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Samhuinn: The Spirit of Halloween’s Past

23rd Oct 2015
Samhuinn: The Spirit of Halloween’s Past

Halloween. Love it or hate it, it’s very hard to avoid during October. Every year the one day spooktacular grows ever more commercial and seems to step further away from its origins and more towards the practices of our American cousins.

Gone are the days of bruised hands caused by gouging through rock hard turnip flesh with your mum’s oldest kitchen knife; pumpkins are most definitely the easier option. Many of us will remember the days of guising too: Trick or Treating, but with added obligation of providing doorstep entertainment before the treats arrived. 

But where do the true roots of Halloween lie? Even before Christianity adopted the October 31 as All Hallows Eve, the Pagans already celebrated the creepiest time of year as Samhuinn.

In the Pagan calendar, Samhuinn is sometimes known as their new year, but more often as the feast of the dead. It was the time of bonfires and feasting, when the dead would return from the afterlife to visit their old homes and join in with the festivities. 

In Gaelic mythology it marks the point between the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter, half way between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. From the origins of this ancient festival stem many of the Halloween traditions we still follow to this day. 

The fancy dress element of Halloween has its origins in Samhuinn, as the Pagans would disguise themselves to avoid detection by the Aos Si : a supernatural race comparable to the sinister elves or fairies of Scottish mythology. What the Aos Si would make of the legions of scantily clad devils, nuns and nurses to be seen at modern day Halloween celebrations is anyone’s guess!

As ancient as Samhuinn may be, it’s far from forgotten, and is encountering an active revival. The Beltane Fire Society will be bringing Samhuinn back to eerie life on the 31st October in and around Calton Hill, complete with their cast of hundreds of characters. Ranging from the sinister and strange to the colourful and crazed, it’s guaranteed to be an experience entirely different to the modern day legions of massed produced costumes and tipsy antics. Who knows, but within their midst the dead may be walking, for one night only.

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