Sunday, 30 October 2011

Oíche Shamhna - Hallowe'en

Bairín Breac

Irish folk lore puts great emphasis on Oíche Shamhna - Hallowe'en - as a time when ghosts are about and the fairies are moving from their summer to their winter quarters. The traditional food at this time of the year is the Bairín Breac otherwise known as the Hallowe'en Brack, a white, bread fruit loaf with a brown glazing containing: wheat, sultanas, citrus peel, yeast, sugar, cinnamon, coriander, ginger and cloves. Traditionally the brack had a divination purpose as well as being something nice to eat for hidden within the dough were :-

A piece of wood: to signify a beating by a partner

A button: signified that you will remain a bachelor

A coin: for wealth

A rag or a bean: meaning poverty

A ring or small circle of withy: meaning an early marriage

A religious medal signified that you would join Holy Orders

A thimble: signifying spinsterhood

Unfortunately today's Hallowe'en Brack only contains a small silver or gold coloured ring.

Hallowe'en is an abbreviation of Hallowed Eve which is held at night on 31st October and is the first part of a three day Christian festival which was followed by All Souls Day and then by All Saints Day.

Hallowe'en is not Samhain, however there are people who believe that the Christian Church adopted the festival and made it their own and that may well have been the case. Over the last few hundred years Hallowed Eve has become secularised into Hallowe'en and dare I say it, has been commercialised in much the same way as has happened to Christmas.

My understanding of Samhain is that the word means 'summers end' and it is a fire festival.

The timing of fire festivals are exactly mid way between an equinox & a solstice or a solstice and an equinox.

This year the true date of Samhain is 7th November and is further confirmed by data from the U.S. Naval Observatory, Washington DC. who tell us - "Cross-Quarter moments are interpolated as the midway points between the Solstices and Equinoxes"

Historic confirmation also comes from our ancient ancestors who when building the tombs and mounds such as the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara which is aligned to Sun on the midway point.

Thus Halloween cannot be Samhain.

I would like to wish all of my readers a Fun Filled Celebration!

So that all may enjoy the delicacy of Hallowe'en Brack please visit


  1. That looks good - do you have a traditional recipe - one without the bits of wood preferably! x

  2. Thank you for the explanations. I am intrigued (and frustrated)by the ways in which the ancient celebrations have been changed, commercialized and disempowered. Doesn't seem that the passing years have done anything to improve on the real meanings of these special times.

  3. Samhain blessings to you and yours HV.
    Just been up the Tor (very windswept!) and I looked for what you told me about.

  4. Now there is an idea of Halloween I can latch onto:
    "and the fairies are moving from their summer to their winter quarters." If someone had told me that before...I would have embraced this holiday!
    Thank you Heron!
    p.s. for those wanting to try the Brack recipe here in north america...I cup of all purpose flour + 1-1/2tsp of baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt will substitute for self-raising flour.
    I'm going to use dried raisins, cherries and cranberries in lieu of the Shamrock dried fruit mix.

  5. CARMEL D said: Tried to reply but having probs there – you can post this if you like

    Personally I'm glad they dont include all those morbid divinatory items you mentioned anymore in the brack I could do without most of them :)

    Just a note on the 7th Nov and the Mound of the Hostages at Tara. Martin Brennan in The Stones of Time puts the cross quarter day of Samhain at 8th Nov, "The beam of light that enters the chamber of Tara is formed by a sillstone, a lintel and two uprights at the entrance...The sillstone is alligned to the horizon so that the lightbeam strikes the backstone at the moment when the sun's disc appears above the horizon. The cross quarter day is indicated when a patch of light is centred on the backstone". He puts the opposite cross quarter of Imbolc at 4th Feb. Interestingly he observed the same dates at Cairn L in Loughcrew which provides the most dramatic sunbeam imagery of all the ancient constructs we have remaining.

    Last year a friend went up there every morning for a week and photographed the movement of the sun across the chamber over several dawns and it did indeed strike centrally on the morning of the 8th. This year we will do our Samhain ritual there at dawn on the 8th to witness this phenomena. It will actually be the first time I have ever done a Samhain ritual in daylight as we have always done them at night prevously, so it will be a nice change and a different type of ritual no doubt.

  6. That was an informative and fascinating post, am going to share this blog!

  7. I always love the history lessons I get by coming to your blog, Heron, especially to do with food! I must go look up "withy", which I am not familiar with. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.


  8. Always nice to "catch up" with your posts! I always appreciate the history lessons involved and the photographs will hold me over until I can see for myself. ;^) Thank you.

  9. I really enjoyed this post. It's very well written and I love the idea of fairies moving to retire for the winter. This really makes sense to me! ;-)

    The Bairin Breac looks delicious too.
    Thanks for sharing some Hallowe'en knowledge!
    I'm now following your blog, thanks to String for sharing your post on facebook!

    Best wishes,
    Jo May.

  10. Ygraine said :- I found this post facinating!
    I love to hear about the many different ways people celebrate this time of year.
    Many thanks for sharing your recipe. I can't wait to try it!


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