Samhain on three levels

Samhain, the month that heralds the rule of darkness, no other festival in the old Celtic year fires the imagination in the supernatural mysteries of life and death. Like all Celtic festivals, it was celebrated on three levels. On the material level it was the time of stock-taking on supplies for the winter ahead, bringing people and cattle in from the hills and glens to their winter quarters and re-tying the social bonds of kinship. This level of the festival was practical and necessary but even so it conformed to the religious philosophy, that all were part of the great clan spirit that was invoked at this time of year.

To be alone and missing at this dangerous time was to expose your spirit to the perils of the chaotic Otherworld. In present times the importance of this part of the festival has diminished for most people living in this country, but you should try to see this from the stand- point of a tribal people for whom a bad season meant facing a long winter of famine in which many would not survive to the spring.

On the second level this was a very inner time for the people. As a warrior race Death was never very far away, yet to die was not the tragedy it is in modern times. What was of great importance to these people was to die with honour and to live in the memory of the clan and be honoured at the great feast Fleadh nan Mairbh (Feast of the Dead) which took place on Samhain Eve.

This was the most magical time of the year; it was the day which did not exist. During this night the great shield of Skathach was lowered, allowing the barriers between the worlds to fade and the forces of chaos to invade our realms of order.

At this time the Spirits of the Dead and those yet to be born of the Clan walked freely amongst the living. Food and entertainment were provided in their honour. In this way the Clan was at one with its past, present and future. This level of the festival was never totally subdued by Christianity and survives today as Hallowe'en. It has been adopted by most as the sum and total of Samhain.

Finally, on the third level of Cosmic event, the rising of Pleiades, the winter stars, heralds the supremacy of night over day, the dark half ruled by the realms of the moon. In the three days preceding the Samhain month the Sun God Lugh, who was maimed at Lughnassadh, dies by the hand of his Tanist (his other self) who is the Lord of mis-rule. Lugh passes through the boundaries of the worlds on the first day of Samhain. His Tanist is a niggardly King and though he shines brightly in the winter skies he gives nothing of his warmth to the land. He cannot warm the north wind which is the breath of the Crone, Cailleach Bheare. In this we see the ageless battle between the light and dark, the forces of growth and decay, life and death, but never good and evil. Between these two great balanced realms of Sun and Moon lies the ordered universe which sustains all life in this realm. The cyclic harmony of seasonal dominance of these realms means on our level that neither Life nor Death can ever hold permanent sway.

Copyright - S. McSkimming DALRIADA MAGAZINE 1992. Used with permission.
*Used with the permission of the Dalriada Celtic Heritage Trust.

Thursday, December 26th, 2019

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