Still celebrated around the world, Samain is none other than the holiday now known as Halloween. Going back to 500 B.C., this major event in the lives of the Celts was in fact a strong spiritual issue where the living entered into communication with the dead for the duration of a night … Much less commercial than today, this event was taken very seriously by the Celtic population, and was a major moment in their daily lives.
Presentation of the Samain
A night when the dead co-exist with the living…
For the Celts the year was punctuated by 4 major stages:
Imbolc celebrated spring,
Beltane in the summer,
Lugnasad in autumn
and Samain announced winter.
The time of the Samain announced the end of the harvest, the arrival of the cold and the famous night when the God of Death would allow the dead to live for a few hours alongside the living.
Samain is neither more nor less the day of the Celtic New Year even if it will never be really fixed. It is situated between October 25 and November 20, which corresponds to the 6th day of the rising moon. That night, a huge banquet is organized, and everyone must be present under penalty of death. Fires are lit and sacrifices of horses (Ireland) or bulls (Gaul) are practiced. If we look at the great epic of the Celts, we will see that many events take place on a day or night of Samain: the healing of Cûchulainn, the victory of the Tuatha at the battle of Mag Tured.
The Christianization of the Celtic peoples signed the temporary death warrant of this festival declared pagan in the year 610 by Pope Boniface IV. In the year 835 Gregory IV created All Saints’ Day and Odilon of Cluny will fix in 1048 the date of November 1st for this feast. The eve of the holy night “all hallow’s even” or “all hallow’s eve” according to the versions will later become Halloween. The migration of the festival to the United States will take place at the same time as the exodus of the Irish fleeing the Great Famine of 1840. However, the rites change, and nowadays, Halloween has become a commercial holiday, where children, dressed in costumes, knock on every door in the neighborhood to beg for candy …
The Samain was a nightly ceremony.
Each household had to put out the fire in the house and plunge into darkness. This act made one aware of the state of death: without light, life is impossible. This awareness made it possible to tame Death, and to make contact with the Ancients (men who had already passed the Beyond), in order to ask for advice, benevolence and wisdom. Afterwards, the members of the village would gather in the dark in the village square, where the druids would light a new fire. This sacred fire symbolized a new beginning, the beginning of life, of the Celtic year, and victory over death.
It was only afterwards that the druids would light other fires around the village, on the hills, to protect the houses from any evil threat. Then each villager would take a few embers from the sacred fire, and go back to their homes to start their fires again.