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The History behind the Holiday

The Ancient Celtic Fire Festivals There were four Major High Days celebrated by the Paleopagan Druids throughout the Celtic territories: Samhain, Candalmas, Beltane & Lammas.  Four additional High Days (Winter Solstice or "Midwinter," Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice or "Midsummer," and Fall Equinox), which are based on Germanic or other Indo-European cultures, are also celebrated in the Neopagan Druid calendar. Samhain  is pronounced "sow-en" -- because "mh" in the middle of an Irish word is a "w" sound.  Samhain is the most important of the fire festivals, because it marks the Celtic New Year.  Samhain was the original festival that became "All Saints' Day" in the Christian calendar.  Since the Celts, like many cultures, started every day at sunset of the night before, this became the "evening" of "All Hallows" ("hallowed" = "holy" = "saint") which was eventually contracted into "Hallow-e'en" or the modern "Halloween." Among other things, Samhain is the beginning of the Winter Half of the Year and is known as "the Day Between Years" (the year, like the day, began with its dark half).  The day before Samhain is the last day of the old year and the day after Samhain is the first day of the new year.  Being "between years," it is considered a very magical time, when the dead walk among the living and the veils between past, present and future may be lifted in prophecy and divination. Many important mythological events in Celtic history are said to have occured on this day.  Many of these events had to do with the temporary victory of the forces of darkness over those of light, signaling the beginning of the cold and dark half of the year.   Celtic society, like all early societies, was highly structured and organized, everyone knew their place.  But to allow that order to be psychologically comfortable, the Celts knew that there had to be a time when order and structure were abolished, when chaos could reign.  And Samhain, was such a time. Time was abolished for the three days of this festival and people did crazy things, men dressed as women and women as men.  Farmers' gates were unhinged and left in ditches, peoples' horses were moved to different fields, and children would knock on neighbours' doors for food and treats in a way that we still find today, in watered-down way, in the custom of trick-or-treating on Hallowe'en. But behind this apparent lunacy, lay a deeper meaning.  The Druids knew that these three days had a special quality about them.  The veil between this world and the World of the Ancestors was drawn aside on these nights.  And for those who were prepared, journeys could be made in safety to the 'other side'.  The Druid rites, therefore, were concerned with making contact with the spirits of the departed, who were seen as sources of guidance and inspiration rather than as sources of dread. The dark moon, the time when no moon can be seen in the sky, was the phase of the moon which ruled this time, because it represents a time in which our mortal sight needs to be obscured in order for us to see into the other worlds. The dead are honoured and feasted, not as the dead, but as the living spirits of loved ones and of guardians who hold the root-wisdom of the tribe.  With the coming of Christianity, this festival was turned into Hallowe'en (31 October), All Hallows [All Saints Day] (1 November), and [All Souls Day] (2 November).  Here we can see most clearly the way in which Christianity built on the Pagan foundations it found rooted in these isles.  Not only does the purpose of the festival match with the earlier one, but even the unusual length of the festival is the same. The Christian Church was unable to get the people to stop celebrating this holiday, so they simply sprinkled a little holy water on it and gave it new  names, as they did with other Pagan holidays and customs.