irish samain, samuin, or samfuin, all referring to 1 November (latha na samna: 'samhain day'), and the festival and royal assembly held on that date in medieval Ireland (oenaig na samna: 'samhain assembly'). Its meaning is glossed as 'summer's end', and the frequent spelling with f suggests analysis by popular etymology as sam ('summer') and fuin ('sunset', 'end'). The Old Irish sam ('summer') is from Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) *semo-; cognates are Welsh haf, Breton hañv, English summer and Old Norse language sumar, all meaning 'summer', and the Sanskrit sáma ("season").[10]

In 1907, Whitley Stokes suggested an etymology from Proto-Celtic *samani ('assembly'), cognate to Sanskrit sámana, and the Gothic samana.[11] J. Vendryes concludes that these words containing *semo- ('summer') are unrelated to samain, remarking that furthermore the Celtic 'end of summer' was in July, not November, as evidenced by Welsh gorffennaf ('July').[12] We would therefore be dealing with an Insular Celtic word for 'assembly', *samani or *samoni, and a word for 'summer', saminos (derived from *samo-: 'summer') alongside samrad, *samo-roto-. The Irish samain would be etymologically unrelated to 'summer', and derive from 'assembly'. But note that the name of the month is of Proto-Celtic age, cf. Gaulish SAMON[IOS] from the Coligny calendar, and the association with 'summer' by popular etymology may therefore in principle date to even pre-Insular Celtic times.

Confusingly, Gaulish Samonios (October/November lunation) corresponds to GIAMONIOS, the seventh month (the April/May lunation) and the beginning of the summer season. Giamonios, the beginning of the summer season, is clearly related to the word for winter, Proto-Indo-European *g'hei-men- (Latin hiems, Slavic zima, Greek kheimon, Hittite gimmanza), cf. Old Irish gem-adaig ('winter's night'). It appears, therefore, that in Proto-Celtic the first month of the summer season was named 'wintry', and the first month of the winter half-year 'summery', possibly by ellipsis, '[month at the end] of summer/winter', so that samfuin would be a restitution of the original meaning. This interpretation would either invalidate the 'assembly' explanation given above, or push back the time of the re-interpretation by popular etymology to very early times indeed.

Samhain was also called the Féile Moingfhinne (meaning "festival of Mongfhionn"). According to Cormac's Glossary, Mongfhionn was a goddess the pagan Irish worshipped on Samain.

Bealtaine, Lúnasa and Samhain are still today the names of the months of May, August and November in the Irish language. Similarly, an Lùnasdal and an t-Samhuinn are the modern Scottish Gaelic names for August and November.

History

The Gaulish calendar appears to have divided the year into two halves: the 'dark' half, beginning with the month Samonios (the October/November lunation), and the 'light' half, beginning with the month Giamonios (the April/May lunation). The entire year may have been considered as beginning with the 'dark' half, so that the beginning of Samonios may be considered the Celtic New Year's day. The celebration of New Year itself may have taken place during the 'three nights of Samonios' (Gaulish trinux[tion] samo[nii]), the beginning of the lunar cycle which fell nearest to the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. The lunations marking the middle of each half-year may also have been marked by specific festivals. The Coligny calendar marks the mid-summer moon (see Lughnasadh), but omits the mid-winter one (see Imbolc). The seasons are not oriented at the solar year, viz. solstice and equinox, so the mid-summer festival would fall considerably later than summer solstice, around 1 August (Lughnasadh). It appears that the calendar was designed to align the lunations with the agricultural cycle of vegetation, and that the exact astrological position of the Sun at that time was considered less important.

In medieval Ireland, Samhain became the principal festival, celebrated with a great assembly at the royal court in Tara, lasting for three days. After being ritually started on the Hill of Tlachtga, a bonfire was set alight on the Hill of Tara, which served as a beacon, signaling to people gathered atop hills all across Ireland to light their ritual bonfires. The custom has survived to some extent, and recent years have seen a resurgence in participation in the festival.[13]

Samhain was identified in Celtic literature as the beginning of the Celtic year[14] and its description as "Celtic New Year" was popularised in 18th century literature[15] From this usage in the Romanticist Celtic Revival, Samhain is still popularly regarded as the "Celtic New Year" in the contemporary Celtic cultures, both in the Six Celtic Nations and the diaspora. For instance, the contemporary calendars produced by the Celtic League begin and end at Samhain.[16]

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Gaelic folklore

The Samhain celebrations have survived in several guises as a festival dedicated to the harvest and the dead. In Ireland and Scotland, the Féile na Marbh, the 'festival of the dead' took place on Samhain.

The night of Samhain, in Irish, Oíche Shamhna and Scots Gaelic, Oidhche Shamhna, is one of the principal festivals of the Celtic calendar, and falls on the October 31. It represents the final harvest. In modern Ireland and Scotland, the name by which Halloween is known in the Gaelic language is still Oíche/Oidhche Shamhna. 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.[3][4][5]

Traditionally, Samhain was time to take stock of the herds and grain supplies, and decide which animals would need to be slaughtered in order for the people and livestock to survive the winter. This custom is still observed by many who farm and raise livestock [3][4][5] because it is when meat will keep since the freeze has come and also since summer grass is gone and free foraging is no longer possible.

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 of the Celtic nations and the diaspora. Villagers were said to have cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames. In the pre-Christian Gaelic world, cattle were the primary unit of currency and the center of agricultural and pastoral life. Samhain was the traditional time for slaughter, for preparing stores of meat and grain to last through the coming winter. The word 'bonfire', or 'bonefire' is a direct translation of the Gaelic tine cnámh. With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit its 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.[3][4][5]

Gaelic custom of wearing costumes and masks, was an attempt to copy the evil spirits or placate them. In Scotland the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white.[6][7] Candle lanterns (Gaelic: samhnag), carved from turnips were part of the traditional festival. Large turnips were hollowed out, carved with faces, placed in windows to ward off evil spirits.[7]

Guisers - men in disguise, were prevalent in 16th century in the Scottish countryside. Children going door to door "guising" (or "Galoshin" on the south bank of the lower Clyde) in costumes and masks carrying turnip lanterns, offering entertainment of various sorts in return for food or coins, was traditional in 19th century, and continued well into 20th century.[17] At the time of substantial Irish and Scottish immigration to North America, Halloween had a strong tradition of guising and pranks.[18]

Divination is a common folkloric practice that has also survived in rural areas. The most common uses were to determine the identity of one's future spouse, the location of one's future home, and how many children a person might have. Seasonal foods such as apples and nuts were often employed in these rituals. Apples were peeled, the peel tossed over the shoulder, and its shape examined to see if it formed the first letter of the future spouse's name. Nuts were roasted on the hearth and their movements interpreted - if the nuts stayed together, so would the couple. Egg whites were dropped in a glass of water, and the shapes foretold the number of future children. Children would also chase crows and divine some of these things from how many birds appeared or the direction the birds flew.[3][4][5][6]

Ancient Ireland

The Ulster Cycle is peppered with references to Samhain. Many of the adventures and campaigns undertaken by the characters therein begin at the Samhain Night feast. One such tale is Echtra Nerai ('The Adventure of Nera') concerning one Nera from Connacht who undergoes a test of bravery put forth by King Ailill. The prize is the king's own gold-hilted sword. The terms hold that a man must leave the warmth and safety of the hall and pass through the night to a gallows where two prisoners had been hanged the day before, tie a twig around one man's ankle, and return. Others had been thwarted by the demons and spirits that harassed them as they attempted the task, quickly coming back to Ailill's hall in shame. Nera goes on to complete the task and eventually infiltrates the sídhe where he remains trapped until next Samhain. Taking etymology into consideration, it is interesting to note that the word for summer expressed in the Echtra Nerai is samraid.

The other cycles feature Samhain as well. The Cath Maige Tuireadh (Battle of Mag Tuired) takes place on Samhain. The deities Morrígan and Dagda meet and have sex before the battle against the Fomorians; in this way the Morrígan acts as a sovereignty figure and gives the victory to The Dagda's people, the Tuatha Dé Danann.

The tale The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn includes an important scene at Samhain. The young Fionn Mac Cumhail visits Tara where Aillen the Burner, one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, puts everyone to sleep at Samhain and burns the place. Through his ingenuity Fionn is able to stay awake and slays Aillen, and is given his rightful place as head of the fianna.

Related festivals

Brittany

In parts of western Brittany, Samhain is still heralded by the baking of kornigou, cakes baked in the shape of antlers to commemorate the god of winter shedding his 'cuckold' horns as he returns to his kingdom in the Otherworld. The Romans identified Samhain with their own feast of the dead, the Lemuria. This, however, was observed in the days leading up to May 13. With Christianization, the festival in November (not the Roman festival in May) became All Hallows' Day on November 1 followed by All Souls' Day, on November 2. Over time, the night of October 31 came to be called All Hallow's Eve, and the remnants festival dedicated to the dead eventually morphed into the secular holiday known as Halloween.

Wales

The Welsh equivalent of this holiday is called Nos Galan Gaeaf (see Calan Gaeaf). As with Samhain, this marks the beginning of the dark half of the year and it officially begins at sunset on the 31st.

Isle of Man

The Manx celebrate Hop-tu-Naa, which is a celebration of the original New Year's Eve. The term is Manx Gaelic in origin, deriving from Shogh ta’n Oie, meaning "this is the night". Traditionally, children dress as scary beings, carry turnips rather than pumpkins and sing an Anglicised version of Jinnie the Witch and may go from house to house asking for sweets or money.

Neopaganism

Samhain is observed by various Neopagans in various ways. As forms of Neopaganism can differ widely in both their origins and practices, these representations can vary considerably despite the shared name. Some Neopagans have elaborate rituals to honor the dead, and the deities who are associated with the dead in their particular culture or tradition. Some celebrate in a manner as close as possible to how the Ancient Celts and Living Celtic cultures have maintained the traditions, while others observe the holiday with rituals culled from numerous other unrelated sources, Celtic culture being only one of the sources used.[9][19][20]

Celtic Reconstructionism

Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans tend to celebrate Samhain on the date of first frost, or when the last of the harvest is in and the ground is dry enough to have a bonfire. Like other Reconstructionist traditions, Celtic Reconstructionists place emphasis on historical accuracy, and base their celebrations and rituals on traditional lore from the living Celtic cultures, as well as research into the older beliefs of the polytheistic Celts. At bonfire rituals, some observe the old tradition of building two bonfires, which celebrants and livestock then walk or dance between as a ritual of purification.[3][4][5][20][21]

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, 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. Though Celtic Reconstructionists make offerings to the spirits at all times of the year, Samhain in particular is a time when more elaborate offerings are made to specific ancestors. Often a meal will be prepared of favorite foods of the family's and community's beloved dead, a place set for them at the table, and traditional songs, poetry and dances performed to entertain them. A door or window may be opened to the west and the beloved dead specifically invited to attend. Many leave a candle or other light burning in a western window to guide the dead home. Divination for the coming year is often done, whether in all solemnity or as games for the children. The more mystically inclined may also see this as a time for deeply communing with the deities, especially those whom the lore mentions as being particularly connected with this festival.[3][4][5][20][21]

The Spirit of Halloween

Pronounced as it is spelled, Samhain is also the name given to the Spirit of Halloween. Often misinterpreted as an ancient Pagan God, Samhain is the protector and enforcer of Halloween's rules and rituals keeping the holiday alive in the process. Known to most as just "Sam", Samhain takes the form of a diminutive Trick or Treater in orange footie pajamas and a burlap sack mask. According to legend, Sam only roams the mortal world on Halloween as he chooses one town or city a year to make sure the holiday is being respected. Those who violate the rules of Halloween are killed by Sam. It has been said that he is the spiritual essence of Halloween, being spiritually conceived as the Holiday became more greatly celebrated by the Pagan Celts. Underneath Sam's burlap sack mask lies a face that resembles only that which is most commonly associated with Halloween. To a passerby, Sam may look like a cute little Trick or Treater trying to get his fair share of candy but under his mask is anything but sweet.

Wicca

Samhain is one of the eight annual festivals, often referred to as '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'. It is generally observed on October 31st in the Northern Hemisphere, starting at sundown. Samhain is considered by some Wiccans as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, and it 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. It is seen as a festival of darkness, which is balanced at the opposite point of the wheel by the spring festival of Beltane, which Wiccans celebrate as a festival of light and fertility.[22]

See also

References

  1. ^ in English, the inaccurate spelling pronunciation /sæmˈheɪn/ is sometimes heard: Random House,[1] Oxford English Dictionary
  2. ^ Chadwick, Nora (1970) The Celts London, Penguin. ISBN 0-14-021211-6 p. 181: "Samhain (1 November) was the beginning of the Celtic year, at which time any barriers between man and the supernatural were lowered".
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Danaher, Kevin (1972) The Year in Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs Dublin, Mercier. ISBN 1-85635-093-2 pp.190-232
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h McNeill, F. Marian (1961, 1990) The Silver Bough, Vol. 3. William MacLellan, Glasgow ISBN 0-948474-04-1 pp.11-46
  5. ^ a b c d e f g O'Driscoll, Robert (ed.) (1981) The Celtic Consciousness New York, Braziller ISBN 0-8076-1136-0 pp.197-216: Ross, Anne "Material Culture, Myth and Folk Memory" (on modern survivals); pp.217-242: Danaher, Kevin "Irish Folk Tradition and the Celtic Calendar" (on specific customs and rituals)
  6. ^ a b c Campbell, John Gregorson (1900, 1902, 2005) The Gaelic Otherworld. Edited by Ronald Black. Birlinn Ltd. ISBN 1-84158-207-7 pp.559-62
  7. ^ a b c d Arnold, Bettina (2001-10-31). "Bettina Arnold – Halloween Lecture: Halloween Customs in the Celtic World". Halloween Inaugural Celebration. University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee: Center for Celtic Studies. http://www.uwm.edu/~barnold/lectures/holloween.html. Retrieved 2007-10-16.  
  8. ^ Simpson, John; Weiner, Edmund (1989). Oxford English Dictionary (second ed.). London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-861186-2. OCLC 17648714.  
  9. ^ a b Hutton, Ronald. The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford, Blackwell. pp. 327–341. ISBN 0-631-18946-7.  
  10. ^ Pokorny, Julius. IEW (1959), s.v. "sem-3", p. 905.
  11. ^ Stokes, "Irish etyma." Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung 40 (1907): p. 245.
  12. ^ Vendryes, Lexique Étymologique de l'Irlandais Ancien (1959).
  13. ^ Samhain 2007 photos and account of Samhain ritual on the Hill of Tara (and worldwide), Oct. 31, 2007
  14. ^ Chadwick, op. cit. pp. 180-181
  15. ^ Hutton, Ronald (1996) Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford, Oxford University Press ISBN 0192880454
  16. ^ The Celtic League Calendar
  17. ^ Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt (1998) Forerunners to HalloweenPelican Publishing Company. ISBN 1565543467 p.44
  18. ^ Rogers, Nicholas. (2002). Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, pp.43, 48. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516896-8.
  19. ^ Adler, Margot (1979, revised edition 2006) Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. Boston, Beacon Press ISBN 0-8070-3237-9. pp.3, 243-299
  20. ^ a b c McColman, Carl (2003) Complete Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom. Alpha Press ISBN 0-02-864417-4. pp.12, 51
  21. ^ a b Bonewits, Isaac (2006) Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism. New York, Kensington Publishing Group ISBN 0-8065-2710-2. pp.179, 183-4, 128-140
  22. ^ Starhawk (1979, 1989) The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. New York, Harper and Row ISBN 0-06-250814-8 pp.193-6 (revised edition)

Secondary sources

Further reading

  • Carmichael, Alexander (1992). Carmina Gadelica. Lindisfarne Press ISBN 0-940262-50-9
  • Chadwick, Nora (1970) The Celts. London, Penguin ISBN 0-14-021211-6
  • Danaher, Kevin (1972) The Year in Ireland. Dublin, Mercier ISBN 1-85635-093-2
  • Evans-Wentz, W. Y. (1966, 1990) The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. New York, Citadel ISBN 0-8065-1160-5
  • MacKillop, James (1998). Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-280120-1
  • McNeill, F. Marian (1959) The Silver Bough, Vol. 1-4. William MacLellan, Glasgow

External links


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Contents

English

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Wikipedia

Etymology

From Proto-Celtic sam ("summer") and fuin ("end"), thus "Summer's End"

Pronunciation

Proper noun

Singular
Samhain

Plural
-

Samhain

  1. A holiday, falling on the night of the 31 of October to the 1 of November, celebrated by the ancient Celts as a festival marking the beginning of winter and the new year, on which it was believed that the dead could return to the earth on that one night.
  2. (Wicca) One of the eight Sabbats celebrated in Wicca.

Irish

Pronunciation

  • IPA: /sˠaunʲ/

Etymology

See English etymology above.

Proper noun

Samhain f.

  1. November.
  2. Samhain (festival).
Fifth declension

Bare forms

Case Singular Plural
Nominative Samhain Samhnacha
Vocative a Shamhain a Shamhnacha
Genitive Samhna Samhnacha
Dative Samhain Samhnacha

Forms with the definite article

Case Singular Plural
Nominative an tSamhain na Samhnacha
Genitive na Samhna na Samhnacha
Dative leis an tSamhain

don tSamhain

leis na Samhnacha
Irish mutation
Radical Lenition Eclipsis
Samhain Shamhain
after "an", tSamhain
unchanged
Note: Some of these forms may be hypothetical. Not every
possible mutated form of every word actually occurs.

Scottish Gaelic

Pronunciation

  • IPA: /ˈsaũ.iɲ/

Proper noun

Samhain f. (genitive Samhna)

  1. (with article: an t-Samhain) November
  2. All Saints' Day
  3. All Souls' Day

Alternative forms

Derived terms


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