— Edinburgh Events

Tricks, Treats, Guising and Samhain: Halloween like you've never seen before

A special occurrence falls in Edinburgh during Halloween. The wee ones go “guising” (trick or treating for our overseas friends), the Autumn chill starts to settle, and the veil between the living and the dead is thin, which is what brings us Samhain. Samhain, which translates to “Summer’s End” is a Celtic festival dating back to an ancient Celtic spiritual tradition. It is usually celebrated between October 31st and November to mark the dark part of the year and to celebrate the harvest.

Samhain was one of the most significant celebrations to the Ancient Celts as one of the quarterly fire festivals (Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh).

After the harvest was complete. Those celebrating Samhain would join the druid priests and light a fire for the community using a wheel that caused friction. The wheel is said to represent the sun. Participants would then carry fire back to their homes and light their hearths. During the celebration of Samhain, community feasts were held, dancing, prayers, and the sacrifice of cattle (that part isn’t celebrated today). Celebrations typically lasted three to six days.

Ceremonious  fire for Samhain
Ceremonious fire for Samhain

As the veil between the living and the dead thinned. Offerings were made to appease spirits and fairies to avoid being kidnapped. While malicious or vengeful deities might cross over. Many believed that ancestors would cross over too. This allowed family members to reconcile with those who passed over and give updates about their lives. One specific monster in Irish folklore was the Pooka (Poo-ka). They were known to be either menacing or beneficial. If unappeased, they would harm travellers. However, if they were happy with the offerings made to them, they would complete farm work for workers.

With the progression of the Middle Ages, Samhain also evolved into something similar we see in Halloween today. Samghnagans (personal bonfires) became more prominent and were thought to protect farms. Carved turnips (much like our carved pumpkins) were introduced to ward off restless souls. Additionally, celebrations of the “Dumb Supper” were seen around households, this is when parents would talk to deceased relatives after inviting them inside. Children would then play games and entertain these visitors, and feasts would be held.

Carved turnip, alterative to carved pumpkins!
Carved turnip, alternative to carved pumpkins we see today!

The Samhuinn Fire Festival, a contemporary interpretation of Samhain, marks the sombre end of summer and the approaching onset of winter. A dramatic standoff between the Summer and Winter Kings occurs when Winter overthrows Summer in the narrative. The Cailleach, a Celtic goddess or Divine Hag, who eventually chooses each King's fate and ushers in the approaching, colder months, is in charge of this.

The energies and exchanges of the Summer and Winter courts through ferocious performance, music, and dance assist the transition from Summer to Winter. The story emphasises the transformation that many facets of life go through as the seasons change while also focusing on overcoming seasonal conflict.

Samhuinn Fire festival takes place at Calton Hill, where attendants can expect neo-pagan theatre, music, fire dancing, acrobats, and a grand finale.

Samhuinn Fire Festival
Samhuinn Fire Festival