Origins of Samhain

In Boyne Valley of Celtic Ireland there were two places associated with Samhain. The second most known place was Tara. But Tara has now become more famous for many other things. Here are a few:
The story of Hill of Tara begins in the Neolithic Era when a passage grave was built. It is called the Mound of the Hostages, dating back to 3350 – 2800 BCE, revealing exceptional architecture and stunning artworks. It is aligned with the sun, so the passage and chamber are lit up at sunrise during Samhain and Imbolc.
This tomb was used as a public burial site up until 1600-1700 BCE, for at least 300 cremated individuals from the surrounding community. This place received its name much later in the medieval era when it was used as the place for a symbolic exchange of hostages.
During the Bronze Age, the Mound of the Hostages was reopened and used to bury another 30 or so cremated high-status individuals before it was closed permanently. It was around this time that a circular structure was erected around the monument, along with six more burial mounds, all of which are almost all gone now. The Stone of Destiny at the Hill of Tara.
The Iron Age saw the building of raths, or circular, semi-defensive structures. There are a few ringforts within the complex, all likely built later in the Iron Age.
The most prominent is the 1st century BCE Enclosure of the Kings, which was built to include the Neolithic era Mound of the Hostages. It’s interesting how at the Hill of Tara, new cultures built their monuments to encompass the old, to respect the older monuments, even if they no longer used them in the same way. It is within this large rath that the ancient peoples built two round, double-ditched enclosures which together form that iconic figure eight shape that can be seen from above.
One of these two mounds is called The Royal Seat. Upon this mound is an impressive standing stone called the Stone of Destiny. It is here that the ancient high kings of Ireland would have been crowned, though it’s likely that the standing stone once stood on or near the Mound of the Hostages and was moved to suit the purposes of later groups. It’s said that 142 kings reigned in the name of Tara. It was here, too, that kings held their great inaugural feasts to celebrate a new era.
About 2,000 years ago at the other hill in the Boyne Valley, approximately 12 miles away, was Tlachtga. Tlachtga was the location of the Great Fire Festival which began on the eve of Samhain. When the division of the year between summer and winter was also when the division between this world and the other world was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through.
The family's ancestors were honored and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. People wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves as harmful spirits and thus avoided harm. Bonfires and food played a large part in the festivities. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into a communal fire. Food was prepared for the living and the dead, food for the ancestors who were in no position to eat it, was ritually shared with the less well off.
All fires in the country must be extinguished on this night and could only be relit from the great flames from Tlachtga. During this period all the world was in darkness and the dead were away. When the fire at Tlachtga was lit, it gave the signal that all was well, and all other fires could now be relit. The fires at Tlachtga were the public celebration of the victory of light, while the relighting of the household fire marked the domestic celebration of the feast. Now the spirits of dead ancestors could be welcomed back into the home with safety and posed no threat to the household.
At this gathering Druids lit the bonfire on Samhain, from which embers were carried far and wide and were used to light the new fires for the new year. The location of the celebration was critical because they believed it to be the place where this world and the Otherworld were the closest together.
The celebrations at Tlachtga may have had their origins in a fertility rite on the hill but it gathered to itself a corpus of other beliefs which crystallized at the great Fire Festival.
The noticeable decline in the strength of the sun during this time of year was a source of anxiety for early man and the lighting of the Winter Fires here symbolized man’s attempt to assist the sun on its journey across the skies.
Now the sun has descended into the realm of the underworld, where the lord of the underworld, freed from the control of the sun, now walked the earth and with him travelled all those other creatures from the place of the dead. Ghosts, fairies, and a host of other non-descript creatures went with him. The Lord of the Dead in Celtic mythology can be identified as Donn.
House of Donn
Mythology tells us that when the invaders of Ireland known as the Milesians landed at the Boyne, they made their way to Tara. Once there, they were advised by the Druids that they should return to their ships and sail off the shore to the length of nine waves. When they were on the sea a great storm arose which scattered their fleet. The commander of one of the ships was Donn. His ship was broken to pieces in the storm and he himself drowned along with twenty-four of his comrades. He was buried on the Skellig Islands off the coast of Kerry.
He is the first of the new wave of invaders to meet his death in Ireland and, as such, he became elevated to the status of god of the dead. The place of his burial became known as Tech Donn - The house of Donn, and soon became identified with the underworld. The Celts were fascinated with tracing their ancestry back as far as they could and often, they identified their earliest ancestors with the gods of their peoples. Hence, a belief arose that when they died, they went to the house of their ancestor, the god of the otherworld.
It is interesting to note that the home of Donn, on the Skellig Islands, is just a few miles from the traditional home of Mog Ruith on Valentia Island. As well as being geographical neighbors, both are closely associated with Samhain, when it can be said that Mog Ruith as sun god visits at the realm of the underworld, the home of Donn.
Donn is seen as a retiring god who prefers the isolation and remains away from the other gods. His name means "brown" and he is associated with the shadowy realm of the dead. Sources say that the dead assemble at his house and later some Christian writers claimed that the souls of the damned lingered at his house before departing for hell. Samhain being the feast of the dead can now be clearly seen as incorporating the cult of Donn into its celebrations but how they did so remain uncertain.
The idea that Samhain is a juncture between the two halves of the year saw it acquiring the unique status of being suspended in time - it did not belong to the old or the new year. During this night the natural order of life was thrown into chaos and the earthly world of the living became hopelessly entangled with the world of the dead. But the world of the dead was itself a complicated place, peopled not only by the spirits of the departed, but also with a host of gods, fairies, and other creatures of uncertain nature.
However, the ghosts may not have been entirely benign. They needed some sort of appeasement in the form of ritual offerings on this night. So long as the offering was forthcoming the ghosts were happy and benevolent, but if the offering was withheld another side of the ghosts’ features were presented. Bad luck would descend on the household and all would not be well for the coming year. Some traces of this tradition have survived in the modern Halloween custom of "trick or treat". Children, would dress as ghosts and witches, invite the household to make a donation or face the consequences. The 'treat' may represent the ritual offering while the 'trick', nowadays a harmless prank, represents the malevolent consequences of poorly appeasing the ghost on this night.
The practice of divination like telling the future, was an important part of everyday life for the Celts and was certainly a central part of Samhain at Tlachtga. Vestiges of this can also be seen today at Halloween.
Christianity incorporated the honoring of the dead into the Christian calendar with All Saints on November 1st, followed by All Souls on November 2nd. The wearing of costumes and masks to ward off harmful spirits survived as Halloween customs. The Irish emigrated to America in great numbers during the 19th century especially around the time of famine in Ireland during the 1840's. The Irish carried their Samhain traditions to America, where today it is one of the major holidays of the year. Through time other traditions have blended into Samhain as Halloween, and for the American harvest time tradition of carving pumpkins which started out as turnips.
The secrets of ‘All Hallows Eve’ & Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos)
As with much of our culture, Halloween has both “pagan” & Christian roots. Halloween's origin lies in the Celtic feast day of Samhain It was the most important of the Celtic fire festivals, or holy days, because it marked the Celtic New Year. Samhain, which ran from the evening of October 31 through November 2, was considered a time "between years," a magical time when the dead walked among the living & communication was possible between this world & the realm of the ancestors.
The Celts believed that on October 31, all persons who had died in the previous year assembled to choose the body of the person or animal they would inhabit for the next twelve months, before they could pass peacefully into the afterlife. To frighten roving souls, Celtic family members dressed themselves as demons, hobgoblins & witches." They paraded outside their houses as noisily & destructively as possible & made their way to the big bonfire outside of town.
In later centuries, as belief in spirit possession & such faded, "the dire warnings of many Halloween practices reduced to observed amusement." Men dressed as women & women as men, farmers' gates were unhinged, horses were moved to different fields, & children knocked on neighbors' doors for tasty snacks. The origin of the latter custom of "trick-or-treating" is the subject of many debates. Some say it goes back to an ancient Celtic practice of going door to door, asking for food or money for the Samhain feast. Others believe it derives from the ninth-century European custom of "souling," in which Christians walked from village to village begging for "soul cakes" (square biscuits with currants) on All Soul's Day. Beggars promised to pray for the dead relatives of the donors in exchange for the cakes.
The Christian Church could not abolish Samhain celebrations, so they incorporated them. In the ninth century A.D. Pope Gregory IV designated November 1 as All Saint's Day, a Christian festival intended to honor saints & martyrs.
Rural immigrants from Ireland flooded into America in the late 1840s & early 1850s because of the Great Potato Famine & brought Hallows Eve customs from their homeland.
In New England they unhinged gates & tipped over outhouses on "mischief night."
In Ireland, "jack o' lanterns" were demon's faces carved from large turnips & lit by a candle within. In America, the abundance of pumpkins provided a much larger & easier form with which to sculpt eerie faces. It was in America that the modern Halloween we know today began to develop.
Apple Resolutions:
It's traditional before Samhain to take an apple, cut it in half, pour your illness or bad habits into it. Or write all bad habits or whatever you wanted to change on parchment paper & insert it inside the apple. Put it back together with toothpicks and bury it in the ground.
Here a couple of the links I got some of the info from:
Here is the one I thought was interesting:


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