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A Reason to Keep Vigilant - It is Samhain

by Brian Witt

October and November collide on the last and the first days of the two months. November 1 is Samhain, or, in Irish, Summer's end. October 31 is celebrated as Halloween, or the eve of the Hallowed day of November 1, All-Saints Day.

For the Celts in Ireland and Europe, these two days were amongst the holiest of the year. It was a time when the veil between the world of the living and the dead was at its thinnest, and people were able to cross over from the other side to the land of the living without much disturbance.

The harvest was in, and the nights were getting darker sooner, causing shadows to cast malevolent figures along the landscape. The stories of dread came to life much more easily in this climate of darkness.

In that background, celebrate the Irish holiday by recalling, or meeting, these folks. They are dead sinners, witches, sea monsters and more.

First up are the Sluagh. The Sluagh were thought to dead sinners, some whom were too mean to be housed in Hell, and were not allowed to cross over to Tir na nOg, the land of the forever young.

According to Irish folklore, these spirits come from the west, flying in groups like flocks of birds, and try to enter a house where someone is dying to take away that person's soul. Some Irish families would keep their west-facing windows shut at all times to keep the Sluagh out of their homes. traveling around in packs foretelling of death and disaster. So, keep your western windows closed during late October and early November.

Not scary enough? Well, how about fire spitting monsters? Caorthannach, (Car han-nack), the fire-spitter, thought by some to be the devil's mother, is a demon that battled St. Patrick when he banished the snakes from Ireland. Patrick stood on the mountain now known as Croagh Patrick and expelled all the serpents and demons into the sea to drown. Caorthannach, however, managed to escape. The demon slid down a mountain away from him, but Patrick spotted her, and chased her down upon the fastest horse in Ireland. A long pursuit left Patrick thirsty, as Caorthannach knew St. Patrick would need water to quench his thirst along the way, so she spit fire as she fled, and poisoned every well she passed.


Caorthannach

Though he was desperately thirsty, he refused to drink from the poisoned wells and prayed for guidance. A well appeared for him to drink from. Patrick eventually made it to the Hawk's Rock, where he waited for Caorthannach. As the demon approached, he jumped out from his hiding spot and banished her from Ireland with a single word. The evil fire-spitter drowned in the ocean, leaving a swell behind that created the famous Hawk's Well. Another story is that she swallowed Patrick at Lough Derg, but he prayed, and she bled to death.

Well, how about Carman, the Celtic witch? Carman is the Celtic goddess of evil magic. She was said to have come from Athens, sent by the Greek gods. This destructive witch roamed around with her three evil sons: Dub (darkness in Irish), Dother (evil) and Dain (violence), destroying anything or anyone in their path. Carman put a blight on Ireland’s crops and terrorized the Irish until the Tuatha De Danann, the peoples of the goddess Danu, used their magic to fight and defeat her.


Carman

Four of the heroes of the Tuatha De Danann, Crichinbel, Lug, Be Chuille and Aoi, challenged Carman and her sons. The sons were forced to leave Ireland, and Carman was imprisoned. She died of longing and was buried in Wexford among oak trees. Her grave was dug by Bres. The place she was buried was called Carman after her, and the Tuatha De Danann are said to have instituted an Oenach Carman, or Festival of Carman.

Her story is told in a poem of the Metrical Dindshenchas. which states that she died in 600 BCE.

Was the Carman too far back in the mists of time? Then how about the Bean Nighe? As the Washer at the Ford she wanders near deserted streams where she washes the blood from the grave-clothes of those who are about to die. It is said that mnathan nighe (the plural of bean nighe) are the spirits of women who died giving birth and are doomed to do this work until the day their lives would have normally ended.

The bean nighe were most associated with the western Scottish Islands, and of Northern Ireland. A bean nighe is described in some tales as having one nostril, one big protruding tooth, webbed feet and long-hanging breasts, and to be dressed in green. If one is careful enough when approaching, three questions may be answered by the Bean Nighe, but only after three questions have been answered first.


Bean Nighe

A mortal who is bold enough to sneak up to her while she is washing and suck her breast can claim to be her foster child. The mortal can then gain a wish from her. If a mortal passing by asks politely, she will tell the names of the chosen that are going to die. While generally appearing as a hag, she can also manifest as a beautiful young woman when it suits her.

Finally, we come to the Kelpie. It primarily lived in Scotland, but was also known to the Irish. The kelpie is a monster right out of Celtic myth. The creature can take on multiple shapes, but usually it appears in the form of a horse. The kelpie galloped around Ireland, looking like a lost pony, attempting to trick women and children into riding on it. But the strange thing about this pony is that its mane would always be dripping with water. If a woman hopped on, the monster would then run into the water, drowning its victim, and then would take her to its lair to eat her. The Irish demon would sometimes transform into a handsome man to lure women to its trap, but a telltale sign that it was a kelpie was if that man” had kelp in its hair.

So, try not to date men with kelp-filled hair, washer women on the sides of streams, ancient Greek witches with malevolent sons, fire-spitting women who would fight patron saints, or flocks of flying sinners this month. They may add more drama to your life than you would wish.

Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh



More Samhain - Go to:

Page 1 - Samhain - The Celtic New Year And Halloween


Page 2 The Dullahan - The Irish Headless Horseman
Page 3 - Samhain Celebrations and Games
Page 4 - Halloween Recipes

Page 5 - More Halloween and Samhain Recipes

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