Samhain—Halloween’s Alluring Ancestor
Samhain, (sow-in) is the Celtic New Year, and it falls from October 31st to November 1st. It was also a magical day. The ancient Celts believed that since Samhain fell between the old year and the new, it was a day without time. That diminished the veil between the earthly and the ethereal (the worlds of mortals and immortal—the dead and the living).
We get many of our modern Halloween traditions from ancient Samhain lore.
To celebrate the new year, the ancient Celts feasted on fresh picked turnips, apples, and hazelnuts, and left plates of delectable food, mead, and treats out for their ghostly kin visiting from across the veil for Samhain.
Let’s talk about those turnips. The ancient Celts also masterfully sculptured mangel-wurzels, a hearty turnip, to look like skulls, and placed candles inside to light them within. Sounds like the modern-day tradition of jack-o’-lanterns, doesn’t it?
And those apples. They were as big a part of Samhain as today’s caramel apples, candy apples, bobbing-apples. But on Samhain, you had to keep your apples away from pucas. Those mischievous, shapeshifting fey would spoil any apples left after the feast. Even now, I’d think twice before biting into an apple plucked post-Halloween. A sneaky puca might be lurking around.
And what about hazelnuts? It was believed they gave wisdom and vigor to anyone who ate them. Maybe I should eat a handful of two on Halloween to seek ancient insight.
But the ancient Celts weren’t vegetarians, a big part of the Samhain feast was boiled and roasted meat. As autumn bid farewell, livestock not fit for winter’s chill met their fate, ensuring a table heaped with rich meats. And to wash it down? Nothing less than the most intoxicating ale or mead.
But the feast was just part of the rowdy Samhain festival. The Celts also celebrated with lively games, from thrilling hurling matches to exhilarating horse races.
The main event of the evening was the massive, roaring bonfire. In Ireland, the druids ensured that each year, when the sun went down on the hill of Tlachtga (Hill of Ward) about 12 miles from Tara, they ignited the grandest fire—its flames reaching out to the inky night freckled with sparkling stars and crowned by a silver crescent moon.
“What?” Mordak asked. Me? Love a human? Of course not. “By the goddess, you’ve lost your minds. I just want this one’s blood for myself. Run along, get your own. We’ll meet at the portal before dawn.”
“See you back at the cairn.” Fuamnach tilted her chin in the air and vanished.
Aithbhreac disappeared as well.
Mordak shifted her eyes back to the mortal. His mere presence commanded attention. What would be wrong with having a tryst with him? Goddess Morrigan has affairs with humans all the time.
I thought they’d never leave. She fixed her gaze on the tall, striking man, and swinging her hips in a saucy fashion, she sauntered toward him. As she “drew near him, she batted her eyelashes and flashed a smile to draw him in. Dancing with him would be even more fun than usual.
A noisy, whoosh-like, shaking sound caught her attention. What now? She gasped with shock. This cannot be.
Three women descended from the ebony sky with the wings on their bronze helmets flapping like a bird’s.
What is happening? She hadn’t drunk any heather ale today.
“The vanilla-blond women landed smoothly on their feet, the wings stopped flapping and laid back on their helmets, now totally still. All three women glared at her with glacier blue eyes.
Her palms were damp with sweat, she felt shaky. The earthly realm was such a crazy place. Why did she send her sisters away? She needed them now. Whoever or whatever these tall creatures in plate armor corselets, flimsy white skirts and fur-topped boots were, they weren’t smiling at her.
She noticed the human checking out the women from the rear and glancing at her as well. He had a huge grin on his face, as if his dreams had come true. Mordak, however, faced a nightmare.
The statuesque blonde in the center tilted her chin in the air. “The man is mine.”
“Yours?” Anger pulsated through Mordak’s body. “He’s not yours.”
People couldn’t just fly down from who knows where and claim the man she liked. Mordak schooled her face into composure and met the woman’s gaze. “Just who or what…are you?”
“Randgrid.” The tallest of the blondes didn’t break her stare, not even one blink. “I am a Valkyrie.”
With a thin, tight-lipped expression, she set her hand on her hip. “Be gone, baobhan sith.”
“Me. No, no…you’re the one in the wrong place.” Mordak shook her hand at the Valkyrie. “This is Scotland, not Denmark or Valhalla or wherever you think you are.”
“He’s a Gunn.” Randgrid jerked her head toward the man. “So, he is ours.”
“Of Clan Gunn?” She glared at the silly woman in the winged helmet. “The word clan is the whole point. He’s Scottish. He’s mine.”
Randgrid and her two sisters said together, “Gunn is the point. The descendant of a Viking hero is ours.”