Saturday, 3 November 2007

Samhaim Shona Duit

Samhain shona duit, pronounced Sow-in (like cow) Howna Gwitch, means Happy Samhain to you, in Irish Gaelic, one of the few Celtic languages still on use today.

What is Samhain? Why do I celebrate it?

November 1st, as two days before and two days after, are one of the more important holidays of both pagan and Christian world.

Pagan is everything that isn't Christian, Jewish or Muslim. But that definition includes a big number of religions and points of view, to big to say that something or someone is pagan, so, in this case, to which we are referring to?

Samhain is two holidays in one. Is the most important celebration for the Celtic pagan society.

On 1 of November begins the All souls night, that night when the spirits and souls enter this world without restrictions; so the ancient Celts prepared themselves to receive their ancestors.

They put offerings of meals and drinks, something that their ancestors like when alive, so they can feed themselves after the long journey back home.

They light up their houses with candles and fires, to guide the souls on this dark night.

That day, no doors or windows shall be closed, to welcome the departured ones.

At the same time it was Celtic New Year, The Celts believe that the beginning of all was the darkness, and just after that came the light, that's why day began at the sunset, not at the sunrise, as we believe now. Same as this, the year begins at the end of autumn, and the dawn, at may 1st, was the midpart of the year, on a celebration called Beltaine "fire of Belos" .

The other two main festivals are Imbolg at February 1st, the beginning of the spring time and Lughnassa, night of Lugh, at August 1st, when the funeral rituals of the god Lugh take place. This festival has a close relation with Samhain, 'cause they believe that Lugh stay on earth after dead until the Samhain, when he leaves to the Tír na nÓg, the other world, and leaves a false sun instead, a sun that doesn't give warm to the earth inhabitants.

There were these big fires rituals that take place until the middle of the night, when all the lights were turn off. The Elders make reflexions about the past year, and children play and put fancy dresses, so the bad spirits don't hurt them.

Also there is the tradition of children to collect food from door to door, asking to "Help the Samhain party", given all the things collected for the offerings and celebrations.

Druids make reflexions on the past years and predictions on the new one.

Now, dear reader, let's travel thousands of kilometers, to another pagan centre. To the ancient America

The old inhabitants of what is now Mexico, Aztecs, Mayans and others, believe in life after dead, and that the souls depart to the Mictlan, the underworld, where it's master, the god Mictlantecuhtli, rules over the nine rivers that the souls navigated, depending of their live and how they die.

To get there, the dead people needed provisions, for the days to come, so they where buried with, food, drinks and personal items.

Every year, after the harvest, there was this big festival to honor Mictlantecuhtli, and all the departured souls, winter was near, and they need to ensure that the following season were great. So big altars, with flowers, food, lights, were put on their cities, as well as figures of Mictlantecuhtili, skulls, and skelletons.

Ancient indigenous people in Mexico do not fear dead, instead, they waited for it anxious, since have a dead with honors, was the best way to transcend.

This vision pass trough the actual Mexicans, and as Octavio Paz says: "For the inhabitants of New York, Paris or London, dead is a word that is never pronounced, because it burns. Mexican, instead, frequents her, make jokes on her, touch her lightly, sleep with her, celebrates her, is one of his favorite toys and his most permanent love. It's true that in this attitude there's as much fear as with the others, but at least, is not hidden, he faced her with patience, disdain and irony"

Finally it comes the join between this two pagan traditions, Christianity. As many, if not all, the Christian holidays, there's a pagan element behind. The Catholic Church celebrates the All souls night on may 13, at the beginning, but Pope Gregor III, move it to November 1st, in an attempt to eliminate the pagan Celtic traditions.

When the Spanish people arrive to America and conquer the different inhabitants and Mexico born, that land of syncretism, that doesn't make sense if not look with a mixture point of view, and even that way is to surrealist for the foreign, there, this two tradition come together, with the Commemoratio omnium Fidelium Defunctorum. (latin for Conmemoration of the all faithful departed) making as result, the Day of the Dead, the All souls night.

What does this festival means to me?

Is a celebration that joins these origins that emerged as the result of this Celtic journey of mine, two separate cultures as the Celts and the Aztecs, but at same time, so united in the old ways. This all take a different meaning than the usual one, a more intimate one, with rituals, which are of my own, and at the same time are the ones from those ancestors. .

This is a special night, and as H.P. Lovecraft says, "We see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend the boundlessly complex cosmos".

This post was originally published in the Spanish language blog Alter Orbi.


The song to be invocated for this tale is:

All souls Night, by Loreena Mckennitt

Bonfire dot the rolling hillsides
Figures dance around and around
To drums that pulse out echoes of darkness
Moving to the pagan sound.

Somewhere in a hidden memory
Images float before my eyes
Of fragrant nights of straw and of bonfires
And dancing till the next sunrise.

I can see the lights in the distance
Trembling in the dark cloak of night
Candles and lanterns are dancing, dancing
A waltz on All Souls Night.

Figures of cornstalks bend in the shadows
Held up tall as the flames leap high
The green knight holds the holly bush
To mark where the old year passes by.


Bonfires dot the rolling hillsides
Figures dance around and around
To drums that pulse out echoes of darkness
Moving to the pagan sound.

Standing on the bridge that crosses
The river that goes out to the sea
The wind is full of a thousand voices
They pass by the bridge and me.

Chorus - 2x

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

beautiful, thanks!

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