Saturday, 6 November 2010


Tomorrow night, 7th November I will celebrate the Samhain (sow-in) Fire festival with a group of friends. Historically it is the last harvest, a time when the animals were selected from the herds or flocks to be culled and the last of the berries would be plucked from the trees. All of which would provided food for the family over winter.

The mists of Samhain

The word Samhain, as Gaeilge, means end of summer. It is the start of winter and of darkness, a time to remember those who have passed over. For them a place will be set at the table. The old stories will be told and new ones added as memories are revived about the various characters who have died. Sensitive people may feel a slight chill pass over their feet, leg or arm as an unseen visitor drops in and it is at this time of the year that some say the veil between the worlds is thin.

Many of us in Ireland have revised the dates on which we hold the Fire Festivals. For example : The date of Samhain is determined by the angle of Sun and is held at the mid point between an Equinox and a Solstice, thus it is not on the same date every year. In similar vein the date of the Solstices and Equinoxes vary too for all are connected to the Sun's position with the earth.

The Samhain sun in The Mound of the Hostages
on Tara, Co. Meath.

Into the chamber of The Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara in County Meath, pours the rising sun at Samhain - not on 31st October as many people believe. This act defines Tara as a Samhain site, just as Newgrange is a Winter Solstice site. The back walls of the chambers are illuminated by the rising sun and the very same thing occurs at other ancient sites on other festival dates around Ireland.

The Mound of the Hostages

We do not see Samhain as being the start of another year. For us the Winter Solstice is more likely, for it can be seen as a double celebration, firstly of deep darkness which occurs when the sun appears to stand still - the actual meaning of the word solstice. And secondly as a celebration of the rebirth of the sun when daylight lengthens. This year Winter Solstice, the shortest day, is on 22nd December. The birth of the new sun will fall on 26th December for daylight has by then increased by 1minute!

One of the many local Samhain traditions is to have a bonfire at the crossroads in rural areas. This one was taken a couple of years ago.

Tomorrow, when we gather, we will remember our ancestors, our friends and the spirits of this land who gather about us.There will be storytelling, singing and we will have great craic around the bonfire (weather permitting!).


  1. this is a very interesting post.. great photos... especially the sun on the inside of the rock chamber

    Oh I can't wait for the sun to begin increasing on the 26 of Dec....

  2. Fascinating. The history and the pictures are very interesting. Enjoy your evening.

  3. I have Irish descent...perhaps that is why I am so intrigued by this yearning at this time of year.

  4. Blessings of Samhain to one and all.Beannachtaí na Samhna ar gach duine. May your larder be full, your harvest gathered in and your turf stacked high. Have a great day tomorrow, sorry we can't be there but we will think of you here in Mayo.

  5. As always a rich post in every way. Thank you for this!

  6. Thanks once again for your delightful comments.I actually like the fact that Sanhain seems to have two dates.In our village the children come visiting on 31st. They come in groups with their parents and only call at houses which have a lighted pumpkin on display.This year the Church in it's wisdom ( or ignorance of Samhain tradions) decided to try and stop this tradition by holding a candlelit walk and party.Not very successful I am glad to say.The village children still called and had a happy time.The church walk was marked by bad behaviour which included throwing lighted candles at the cows they passed.The children had their time and now I can have mine.I rather like this dark time of year,a time to meditate,a quiet time to take stock and be aware other worlds.Samhain greetings to you and may your celebations go well.

  7. Miranda, Samhain does not have two dates. The celebration held on 31st October is Halloween and is a combined christian celebration of All Souls Eve and All Souls Day which has been corrupted & commercialised by the addition of the pumpkin and other trivia.

  8. Wonderful post Mel. loved it xxAine