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Samhainn – the Beginning of Winter

Samhainn marked the end of the summer half of the year, the beginning of winter, the dark time (an Dùbhlachd). Oidhche Shamhna (Night of Samhainn) is Gaelic for Halloween, that is, the Evening of Hallows or Saints. In modern Gaelic, Samhain is the modern Gaelic word for the month of November.

The Veil at Samhainn??

Some sources in English say that a veil is removed between the two worlds at Samhainn, and passage is easier back and forth. I’ve never heard or read the word caille (veil, covering) used this way in Gaelic. In 1861 William Winwood Reade published The Veil of Isis or Mysteries of the Druids in which Reade attempted to explain the religion of the druids which he thought must resemble the religion of ancient Egypt. He was quite popular in his day. And very wrong.

Tasks at Samhainn

At Samhainn the corn (grain) was harvested and flocks of cattle and sheep were brought from the summer pastures to enclosures near the villages. When all the animals had been secured, the fear an taighe (man of the house), his bean an taighe (wife) and their family walked around their homestead, which included the flocks, and sang the Beannachd Samhna, the Samhainn blessing.

The Three Plates: Marriage at Samhainn

But communication with the Otherworld (an Saoghal Ud Eile) was easier at this time. Divination for marriage was popular among the young men and women. One method used three plates or bowls containing clean water, which represented a good spouse, dirty water, which meant a bad one, and no water which meant no husband at all. The petitioner was blindfolded and pushed in the direction of the plates; the first one touched indicated what sort of spouse was in that person’s future. 

In Scotland Samhainn can be pronounced sa-veeng and oidhche shamhna something like oee-hyuh how-nah. Never is it sam-hayn. The old form was Samain.


Kevin Danaher, The Year in Ireland; Irish Calendar customs, 1972                                              I. F. Grant, Highland Folkways, 1961                                                                              Angus Matheson et al., Carmina Gadelic, 6 vol, 1954-78                                               Alwyn & Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage, 1961                                                                  Anne Ross, The Folklore of the Scottish Highlands, 1976

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