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Samhain

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Some information about the third festival of harvest.

Samhain (pronounced Sow-en or Sah-ven): Also known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve, Festival of the Dead, Third Festival of Harvest, and Christianized as Hallowmas and All Saint's Eve.

Celebrated from sundown on October 31 until sundown November 2.

The Samhain festival falls at the end of the harvest and marks the conclusion of the agricultural cycle. At Samhain, the dark winter half of the year commences. It is the new year, the time when the walls between the worlds are thin, and communication is easy with those who have "passed over" - the wandering dead. It is a magical interval when the laws of time and space are suspended. Humans engage in strange and unpredictable behaviors that mirror the activities of the spirit world.

Samhain is the time to bring honor and hospitality to dead ancestors. Prayers and food offerings are left on doorsteps and altars. Even if they are untouched by morning, the essence of the food is said to be transferred to the spirits.

Samhain is a time to slaughter cattle and in general to complete the unfinished business of summer. Any produce left in the fields after Samhain is taboo, as it now belongs to the nature spirits.

The new year begins at sundown on October 31. It marks a time of settling and reckoning of accounts, a time to finish with and discard influences and concepts that have outlived their usefulness. It is especially a time to reconnect with tribal and personal ancestors and guiding spirits.

Samhain is one of the two "spirit-nights" of the year (Bealtaine being the other) - a time of chaos when the fairies are most active. It is a night when Witches are about, omens are seen, divinations are made, and household fires are kindled anew.

At Samhain, the Sidhe-mounds open and the Sidhe are abroad in the countryside. The souls of the dead return and are made visible. It is a good time to clean the house and hearth in preparation for the visits of dead ancestors. Doors should be left unbolted and extra chairs put out.

To celebrate the darkness of the unborn year, traditional people dressed in white or donned straw disguises. Boys and girls exchanged clothing, and efforts were made to fool the wandering spirits. In the spirit of mischief and chaos that reigned generally, household items were sometimes stolen and tossed into ponds or ditches. Livestock could be led into other people's fields, and doors pelted with cabbages. Chimneys might be blocked with turf, and smoke blown in through keyholes.

Tales of the supernatural were told from sunset until dawn, when the first cockcrow sent the spirits and the "little people" back to their dwellings. Marked stones were cast into the fires, and their condition upon retrieval in the morning showed the person's fortune for the coming year.

Household fires were relit from sacred bonfires started by friction, and people jumped through the flames for luck. The ashes were scattered in the fields, and blazing torches were carried around the boundaries to bless and protect the land. Potatoes* and apples were roasted and eaten as joyful dances were made around the sacred flames.

In areas where seaweed was gathered, folk would come together at Samhain to offer a cup of ale or bowl of porridge to the god of the sea, asking for a bountiful harvest of seaweed to eat and to fertilize the soil. The ritual was especially powerful if done in a storm, ensuring a bountiful harvest of sea vegetation of the shore.

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