The Dark ages festival of Samhain

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

- The summers end and coming of darkness -

Tonight we’re celebrating Halloween in our own very modern way with pumpkins, parties and trick or treats galore. But to find the origins of Halloween we have to firstly go back to the early Christian festival of 'All Hallow’s Eve,' celebrated as the night before ‘Hallowmas’ which later became known as All Saints Day. However, did you know that back in the dark ages, before Christianity came to Britain and the period where my story Shadowland takes place, there was also a festival celebrated at this time, and it was known as Samhain, which translates as summer’s end.

Samhain took place on or about the 31st October because it’s the day that falls midway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. To the tribes of dark age Britain, it was the last day of summer and the first day of winter - they only had two seasons.

In the villages, Samhain was a time of preparation for the long hard winter ahead. Last crops, hay and firewood were stored in well thatched huts and cattle brought down from the high summer pastures with those destined to be eaten, slaughtered as part of the Samhain celebration.

On the night of Samhain, two great fires were lit in the middle of the village and before the feasting the returning cattle and the people would walk between the walls of flame in a ritual of cleansing, throwing bones and offerings into the flames as they passed.

The superstitious people of the dark ages saw the night of Samhain and their fires as the time when the doorway to the Shadowland, the land of the spirits, became open and the two worlds would almost becoming one. In the dark ages village, old age was respected for its wisdom and dying was not feared but seen as part of the normal course of life, it was on the night of Samhain when the dead could be spoken to, advice sought and honoured ancestors who had passed into the Shadowlandinvited to feast with their families and loved ones. It was very auspicious if a child was born on the night of Samhain, for it was known that the child would become a druid or dreamer, one that could commune with the Shadowland.

So while you celebrate Halloween cast your mind back to the dark ages, peak into the Shadowland and take a glimpse of Samhain, it is, after all, your past and maybe you can invite your ancestors to join you!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post, Samhain is the most evocative and atmospheric time of year for me. We live in a part of the UK where you can often find evidence of ancient cultures scattered in the ploughed fields nearby. Saxon, Viking and Ancient British - sometimes it feels as if the past is still alive in so many ways, especially on All Hallows Eve. ;)
    Happy Samhain Chris!