About Samhain

Samain (pronounced “sow-wain”) means “End of Summer” (sam, summer; fuin, end).

Cú Chulainn going into battle at Samhain, with the Morrígan in the form of a crow (by J. C. Leyendecker)

Samain is one of the four seasonal celebrations of the Celts.  The others are Beltaine (1 May), Imbolc (1 February), and Lughnasa (1 August).  In Wales it is called Hollantide, in Cornwall it is called Allantide, and in Brittany it is called Kala-Goañv.  The oldest written reference is to Samonios in the Coligny calendar from Brittany in 100BC.  The Christian versions are All Saints’ Day and Halloween.  It is often held to be the start of the Celtic New Year.

It is one of the two “spirit-nights” each year, the other being Beltane, when the veils between the worlds are thinest. Communicating with ancestors and departed loved ones is easy at this time. Originally the “Feast of the Dead” was celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the spirits of the ancestors.

Samhain is not only a time for reflecting on mortality, but also on the passing of relationships, jobs and other significant changes in life.  It is a time for taking stock of the past and coming to terms with it, in order to move on and look forward to the future.

The Mound of the Hostages, a Neolithic passage tomb on the Hill of Tara, is aligned with the Samhain sunrise.

Bonfire at Samhaim
Bonfires are a traditional part of Samain

To celebrate Samhain bonfires are lit. Traditionally people brought harvest food and sacrificed animals to share a communal dinner in celebration of the festival.  This was the time that the cattle and other livestock were slaughtered for eating in the ensuing winter months. Any crops still in the field on Samhain were  left as offerings to the Nature spirits.  Hearth fires were also lit from the village bonfire, and the ashes were spread over the harvested fields to protect and bless the land.

In ancient times each of the Irish five provinces sent groups to Tara every three years for a Samain festival.  Each year at Tlachtga the lighting of the winter fires was a key part of the Samain ceremony and we participate in the modern revival of this ancient custom.

In part Samain ceremonies also recall the Dagda‘s sacred sexual encounters with three divinities, the Mórrígan, Boand, and Indech‘s unnamed daughter.  The Morrigan appears as a crow in the painting of Cu CuAs a result, Samain is thought the best time for a woman to become pregnant.

Later, when the festival was adopted by Christians, they celebrated it as All Hallows’ Eve, followed by All Saints Day, though it still retained elements of remembering and honouring the dead. It is also celebrated as Halloween.

In Cork and Kildare a procession of men blowing horns would be led by someone called “the White Mare”, who would wear white robes and the configuration of a horse’s head.  This tradition persisted until the 1950’s.

Keeping to the ancient ways of Samhain

Today you can still carry on the ancient ways. Light a candle in a window to help guide the spirits of ancestors and loved ones home. Put an extra chair at the dinner table and around the hearth (or TV) for the unseen guest. You can bury apples along roadsides and paths for spirits who are lost or have no descendants to provide for them.

Samhain is one of the eight Celtic festivals celebrated by us.

These are open to all and you and your family are welcome to attend.
Check the calendar for this year’s date.

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