Samhain / Beltane
Greetings, here's a few more Samhain tidbits for your enjoyment. I know this was discussed in the Inn earlier this month and I hope I'm not offending anyone but I find it comforting to observe the eight spokes of the Great Wheel of the Year. luv twilight
Our modern celebration of Halloween is a descendent of the ancient Celtic festival called "Samhain;" meaning Summer's End. Samhain was the first day of winter, and the end of one pastoral year. It was the time when the night became longer than the day, the last apples were picked, and the year began again with its dark winter half. Also called Samhiunn or Hallowe'en, this festival is sometimes called Trinoux Samonia or "Three Nights of the End of Summer."
Originally a Druidic festival, it was celebrated on the eve of November 1 (October 31 - technically, either date is appropriate as the Celts measured the day from sunset to sunset.) It is balanced by Beltane (or Bealtaine, Beltaine) which signals the start of summer, 6 months later. The ancient Celts probably held them exactly mid-way between an equinox (when day and night were equal) and the following solstice (when the nighttime was shortest or longest).
In ancient times all of the fires of Ireland were extinguished and relighted from the one great fire kindled by the King's chief Druid, on the hill of Tlachtga. Members of each family would light torches to carry back and rekindle their own hearth-fires, which were then kept burning the rest of the year. The assemblies of the five Irish provinces at Tara Hill, the seat of the Irish king, took place at Samhain. These gatherings were celebrated with horse races, fairs, markets, assembly rites, political discussions, and ritual mourning for the passage of summer.
Samhain is a time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld (or the Sídh,) was very thin, and divine beings, the spirits of the dead, and mortals can move freely between one world and the next. In some Celtic traditions, most notably the Scottish Highlands, young men would run the boundaries of their farms after sunset with blazing torches to protect the family from the Faeries and malevolent forces that were free to walk the land at night, causing mischief. Samhain was seen as a time when the future could most easily be predicted, and was a favored time among Druids for ritual fortune-telling.
As in other major Celtic Festivals, Samhain was a gateway, a celebration of the transition from one season and another. In Celtic mythology, at the heart of every gateway is a paradox. The threshold is literally between two worlds but is, in itself, in neither and in both at the same time. Thus Samhain belonged to both Summer and Winter...and to neither. It was the gateway to the winter, and a magical time of passage between the seasons.
As in many pastoral societies, winter was regarded with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Samhain was the last gasp of summer... a time of uninhibited feasting, dancing and celebration. It was a time of release; a time to let go of all unwanted baggage, fears and attitudes, just as the trees let go of their leaves. So the lives of men parallel the sacred cycles of nature.
Actually for our friends in the Anti-podes this would be the eve of Beltane. So as not to slight you my Aussie friends here are a few thoughts on the Return of the Sun.
Beltane, the third of the two Celtic fire festivals, was a celebration of the return of life and fertility to the world. It is sometimes referred to as Cetsamhain which means "opposite Samhain." Beltane was the last of the three spring fertility festivals, and the second major Celtic festival.
Beltane, and its counterpart Samhain, divide the year into its two primary seasons, winter (Dark Part) and summer (Light Part). As Samhain is about honoring Death, Beltane, its counter part, is about honoring Life. It is the time when the sun is fully released from his bondage of winter and able to rule over summer and life once again. Beltane, like Samhain, is a time of "no time" when the veils between the two worlds are at their thinnest.
In ancient Celtic communities, the festival went by many names: Beltaine in Ireland, Bealtunn in Scotland, Shenn do Boaldyn on the Isle of Man and Galan Mae in Wales. The Saxons called this day Walpurgisnacht, the night of Walpurga, goddess of May. As with Brighid, the Church transformed this goddess into St. Walpurga and attached a similar legend to her origin. This festival marked the beginning of Summer and the pastoral growing season.
The word "Beltaine" literally means "bright" or "brilliant fire," and refers to the bonfire lit by a presiding Druid in honor of the proto-Celtic god variously known as Bel, Beli, Balar, Balor or Belenus. It has been suggested that Bel is the Brythonic Celt equivalent to the Goidelic Celt god Cernunnos.
At Beltane, the Horned One dies or is taken by the Goddess, only to be reborn as her son. He then reclaims his role as consort and impregnates the Goddess, sparking his own rebirth. Other beliefs tell of the Summer God being released from captivity, or the Summer Maiden wooed away from her Earth-giant father. The Hawthorne (Huathe) tree represents the giant and sometimes this wood is used for the Maypole.
Beltane joyfully heralded the arrival of Summer in its full glory. It was believed that if you bathed in the dew of Beltane morn, your beauty would flourish throughout the year.
On the eve of Beltane the Celts build two large fires, created from the nine sacred woods, in honor of Summer. The tribal herds were ritually driven between them, so as to purify and protect them in the upcoming year. The fires celebrate the return of life and fruitfulness to the earth. Celebration included frolicking throughout the countryside, dancing the Maypole, leaping over fires, and "going a maying". It was customary for young lovers to spend the night in the forest.
Beltane was the time of sensuality revitalized, the reawakening of the earth and all of her children. It was the time when tribal people celebrated with joy the vivid colors and vibrant scents of the season, tingling summer breezes, and the rapture of summer after a long dormant winter. It was customary that Handfastings, for a year and a day, take place at this time.
Another custom was to leap over the Beltane bonfire. Young people jumped the fire for luck in finding a spouse, travelers jumped the fire to ensure a safe journey, and pregnant women jumped the fire to assure an easy delivery.
Twilight's Historical Ponderings