A Candle for our Ancestors at Samhain

As the sun moves north of the equator on its way up to the Tropic of Cancer, the days continue to grow shorter and the nights longer.  This is the time of the An Ghrian Mór or “small sun” to the ancient Celts, that marks the commencement of the dark half of the year.  Now is the festival of Samhain for those of us south of the equator.

The word “Samhain” is said to come from the Scots Gaelic samhainn and the Irish Gaelic samain or samfuin, both meaning “summer’s end” (at least from an etymological perspective) with sam meaning “summer” and fuin meaning “sunset” or “end”.  Within the Irish medieval myth mentioned earlier, Tochmarc Emire, Samhain is the first of the four quarter days mentioned by Emer to the Ulster hero Cu Chulainn: “Samhain, when the summer goes to its rest, ” records Ronald Hutton in his book, Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain.

In Ireland and Scotland, a festival referred to as Feile na Marbh (the Festival of the Dead) was believed to have taken place; or in modern language, Oíche Shamhna (Irish) and Scots Gaelic, Oidhche Shamhna where the custom was (and in some places today still is) to set a place for the dead at the Samhain feast, and to tell tales of the ancestors on that night.

Originally, the “Feast of the Dead” was celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the “wandering dead”, or a single candle was left lit in the window to help guide the spirits of ancestors home.  Ancestors can fall into three categories – blood relatives, lineage (spiritual or otherwise), and those who are not related to us but who have inspired/enabled us to make life changing decisions (often for the better).

Samhain is a time of introspection. It is a time to heal the source of our deepest wounds, and those we have inflicted upon others around us. It is a time when we can learn to see things more clearly. We use this time to remove all falsehoods that we have built up throughout the year. We also can use this time of the year to remove those aspects of our life, which we have grown out of or no longer need.

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