What is Samhain 2019? Rituals and traditions behind the pagan festival which inspired Halloween
Samhain falls at the end of October and is said to usher in ‘the dark half of the year’
As people across the world prepare for the festivities of Halloween, many are unaware of the history of the holiday.
Halloween derives from one of the most important dates in the calendar of the ancient Celtic religion – Samhain.
Samhain, a Gaelic precursor to Halloween, is held on held on 1 November and sees the barriers of the spirit and human worlds break down allowing interaction between the two.
Many take the time to honour the loved ones they’ve lost while others prepare to usher in the dark half of the year.
What’s the history of Samhain?
Samhain dates back as far as the 10th Century, having featured in Irish literature and folklore from this era, and is widely celebrated throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
It takes place between the fall equinox and the winter solstice and marks the end of the harvest season, and last three days.
The day was brought about to honour the dead as they passed from the human realm into the spirit world, and is marked in a number of ways.
However, with the coming of Christianity, the day soon merged with All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day to create what is now known as Halloween.
How is Samhain celebrated?
Ancient worshippers marked the occasion with huge celebrations that lasted days.
Dressed in costumes made from animal hide, they gathered for festivities sharing food and alcohol as they swapped stories of the season.
Families and friends mark their loved ones who had passed away whilst harmful spirits were also warded off.
Druid priests would build huge sacred bonfires in which they used to offer sacrifices to the gods, after which participants took a flame back to their home to relight the hearth and protect their homes.
As time progressed, carved turnips were soon embraced, with these later becoming the pumkpin Jack-O-Lanterns we’re more accustomed to seeing.
Halloween festivities such as trick-or-treating also derived from the ancient Samhain traditions, which saw people going door-to-door singing songs to the dead. As signs of gratitude, they received cakes.
In recent years Samhain is still observed by Neo-Pagans and Wiccans who perform fire ceremonies and honour their dead.