Samhain

(Night of the Dead)

 

Calendar Event - November 6 or 7

 

 

 

Samhain was a 3-day calendar event with 2 day on either end.  It noted the triumph of dark over bright and the beginning of the winter season (Geimhreadh).  It was the time of growing winter nights when the deities of the underworld had the responsibility of maintaining order.  It was also the to pay respects to the fallen warriors and heroes.

 

The eve of Samhain began by breaking the days fast with a feast of goose, chitterlings (boar intestines) and bread baked from acorn.  All fires were extinguished and no wheels were allowed to turn until the next eve.  During Samhain the door between this world and The Otherworld opened upon each other, permitting spirits from either side to roam freely.  The hearth was prepared for relatives who had passed on in a show of respect for the dead and to keep friendly relations with the Otherworld.

 

During Samhain night, it was possible for those brave enough to raid The Otherworld for treasures, but the time between first cockcrow and daybreak was better spent asleep in the safety of one's home.  Most warriors spent the night in their forts eating, drinking and boasting of their past brave deeds in an attempt to keep the souls of dead warriors at bay.

 

The following eve the great needfire was lit on the Hill of Ward in Ireland in honour of Tlachtga, a goddess of knowledge.  The needfire was lit by a druid on a specially prepared site.  The head chieftains of Ireland then brought fire from the sacred needfire to their provinces and all the hearth fires were relit with a torch from the chieftain fires.  The Rites of Protection were performed to any corners in the home, thresholds, chimneys, windows and any other openings.

 

When the druids lit the needfire at Tlachtga, which was 12 miles from Tara, a white bull was sacrificed, marking the end of the grazing season.  Selected people swung burning brooms and fireballs around their heads during special sun dances.  Filidhs divined using hazelnuts and apples in association with fire and water.

 

The feast was held at Tara afterwards.  The night was spent feasting with games, entertainment, and sword dances performed by 8 warriors.  As at all calendar events, both instrumental and vocal music was important.  Poets and bards remembered the brave deeds of the warriors now living in The Otherworld and sung their praises and beat their drums.  Mead was the drink of most calendar festivals, and any breach of the Divine Peace was instantly punishable by death.

 

After the festival, cattle were slaughtered and salted away for winter, which was very rough in some Celtic areas.  The dark half of the year was also the most common time of war and combat.  Each warrior made sure his or her weapons were ready while the druids prepared their Aspen rods, which they used to measure corpses.

 

The festival was in the month of Scorpio (serpent) of the solar zodiac or the old month of Ophiuchus (serpent holder).  It was also the month of Peith (Guelder Rose) or Ngetal (reed) of the tree calendar.

 

 

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