What Is Samhain? What to Know About the Ancient Pagan Festival That Came Before Halloween

Dressing up in costumes and trick-or-treating are popular Halloween activities, but few probably associate these lighthearted fall traditions with their origins in Samhain, a three-day ancient Celtic pagan festival.

For the Celts, who lived during the Iron Age in what is now Ireland, Scotland, the U.K. and other parts of Northern Europe, Samhain (meaning literally, in modern Irish, “summer’s end”) marked the end of summer and kicked off the Celtic new year. Ushering in a new year signaled a time of both death and rebirth, something that was doubly symbolic because it coincided with the end of a bountiful harvest season and the beginning of a cold and dark winter season that would present plenty of challenges.

According to historian Nicholas Rogers, author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Samhain was a “time of stock-taking and perhaps sacrifice” — including probably animal sacrifice — during which “pastoral communities [prepared] to survive the winter.”

Rogers also notes that little is firmly known about the particulars of the holiday, since the limited sources available are either folkloric literature like the Celtic sagas and Roman authors who would have likely “trashed” the traditions of a culture with which they were often in conflict.

To understand what we do know about Samhain, it’s important to recognize how the structure of the year’s calendar affected the Celts’ religious practices. According to The Guardian,…

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Beltane

On the cusp between spring and summer, Beltane On the cusp between spring and summer, Beltane is a fire festival that celebrates the fertility of the coming year.is a fire festival that celebrates the fertility of the coming year.

Introduction

Beltane

Find this year’s date in the multifaith calendar

Ritual burning of a straw man

Beltane is a Celtic word which means ‘fires of Bel’ (Bel was a Celtic deity). It is a fire festival that celebrates of the coming of summer and the fertility of the coming year.

Celtic festivals often tied in with the needs of the community. In spring time, at the beginning of the farming calendar, everybody would be hoping for a fruitful year for their families and fields.

Beltane rituals would often include courting: for example, young men and women collecting blossoms in the woods and lighting fires in the evening. These rituals would often lead to matches and marriages, either immediately in the coming summer or autumn.

Other festivities involved fire which was thought to cleanse, purify and increase fertility. Cattle were often passed between two fires and the properties of the flame and the smoke were seen to ensure the fertility of the herd.

Today Pagans believe that at Beltane the God (to whom the Goddess gave birth at the Winter Solstice) achieves the strength and maturity to court and become lover to the Goddess. So although what happens in the fields has lost its significance for most Pagans today, the creation of fertility is still an important issue.

Emma Restall Orr, a modern day Druid, speaks of the ‘fertility of our personal creativity’. (Spirits of the Sacred Grove, pub. Thorsons, 1998, pg.110). She is referring to the need for active and creative lives. We need fertile minds for our work, our families and our interests.

Fire is still the most important element of most Beltane celebrations and there are many traditions associated with it. It is seen to have purifying qualities which cleanse and revitalise. People leap over the Beltane fire to bring good fortune, fertility (of mind, body and spirit) and happiness through the coming year.

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Why Do Witches Ride Brooms? The History Behind the Legend

From pagan fertility rituals to hallucinogenic herbs, the story of witches and brooms is a wild ride.

The evil green-skinned witch flying on her magic broomstick may be a Halloween icon—and a well-worn stereotype. But the actual history behind how witches came to be associated with such an everyday household object is anything but dull.

It’s not clear exactly when the broom itself was first invented, but the act of sweeping goes back to ancient times, when people likely used bunches of thin sticks, reeds and other natural fibers to sweep aside dust or ash from a fire or hearth. As J. Bryan Lowder writes, this household task even shows up in the New Testament, which dates to the first and second centuries A.D.

The word broom comes from the actual plant, or shrub, that was used to make many early sweeping devices. It gradually replaced the Old English word besom, though both terms appear to have been used until at least the 18th century. From the beginning, brooms and besoms were associated primarily with women, and this ubiquitous household object became a powerful symbol of female domesticity.

Despite this, the first witch to confess to riding a broom or besom was a man: Guillaume Edelin. Edelin was a priest from Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris. He was arrested in 1453 and tried for witchcraft after publicly criticizing the church’s warnings about witches. His confession came under torture, and he eventually repented, but was still imprisoned for life.

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For Your Viewing Pleasure

Different Ways to Celebrate Samhain || Wiccan vs Celtic

Flashback 2003 Beltane

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Beltane

IN ancient times, people extinguished all their fires on Beltane and then lit a single new fire. They relit all the extinguished fires from this “need fire.”

To create your own need fire ritual, you’ll need to gather the nine sacred woods: birch, rowan, ash, alder, willow, hawthorn, oak, holly, and hazel. If you are unable to all the different types, try to make sure you have at three: oak, ash, and hawthorn.

If you don’t have any open fires to put it, use candles to symbolize your fires. Take either three or nine tapers set them in a row. Light the candles and allow them to burn a while, then put them out, thinking of those things you wish to put out of your life. Now prepare the need fire of nine woods in a fireplace, an outdoor fire ring, or even in a grill on a balcony or patio. Make s wood  bow (as described in the Boy Scout handbook, for example) or get a magnifying glass to set fire to the tinder. The should be allowed to the oak wood first, then to the others. While you light the fire, and as you watch it burn, think of those things you wish to “catch fire” in you life.

Copyright Magenta Griffith Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 2003 Page 67

Flashback 2003 Samhain

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Samhain/Halloween

Samhain is the night when the veil between worlds is thinnest. It is a good time to communicate with those who have past away, using a mirror. You will need a large mirror for this. It ought to be big enough to show your whole face at once, and preferably part of your upper body.

At least three days before Samhain, cover the mirror. If possible, fast all day on October 31. If you smoke refain from smoking after sunset.

At midnight, sit or stand before the mirror. Have a small bowl or cup of salt water close to hand. Uncover the mirror, and, several times, softly call the name of the person you wish to contact. Concentrate. After a while you may feel contact with that person, and can speak to him or her and ask questions. You can also invoke your younger or older self with this method. When you are done, thank the person, or yourself, say farewell, then dip your fingers in the salt water and draw a pentagram on the mirror to seal the veil. If at any time the communication becomes troublesome, you can break contact in this manner also.

Copyright Magenta Griffith Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 2003 Page 67

Flashback 2001 Beltane

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Beltane honors the sacred marriage of the God and Goddess, whos union will produce the harvets to come. It also celebrates the start of summer in full bloom. For this ritual, gather or purchase wildflowers. With raffia, twine, or string tie the flowers together in long garlands; ten feet in length or longer is perfect. These don’t have to look professionally crafted. They only need to hold together for the purpose of your ritual. When you have completed the garlands, go out to a park or wooded area. Touch the land and its plants and trees with your hands, allowing yourself to connect with the pulsing lifeforce of the area. Look around for items that are either feminine or masculine in their energy, and begin to linking them together with the flowery garlands to honor the union of the divine female and male energies. For example, you can link stones to oak trees, riverbanks to abandoned fire pits, or flowering plants to spikey ones.

Copyright Edain McCoy Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 2001 Page 67

Flashback 2001 Samhain

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Samhain/Halloween

In many traditions, Samhain marks the spiritual New Year, a time when we want to focus on our connection to the past and the future. To ancient peoples, stones represent the link between ourselves and those who walked our Earth before us and would do so after us. This is still seen today in the New Year’s rituals in the South Pacific islanders and Jewish cemeteries the world over. To honor those who came before us, gather some interesting stones—large, but small enough to carry comfortably—and take them to any place that makes you feel connected to your ancestors. Graveyards, at home, or a piece of land are all appropriate. Speak out loud your desire to connect with those who once walked in this place and invite them to link more closely with you. Place the stones firmly into the ground, knowing that they will be there always, connecting you to eternity of your family tree from oldest roots to newest buds.

Copyright Edain McCoy Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 2001 Page 119