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Samhain - The Celtic New Year

The tenth month finds many planning for the celebration of Halloween at the end of the month. Halloween, the day before All Saints Day, was, for the Irish, the time when the curtain between this world and the next was at its thinnest. November 1 is Samhain, (sow-en). It is the Celtic New Year, the start of the darkest part of the calendar year. Samhain means summer's end in Irish. Samhain was also known as the Feast of the Dead, Oiche na Sprideanna (Spirit Night), when the deceased revisited the mortal world.

During the 8th century, the Catholic Church designated the first day of November as All Saints Day - all Hallows. Thus All Hallows Eve became Hallowe'en.

As it is the month of the feast of the dead, let's travel amongst the ghosts, specters and just interesting creatures of the otherworld that inhabit Ireland, and those lands that the Irish moved to.

Banshee - Bean Sidhe
There is the Bean Sidhe or Banshee, or female faerie, who makes her appearance when someone in the household is about to die. She haunts only the families authentic noble stock, the high Milesian race - those whose names have an O, Mac or other prefix, or Norman-Irish poets. Her piercing caoine or keening is heard when someone dies.

Lianhan Sidhe

The Banshee is considered benign, but she supposedly has a sister sidhe who has a dark and evil side. The Lianhan Sidhe's sole purpose is to seek the love of mortal men. Their desire for her ultimately destroys them. She should not be confused with the Demon Bride, a beautiful but evil spirit who seduces her mortal victim with a kiss that steals his soul. He dies the death of a raving lunatic, haunted by the knowledge of his fatal mistake.

Dearg-Due

The Dearg-Due is Ireland's legendary vampire. According to some tales, it can take the shape of a wan but pretty woman lingering amongst the graveyards waiting for young men to seduce and from whom she can drain blood and life away. The creature could be defeated by building a cairn of stones over its grave.

Far Liath or Grey Man

Lest one think that only female spirits have all the fun, the Gray Man or Far Liath comes in as a fog and covers land and sea with his cloak. As he covers rocks on the shore, ships crash upon them. He will also fill roads with darkness, in order to have travelers fall over cliffs to their deaths.

Far Dorocha
The Dark Man or Far Dorocha travels on a black horse into our world to abduct humans that the Queen of the Good People desires. Although he never speaks, mortals invariably understand his commands and, unable to disobey, surrender their wills to his and mount up behind him.

Grogach
Then there is the friendly Grogoch, who was originally a half human, half-spirit entity that was most commonly associated with the north of Ireland, as well as Scotland and the Isle of Man. Even though he has the power of invisibility, he will often allow certain trusted people to see him. He is quite a cordial creature, and he might help some lucky people with farm work or domestic chores. He just requires a bottle of cream to consider the deal even. If you give a grogach clothing, they leave forever. And, according to legend, his personal hygiene is lacking. However, he still fears the clergy, and will hightail it whenever a member of that class appears.

Changelings
Changelings were the replacement for a mortal child who had been stolen by the faeries. Lest a beautiful child be stolen, people wouldn't mention its beauty. Parents would call for God's blessings, and then possibly spit upon the child, hoping to fool the faeries.

Boys were dressed as girls in order to keep a child from being made prince-consort of the Queen of the Faeries. Changelings were very ugly and had voracious appetites, eating everybody around them out of house and home. Adults too, were sometimes kidnapped and the changeling would be recognized by its harsh voice and mean-spirited personality. This didn't mean one’s brother-in-law was a changeling.

Puca
The Puca is best known to many as being the six foot high rabbit in the movie Harvey. Pucas can take on a variety of shapes and sizes in order to wreak havoc an harm. However, as the legend goes, it’s now less dangerous thanks to the legendary King Brian Boru, who is said to have tamed it and ridden it like a horse. They are said to take on the form of a horse or calf, rush between a person’s legs, and take them for a wild ride.

Dullahan - Gan Ceann
The Dullahan, or Gan Ceann, (headless one), is the black rider who foretells death. Clad in flowing black robes, the Dullahan has no head on his shoulders. He carries it with him in his hand, and because he is endowed with supernatural sight, he will hold the head up high. This allows him to see great distances, even on the darkest night.

According to Bridget Haggerty, on her wonderful website, Irish Culture and Customs, "..If you watch his journey, you may be punished by either having a bucket of blood thrown in your face, or struck blind in one eye. The biggest fear of all, however, is if he stops wherever you are and calls out your name. This will draw out your soul and you'll no longer be among the living. Unlike the Banshee, which is known to warn of an imminent death in certain families, the Dullahan does not come to warn." He is a definite sign of someone's demise. He has a fear of gold, and will shrink at the smallest piece of it.

Also according to Haggerty, "While no-one knows for certain how the Dullahan originated, it is thought that he is the embodiment of the Celtic fertility god, Crom Dubh, who was worshiped by an ancient king of Ireland, Tighermas. Each year, Tighermas sacrificed humans to Crom Dubh, and the usual method was decapitation. The worship of Crom Dubh ended in the sixth century, when Christianity came to Ireland and the old sacrificial traditions went out of favor."

Taidbhse - Thevshi

And then there are the ghosts. W. B. Yeats wrote about them, saying, "Ghosts, or as they are called in Irish, Thevshi or Tash (taidhbhse, tais), live in a state intermediary between this life and the next. They are held there by some earthly longing or affection, or some duty unfulfilled, or anger against the living. 'I will haunt you, is a common threat; and one hears such phrases as, She will haunt him, if she has any good in her. One bad sign is if you see the ghost of yourself. It means you are about to die."

So, there you have it. You might be lucky this month, and only see the pucas or Grogochs, instead of the dearg durs or demon brides. Whatever you see, or meet, tell them to have a great Halloween. It is an Irish holiday, after all.


More Samhain - Go to:

Page 2 - The Dullahan - the Irish Headless Horseman


Page 3 - Samhain Celebrations and Games
Page 4 - Halloween Recipes

Page 5 - More Samhain Recipes
Page 6 - A Reason to Keep Vigilant - It is Samhain

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