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Samhain

Information about Samhain

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The festival did not begin to be recorded in detail until the early modern era. It was when cattle were brought down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered. As at Beltaine, special bonfires were lit. These were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers, and there were rituals involving them. Like Beltaine, Samhain was a liminal or threshold festival, when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld thinned, meaning the Aos Sí (the 'spirits' or 'fairies') could more easily come into our world. Most scholars see the Aos Sí as remnants of pagan gods. At Samhain, they were appeased with offerings of food and drink, to ensure the people and their livestock survived the winter. The souls of dead kin were also thought to revisit their homes seeking hospitality, and a place was set at the table for them during a Samhain meal. Mumming and guising were part of the festival from at least the early modern era, whereby people went door-to-door in costume reciting verses in exchange for food. The costumes may have been a way of imitating, and disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí. Divination was also a big part of the festival and often involved nuts and apples. In the late 19th century, John Rhys and James Frazer suggested it was the "Celtic New Year", but this is disputed.