Samhain pronunciation “sow-en” or “sow-in” is a Celtic fire festival and marks the end of the summer season and beginning of winter.
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It was a time of cleansing and purification when the neighboring hillsides were covered with bonfires. The bonfires cleared the land of any evil spirits that might cause sickness during the winter months.
Samhain was celebrated as a time of honoring one’s departed loved ones and ancestral spirits. Festivals were celebrated on October 31st with a bonfire and traditional harvest feast.
Surrounding villages were connected one to another through these fires of purification and harvest celebration. Each neighbor was joined in spirit and with the spirits of their ancestors. It was a great celebration of spiritual connection between the tribes and all things. The fires would dance upon the hillsides throughout the night.
Celtic New Year
On November 1st when the darkest hour between summer and winter had passed a second fire would be lit to welcome in the New Year. The Celts celebrated the New Year with traditional harvest foods and much amusement. It was a time of giving thanks for their bounty and acknowledging the passing of the seasons and the birth of a New Year.
At the end of the Samhain celebration each tribal family would light a torch from the New Year bonfire and take it home to light their home hearth fires. This New Year fire would be kept burning as an eternal flame in each home throughout the long winter season.
Another tradition practiced at Samhain was to jump through the dying embers of the bonfire as a symbol of purification of evil spirits and escaping from the goddess of death known as the “black sow.”
Modern Day Samhain Festivals
Festivals like Halloween celebrated on October 31st, followed by All Saints Day on November 1st and Days of the Dead celebrated on November 1st and 2nd have ceremonies and rituals to acknowledge this day when it is said the veil between the worlds of the living and departed spirits is thinnest.
Samhain is a day when communion with the other worlds is easiest.
Samhain Rituals & Ceremonies
Different forms of divination were especially popular at Samhain. People honored their ancestors with prayers of remembrance and meditation. In most Celtic households there was always an altar or area in the home where symbols honoring departed loved ones and ancestors was kept and tended to regularly. At Samhain these ancestral altars were freshened and renewed.
Ancestral altars were adorned with elements collected from the natural world. Pretty objects like healing stones, aromatic herbs, colorful leaves, containers of fresh water, burning candles, fruits and various symbols commemorating loved ones decorated the altar.
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