The Samhain reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Samhain

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Samhain (pron: 'sow-in) is the winter season of the ancient Celts. The name is also used for one of the sabbats in the Neo-Pagan wheel of the year.

Table of contents
1 Celts

Celts

The Celts divided the year into four quarters: Samhain (winter), Imbolc (spring), Beltane (summer), and Lughnasadh (autumn). The Celtic year began in November, with Samhain. The Celts were influenced principally by the lunar and stellar cycles which governed the agricultural year - beginning and ending in autumn when the crops have been harvested and the soil is prepared for the winter. Pronunciation differs radically between different groups of Celtic language speakers. The word "Samhain" is probably derived from the Irish Gaelic word "samhraidhreadh", or "summer's end". Samhain is also known as Calan Gaeaf to the Welsh. Bealtaine, Lúnasa and Samhain are still today the names of the months of May, August and November in the Irish language.

Samhain Eve, in Irish, Oidhche Shamhna, is one of the principal festivals of the Celtic calendar, and is thought to fall on or around the 31st of October. It represents the final harvest. In modern Ireland, the name by which Halloween is known in the Irish language is still "Oíche Shamhna".

Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. Even into Christian times, villagers cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames, cattle having a prominent place in the pre-Christian Gaelic world. Though a folk etymology derives the English word "bonfire" from these "bone fires," the Gaelic has no such parallel. The Gaelic equivalent of 'bonfire' applied to these solemn fires is {please insert the apposite words here}. With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit their hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together.

Like most Celtic festivals, it was celebrated on a number of levels. Materially speaking it was the time of gathering food for the long winter months ahead, bringing people and their livestock in to their winter quarters. To be alone and missing at this dangerous time was to expose yourself and your spirit to the perils of imminent winter. In present times the importance of this part of the festival has diminished for most people. From the point of view of an agricultural people, for whom a bad season meant facing a long winter of famine in which many would not survive to the spring, it was paramount.

Samhain was also a time for contemplation. Death was never very far away, yet to die was not the tragedy it is in modern times. Of signal importance to the Celts people was to die with honour and to live in the memory of the tribe and be honoured at the great feast (in Ireland this would have been the Fleadh nan Mairbh (Feast of the Dead)) which took place on Samhain Eve.

This was the most magical time of the year; Samhain was the day which did not exist. During the night the great shield of Skathach was lowered, allowing the barriers between the worlds to fade and the forces of chaos to invade the realms of order, the material world conjoining with the world of the dead. At this time the spirits of the dead and those yet to be born walked amongst the living. The dead could return to the places where they had lived and food and entertainment were provided in their honour. In this way the tribes were at one with its past, present and future. This aspect of the festival was never totally subdued by Christianity.

On the level of cosmic event, the rising of Pleiades, the winter stars, heralds the supremacy of night over day, the dark half ruled by the realms of the moon.

In parts of western Brittany Samhain is still heralded by the baking of kornigou. Kornigou are 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.

When the Romans made contact with the Celts, they identified Samhain with their own feast of the dead, the Lemuria, which, however, was observed in the days leading up to May 13. The Christians subverted the recognition of Samhain to honor the saints, as All Saint's Day on November 1st and named October 31 as All Hallow's Eve. Significantly the feast was removed from May to November. This latter became a secular holiday by the name of Halloween.

Although using different nomenclatures, all of these festivals and feasts are celebrating the accessibility, veneration, awe, and respect of the dead.

Neo-Paganism

Samhain is one of the eight solar holidays or sabbats of Neopaganism. It is celebrated in the northern hemisphere on October 31 or November 1 and in the southern hemisphere on May 1.

The holiday, with Beltane, is one of the most popular among Neopagans, and public Samhain rituals invariably attract large gatherings. It is the last of the harvest festivals (after Lammas and Mabon); in some traditions it symbolizes the death of the old god.

Among the sabbats, it is preceded by Mabon and followed by Yule.

See also Wheel of the Year.


Pronunciation: (usually) Sown (rhymes with clown) or SOW-in (ow rhymes with plough).  An alternative pronunciation sometimes used is seh-VAIN\.

Other

Samhain is also the name of a Glenn Danzig-fronted band that formed after the dissolution of the Misfits.