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Samhain: The Celtic Origins of Halloween

The Festival of Samhain


The Celtic Festival of Samhain

Samhain is a pagan religious festival originating from an ancient Celtic spiritual tradition. In modern times, Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “SAH-win”) is usually celebrated from October 31 to November 1 to welcome in the harvest and usher in “the dark half of the year.” Celebrants believe that the barriers between the physical world and the spirit world break down during Samhain, allowing more interaction between humans and denizens of the Otherworld. 

Ancient Celts marked Samhain as the most significant of the four quarterly fire festivals, taking place at the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. During this time of year, hearth fires in family homes were left to burn out while the harvest was gathered.

After the harvest work was complete, celebrants joined with Druid priests to light a community fire using a wheel that would cause friction and spark flames. The wheel was considered a representation of the sun and used along with prayers. Cattle were sacrificed, and participants took a flame from the communal bonfire back to their home to relight the hearth.

Early texts present Samhain as a mandatory celebration lasting three days and three nights where the community was required to show themselves to local kings or chieftains. Failure to participate was believed to result in punishment from the gods, usually illness or death. There was also a military aspect to Samhain in Ireland, with holiday thrones prepared for commanders of soldiers. Anyone who committed a crime or used their weapons during the celebration faced a death sentence. Some documents mention six days of drinking alcohol to excess, typically mead or beer, along with gluttonous feasts. Continue reading from History

From Our Collection

Link to Samhain Spells And Rituals by Deran Gray in Hoopla
Link to Year of the Witch by Temperance Alden in the Catalog
Link to Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore For Halloween by Diana Rajchel in Hoopla
Link to A Book of Pagan Prayer by Ceisiwr Serith in the Catalog
Link to The Book of Altars and Sacred Space by Anjou Kiernan in the Catalog
Link to A Season With The Witch: The Magic And Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts by W Ocker in the Catalog
Link to Halloween: The History of America's Darkest Holiday by David J.Skal in the Catalog
Link to America's Favorite Holidays: Candid Histories by Bruce David Forbes in the Catalog
Link to The Good Witch's Daily Spellbook by Patti Wigington in Freading
Link to The Wicca Spellbook by Gerina Dunwich in Hoopla
Link to Dictionary of Pagan Religions by Harry E Wedeck and Wade Baskin in Freading

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