Saturday, October 31, 2009

samhain: paganism

Samhain, a Celtic holiday translates to 'summers end', in gaelic cultures was a pagan harvest holiday. Samhain ends the lighter half of the year and begins the darker half. Many scholars believe that it was the beginning of the Celtic year. The Gaels believed that the border between this world and the otherworld became thin on Samhain. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities with people and their livestock often walking between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual, casting slaughtered livestock bones into its flames.

The Gaelic custom of wearing costumes and masks, was an attempt to copy the spirits or appease them. In Scotland the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white. Samhnag were turnips which were hollowed out and carved with faces to make lanterns, meant to ward off harmful spirits. The Gaelic festival became associated with the Christian All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, and has hugely influenced the secular customs now connected with Halloween. It continues to be celebrated as a religious festival by some Neopagans.

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