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Samhain in Glastonbury
23 Oct 2023

Samhain in Glastonbury

Samhain is the end and the beginning of the Celtic New Year, an affirmation of rebirth in the midst of death and darkness, the end and death of the old year, bringing opportunity for renewal and new beginnings.

As the coloured autumn leaves carpet the ground and days grow shorter Samhain (pronounced Sow-ein) is celebrated, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Nature shows us how to behave at this time of year. The darker days and nights are a sign for some animals to hibernate, trees to lose their leaves and plants die down at the end of the growing season. It’s a time for introspection, reflection, and connecting with the cycles of nature.

Samhain is the end and the beginning of the Celtic New Year, an affirmation of rebirth in the midst of death and darkness, the end and death of the old year, bringing opportunity for renewal and new beginnings.

Samhain is named after an Aryan lord of death, Samana or Samavurt who, along with other pre-Christian male gods, was given the title the Grim Reaper, the Leveller, the Dark Lord, Leader of Ancestral Ghosts, the Judge of the Dead.

Samhain became the Christian All Souls Night, All Hallows Eve (Halloween) of 31st October and All Souls Day of 1st November, marking the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Fear and superstitions replaced the potent power of this celebration. It was thought that others could also slip through the gap in space-time: the faerie, the sidhe, hobgoblins, elves and other mischief makers.

This is the root of Halloween’s ‘mischief night’. Only those in disguise could venture out. Modern-day Halloween, with its costumes, trick-or-treating, and carved pumpkins, is inspired by Samhain. For modern pagan and Wiccan communities, Samhain remains a deeply spiritual and religious celebration These contemporary celebrations often include the lighting of candles to guide the spirits of deceased loved ones. In the Celtic calendar, this was the beginning of the darker half of the year, a time when the boundary between the living and the dead was believed to be thin.

Halloween apple games grew out of the Celtic belief in the apple as a holy fruit, sacred and magical, a means to immortality, death and rebirth. In Celtic myth, the apples of the goddess, (sometimes called Hels apples, after the Underworld goddess Hellenes) signified a sacred marriage and a journey to the land of death and rebirth. Later, Hels apples became the poisoned apples of Christian folklore which the ‘wicked witch’ used to kill her victims. Cutting the apple transversely reveals the hidden five pointed star in the core, the magic pentacle, sign of the dark mysteries of the goddess and protection. Apples continue to be used at Samhain for games and divination.

The origins of Samhain date back over 2,000 years to a time when darkness was important to the Celts, as important as the light. Darkness and death had power which they did not fear. As the Earth is plunged into its darkest time of the year, they blessed the seeds which would once again bring life, when the Sun returned. Samhain is one of the four great Fire Festivals of our Celtic past. Bonfires called ‘samhnagan’ were lit on the hilltops – the tumuli and burial mounds of the communities past. All the other fires in the community were put out and were then rekindled from the samhnagan. People would often take burning embers from these bonfires to relight the hearths in their homes.

The Church brought the people away from the burial mounds, but Samhain customs continued to thrive. Each village or household lit their own bonfires. (Note the proximity to our bonfire night).

Samhain is a beautiful and ancient festival that bridges the gap between the living and the dead, the past and the present. Its customs and traditions have left a profound imprint on the modern celebration of Halloween, reminding us of the deep historical and spiritual significance of this time of year. Whether you embrace it as a modern Halloween enthusiast or connect with its ancient roots in a more profound way, Samhain is a time to honour the harvest, celebrate life, and remember those who came before us

Use this time for rest and renewal. Slip beyond the rational and the logical and go beyond the seen world, listen to your intuition and learn to value this as part of your whole self. Use this time for learning, for collecting, sorting and memorising information, so that when the time for action comes, you will have assimilated new knowledge which can be used when needed. Review and assimilate what you have learned in the active phase of the year’s cycle. Out of difficult situations comes power, hope, rebirth, inner strength, wisdom and maturity. Nurture new visions, dreams, ideas and direction, so that they may incubate in the dark winter months ready to be named and birthed at the Winter Solstice.

The trees show us how to let go easily with the certainty that new leaves will appear in the spring. Use this time to let go of all the ‘should haves’ and failures, worries and insecurities, and all the hurts and fears we have been hanging on to that limit us.. They fall away like leaves from a tree. They become compost as they rot and decay to feed future projects and growth.

Inspired by Glennie Kindred

Frequently Asked Questions About Samhain

What is the Samhain festival?

The origins of Samhain date back over 2,000 years to a time when darkness was important to the Celts, as important as the light. Darkness and death had power which they did not fear. As the Earth is plunged into its darkest time of the year, they blessed the seeds which would once again bring life, when the Sun returned. Samhain is one of the four great Fire Festivals of our Celtic past. Samhain is the end and the beginning of the Celtic New Year, an affirmation of rebirth in the midst of death and darkness, the end and death of the old year, bringing opportunity for renewal and new beginnings.

What is the difference between Halloween and Samhain?

Samhain became the Christian All Souls Night, All Hallows Eve (Halloween) of 31st October and All Souls Day of 1st November, marking the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Fear and superstitions replaced the potent power of this celebration. It was thought that others could also slip through the gap in space-time: the faerie, the sidhe, hobgoblins, elves and other mischief makers. This is the root of Halloween’s ‘mischief night’. Only those in disguise could venture out. Modern-day Halloween, with its costumes, trick-or-treating, and carved pumpkins, is inspired by Samhain. For modern pagan and Wiccan communities, Samhain remains a deeply spiritual and religious celebration.

Where is Samhain celebrated?

Samhain was celebrated through the ancient Celtic communities of Europe including Ireland, Wales and Scotland. This festival has had a resurgence throughout the northern Hemisphere as people reconnect with the cycles of nature.

Where is the Glastonbury Dragon?

The Glastonbury Red and White Dragons process through the town at Samhain with Gwyn Ap Nudd and the Wild Hunt. Legend tells how Gwyn Ap Nudd, lives under Glastonbury Tor and emerges around Samhain time to ride with the Wild Hunt across the land, riding with his warriors and hounds. He re-enters his underground home each Beltane before emerging again near to the following Samhain. Gwyn is the King of the Fae, the folk who live under the hill with him and if you enter his realm you need not eat or drink anything offered or you would not be able to leave. Gwyn Ap Nudd, will be emerging once again this October time, released once more from his home underneath Glastonbury Tor, free to ride the land again. The Glastonbury Dragons will also emerge from their secret lair underneath Glastonbury Tor, the battle of the season will take place once again. The white dragon represents the winter and the red the summer. Which Dragon will win the Red or White?

What are the Glastonbury dragons?

The Glastonbury Dragons were created by local artists to represent the change from Summer into Winter at Samhain and the change from Winter into Summer at Beltain. Based on different legends of dragon battles at the time of King Arthur and the sacrifice of the Sun king back into the land having swelled the seeds which now lie in the dark of the Earth until the Sun’s return. He too becomes a death god and shaman, able to travel the inner realms. These myths reflect the understanding of the year’s cycle. Death and darkness were seen as a period of rest and regeneration before rebirth.

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