October 20th 2017
Samhain (pronounced Sow-en, or Sow-ain) is the old Celtic name for Halloween – All Hallows’ Eve, which occurs on 31st October. This is a festival which is celebrated all around the globe, and a little run down of some of our cousin’s festivals also reveals something of their common themes. Of course what most of us know of Halloween has come back over the Atlantic from the United States, however, the American version has become a big melting pot of lots of different cultures that brought their own celebrations with them. Halloween is one of the pagan festivals that has its real traditional roots in the folk traditions of the United Kingdom.
If you want to learn more about Folk Traditions and the real history behind the different Pagan celebrations in the Wheel of the Year, then Professor Ronald Hutton has written a really comprehensive study of the Modern Pagan Folk festivals and their roots called Stations of the Sun which is recommended reading.
All across the British Isles, All Hallows Eve was an important celebration, as it was the last big festival before the coming of the hard winter ahead. Farmers would lay bonfires in fields to cleanse them, and the traditional foods at this time included apples, nuts, parsnips and carved turnips placed in windows to either scare the spirits away, or to welcome them in.
In Ireland - Dressing up as the spirits and going out was an old Irish tradition, which the Irish took with them to America when they emigrated in large numbers following the British colonisation of Ireland.
In Scotland – Protestantism wiped out many of the traditional folk celebrations, but where small pockets of Catholicism remained in the Highlands, some traditions were protected. There were four points of the year when homes were purified and the fires were put out, and then re-lit afresh. Here, there was a tradition for having two large bonfires which folk then walked between to ‘cleanse’ them.
In England - The tradition of the cleansing fires survived in England with the Guy Fawkes celebrations of November 5th, which took over from many of the elements of the traditional Halloween holiday.
The Veil Between the Worlds
You may hear or read about the ‘veil between the worlds’ being at its thinnest at Halloween, but what does that actually mean? Traditionally it was believed that the souls who have left the physical world would come back and wander the earth on this night, as they often do. The difference is, you would be able to see them, and they would be able to see you. This festival often celebrates the connection of love across the divide of death.