The Spooky Spectres of Samhain

Well, it’s that time of year – The celebration of the spooky festival my Celtic ancestors called Samhuinn or Samhain (literally “Summer’s End”, and pronounced Sow-een, Sow-in, or Soun). It’s also known as the Day of the Dead.  The Catholic church, trying to assimilate the pagans in the first millenium AD, turned the first night of the festival into All Hallows Eve, now known as Hallowe’en.

November first (what the Catholic church calls All Saints Day) falls midway between the Winter Solstice and the Autumn Equinox, and over time became the Celtic New Year.  On the eve of that date in ancient Ireland and Scotland, the Celts, led by their priests (the Druids), brought in the harvest, retrieved their cattle from the fields (slaughtering some), performed cleansing rituals, and celebrated one of their four great seasonal festivals –  Samhain.

This is also one of the Celtic seasonal celebrations when recently departed souls supposedly traveled on to the “otherlife” (so ghosts were about), and faeries and other mythical beings made appearances. Animal and vegetable sacrifices were made to help the dead on their way, and bonfires were lit, partly for purification and partly to keep their souls away from the living. This also tracked with Roman pagan festivals of the dead and celebrations of the harvest in late October.

Early in the 7th century, Pope Gregory I ordered priests and  missionaries to find ways to merge pagan holiday festivals into Christian celebrations, rather than trying to abolish them. Eventually, the mid-winter festival was chosen for the celebration of Christmas (which probably really occurred in the Spring), and November 1st was selected as All Saints Day – making All Hallows Eve coincide with the Day of the Dead.

So now we celebrate Hallowe’en by carving or decorating fall harvest vegetables, sometimes burning fires inside them.  Our children dress as various lively spirits to keep less desirable spirits at bay. We reward them with treats (no longer in return for tricks), and decorate our homes with symbols of the Fall or end of Summer. All this happens in the season when the moon is visible on clear cool nights beyond spooky nearly leafless branches.

But the scariest image this year, for those of us on the eastern seaboard of the US, is the storm tracking of the path of Hurricane Sandy – headed straight for us in the days before Hallowe’en. We are all knee deep in preparation for 50 mile per hour winds, pouring rains, and likely power outages.  If that’s not a horrible spectre, I don’t know what is!

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This post was written in response to a Travel Theme challenge from Ailsa at wheresmybackpack. This week’s theme is Spooky.  To learn more about the challenge and to see the scary posts from other bloggersclick here.

Hurricane Tracking Image from

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30 Responses to The Spooky Spectres of Samhain

  1. eof737 says:

    You did a great post for spooky… the hurricane was beyond spooky for me, but we will all recover.


  2. Madhu says:

    Hoping that storm tracking image is scarier than the hurricane itself! Take care and stay safe TRS.


  3. danajoward says:

    Wonderful post for Spooky! The final picture sure it the scariest. Your information concerning the holidays is very educating. Thank you for Sharing and stay safe. I will be praying for all of you on the east coast that will be under Sandy’s spell!


    • Many thanks, Dana – we’re all praying that Hurricane Sandy will be nothing more than a big inconvenience, and that with the preparation we’ve done, everyone will be safe.. we appreciate you pulling with us!


  4. Fantastic Halloween party 😀


  5. Amy says:

    Now I know…, Thank you! It’s a scary hurricane. Stay safe.


    • It’s an interesting holiday history… really nothing to do with religious celebrations any more – just an excuse for fun.
      Thanks for your kind wishes. I think we’re prepared for the hurricane… I hope!


  6. bebs1 says:

    Stay safe this Halloween with the hurricane coming. I love that moon shot.


  7. adinparadise says:

    Wonderful moon image. It really fits with the theme. Those painted pumpkins are very jolly fellow. 🙂 I’m watching this storm warning with great interest and hope that Sandy spares you all, as she did us. Stay safe.


    • Thanks – I was lucky to catch that moon image without heavy clouds last night! I guess the pumpkins aren’t really spooky, but they’re a fun part of the season!
      I think we’re well prepared for the storm – I’m hoping we’ll be able to stay online most of the week – but if we lose power we lose the internet, so we’ll be using phones instead. That means reading posts is easy, but writing them is a little more daunting!


  8. livvy30 says:

    Lovely moon shot. Hope the storm passes!


    • Thanks on both counts, Livvy! As it happens, the lovely almost full moon is one of the reasons they expect storm surges to be so high – it will pull especially high tides in the next two days… but it is amazing in the night sky!


  9. Jo Bryant says:

    it is amazing how much the Church has taken on…I will be keeping all crossed that it amounts to little – stay safe


    • The church certainly has had a tremendous impact on many parts of the world!
      Thanks for your good wishes, Jo. Nobody in our immediate family is in an evacuation area, so we’ll just settle in with our water, canned goods, radios & cell phones, and hope we don’t lose power for long!


  10. Love the pumpkins! So well decorated.


  11. melouisef says:

    In S A Halloween was only in the movies, but I do see some shops now trying to cash in by selling costumes and decorations and I am sure 99% does not even know what it’s all about. It has become commercial…


    • You are so right! The original meanings are long forgotten – there is no real thought to the superstition of warding off traveling evil spirits. It’s now just a fun excuse for children to dress up and get candy – and for stores to sell decorations and other silly things! Lots of people do enjoy it, though! 😉


  12. bulldogsturf says:

    Well now I have an understanding of the Halloween thing which we don’t do here and also to hear the latest on the impending storm…. batten down the hatches and stay safe in the face of the storm….


  13. Pat Bailey says:

    I’ll be thinking of you and wish you well during the storm.


  14. Amazing shot of the moon. I’ve been shopping for water and batteries and peanut butter and jelly and hoping it’s all for naught. I’m bracing myself! Good luck and be safe.


    • Took the moon shot tonite! Good luck with your preparations – my daughter lives about a mile from the north shore of Long Island Sound in CT, my nephews are in Brooklyn and Hoboken and I have lots of family around Philly and NJ… we’re all keeping our fingers and toes crossed!


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