October is here, and with it comes Samhain, the ancient Irish festival that became Halloween as we know it.
To start, here's a look at the importance of Samhain in the Celtic calendar and Irish folklore.
The Celts believed the year was divided into two parts, the lighter half in the summer and the darker half in the winter. Samhain, or Halloween as it is now called, was the division between these halves. The Celts believed that the veil between our world and the other world was thinnest at this time. Oíche Shamhna (October 31) is Halloween and Lá na Marbh (November 1) is the Day of the Dead, or All Saints Day, when those who have passed away are remembered.
According to the American Folklife Center at the U.S. Library of Congress, Celts wore costumes to confuse the spirits now roaming our world and to avoid capture.
According to one of the several stories recounted in the “Tales of the Elders,” every year at Samhain for twenty three years the fire breathing creature Aillen would lull the men of Tara to sleep and burn the court to the ground during the night. The young hero Fionn MacCumhail avoided sleep by sticking the sharp end of his spear into his forehead and killed Aillen with that spear on Samhain. Because of this deed, he was made head of the Fianna.
Probably best known as Cu Chulainn’s father, the god of light enters the court at Tara to join the Tuatha de Dannan at Samhain. According to Whitney Stokes’ 1891 volume “The Second Battle of Moytura,”when Lugh enters the court, the Tuatha de Danann are oppressed by the Fomorians. After the high king gives him command over the Tuatha de Danna, Lugh begins preparations to overthrow them. After days of battle, Lugh and the Tuatha de Danna are victorious.
As noted in John T. Koch’s “The Celts: History, Life, and Culture,” in the myth “The Wooing of Emer” Samhain is mentioned a couple times. The story follows the courtship of the lovely Emer, who is transformed into various creatures before being reunited with her husband. Samhain is the first of the four “quarter days” mentioned by the titled heroine. Also in this story, Oengus claims the kingship of Bru na Boinne, what is today Newgrange, on Samhain.