Follow Kenny from the levees of New Orleans to the whirling chaos that is the Pagan festival circuit and beyond. Musings, rants, and just plain Pagan talk.
It's the morning of October 31st, and I've had several people text me this morning wishing me a happy (or merry) Samhain. And I really appreciate the thought. I love hearing from friends and fans. But while I am really looking forward to doing ritual tonight, and later running off in costume to Frenchmen Street, I have one thought for my well wishers: Samhain is actually tomorrow.
What Kenny Klein? What are you talking about? You're nuts. I'm sorry I texted you and wished you happy Samhain, you jerk...
But wait. Hear me out. If you look at the Wheel Of The Year used by most Pagans, you'll notice that most of our sabbats, or solar holidays, fall on standardized dates, something Gerald Gardner set up by combining the agricultural and the hunting wheels of the year. Except for poor little Imbolc (when the Romans created the modern Julian calendar, February took one for the team, becoming a strange, irregular month with varying number of days each year), each sabbat falls on either the 1st or the 21st of a month. You may also notice that (with one small exception), the names of the holidays we celebrate alternate languages: Yule, Ostara, Litha and Lamas are all words in Saxon English (which comes from old Danish and its neighbor languages) while Imbolc, Beltain, Lughnassadh (or Mabon) and Samhain are all named in either Irish or Welsh Gaelic. The Saxon dates are fixed dates, corresponding to solstices or equinoxes: each Saxon date falls on the 21st of a month (once in a while the 22nd, depending on what time of day or night the actual equinox or solstice occurs).
Now the Gaelic holidays are not so standard. Originally, each was a movable feast, timed to some natural event. Imbolc was celebrated when the trout or salmon returned to the streams, or in the Shetlands, when the pregnant ewes get their milk (hence the English name for the holiday Oimelc, or ewe's milk: it sounds like Imbolc, but they are different names in different languages). Beltain occurred when the first white flowering tree got its flowers. That would be the hawthorn in England, the rowan in Ireland, and the dogwood in the U. S., and yields the holiday's English name, Whitsun or White Sunday. Lughnassadh is the first day of the harvest, and its English name, Lamas (loaf mass), refers to the gathering of the first sheaths and using them to offer bread as a thanks for the grain. Mabon and Lughnassadh are words in Welsh and Irish, respectively, that mean essentially the same thing: the feast oif the young lord, referring to the God of the grain. Mabon in Welsh, Lugh in Irish.
Now we come to Samhain. Samhain was originally celebrated on the last day of the harvest, Whenever the last crop was brought in (or when the first snow came) that was Samhian.
Gerald Gardner standardized each of the Gaelic movable feasts to the first day of its month. Imbolc comes on the 2nd because of irregular February, but Beltain is May 1, Lughnassadh is August 1, and Samhain is November 1.
Then why do we celebrate Samhain on the evening of October 31? Well first, because none of us grew up Pagan. We all went trick or treating on the eve of October 31 as kids, and that date stuck with us. But there's sense to that. In Celtic reckoning, day begins at sundown (this is true in Judaism too, which is why the Shabbos begins Friday evening). So November 1 begins at sundown of October 31.
But why don't we do this for all of the Celtic sabbats? No one seems to celebrate Betain on April 30, or Lughnassad on July 31, or Imbolc on the eve of February 1. We only seem to do this for Samhain.
And I don't suppose we'll ever stop. We want Samhain to be dark and gloomy, and to fall as the sun sets. So I think Samhain will forever be October 31 in our thinking. But some of us know to give a thought to the Mab's Wild Hunt and to Persephone's descent to the underworld as we go about our day on November 1st. So happy Samhain...tomorrow!
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