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Samhain

Samhain (which probably comes from the Old Irish samfuin, meaning “death of Summer”) is an ancient Celtic festival and celebration that takes place on October 31st in the northern hemisphere. Samhain is a feast that marks the end of the harvest and the beginning of the winter half of the year.

Samhain is one of the fire festivals, at which large bonfires were (and sometimes are still) lit. Around them, great gatherings and feasts were held in celebration.

It also marks a very liminal time of the year, one during which the veil between this world and the otherworld is very thin, allowing all kinds of spirits to pass through more easily. In ancient times in Ireland, Neolithic passage tombs (some of which were aligned with the sunrise on the morning of Samhain) were open during Samhain.

It is custom to give offerings of food and drink to the spirits on Samhain to appease them and to help ensure that people and livestock survive the winter to come.

Making of Parshells to protect the home

One of the traditions surrounding Samhain in Ireland is the making of Parshells, a cross with equal branches made out of sticks and straw.

The two sticks are laid on top of each other at a right angle, then straw is woven between the sticks, going clockwise and ending before reaching the ends of the cross.

When hanging the new cross, you would recite the following:

“An donas amach,
Is an sonas isteach,
Ó anocht go dtí bliain ó anocht”.

Meaning
“Misfortune/ill-luck out,
Happiness/good-luck in,
From this night until a year from tonight”.

A new parshell is made every year on Samhain and replaces the one made the year prior. When taking down the old cross you had to say “Fan istigh ar an Sídhe” in order for it to retain some of its potency. This meant “Stay inside on account of the fairies”

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Last modified on 2023-01-30, published on 2022-09-17