For those not in the know, I don’t celebrate the Irish Holidays despite being an Irish Polytheist… Or, at least, I don’t quite celebrate them like everyone else. So while the rest of the community was celebrating Lá Samhna last month, I was patiently waiting for December 1st to roll around… And here it is, finally! What a better way to celebrate that than a post dedicated to it?
Like with Lùnastal, Lá Samhna (Samhainn) is one of the four main holidays that are present within Early Irish practice; according to Tairis:
On the one hand, it traditionally marks the end of summer and the transition into winter and all that implies – on a practical level – in a pastoral society. On the other hand, Samhainn is marked by a strong element of the supernatural, when Otherworldly beings roam the land freely and there is a strong sense of danger present – more so than with any other festival from the records that have survived.
Though it is closer to how I view the Holiday, there are still aspects of it which are not in line with how I’ve generally decided to celebrate the holiday- most notably, the time I’ve chosen to celebrate it.
The most important part of Lá Samhna has traditionally been the Supernatural elements- including not only the Fae, but also the Human Dead (a subject I work very closely with as a Spiritworker). However, the traditional date of Lá Samhna often falls in late Autumn… Something which is in direct contrast to my own prior holidays for the Dead and my beliefs surrounding the seasons; Winter, for me, has always been about the Dead themselves- whereas Autumn has been more about the transition between living and dying (something I hold as much different). Above and beyond most reasons, this was an important factor in why I have chosen to push the date back a bit further and bridge the gap between Irish Polytheism, Modernity, and my own prior holidays.
Like with Fáiteall, this date change requires (in my mind) a name change to prevent confusion between the variations of the holidays that I practice, and those practiced by the greater community. As a result, Sneachta is what I have chosen to call it for various reasons; according to Teanglann, Sneachta simply means Snow– though like with any other language, a wide range of additional words may be included to specify the type, amount, or other aspects.
Despite choosing Sneachta as the name for this holiday, though? Here in Oklahoma we rarely actually receive snow in December- and that’s regardless of the fact that this time of the year often has much colder temperatures. In fact, when it comes to the Winter months Oklahoma is actually much more well known for Sleet (a type of Frozen Rain) instead of snow; we might get a light dusting of snow here or there during this month, but for us snow usually comes in the last months of Meteorological Winter- some time near January and February- and carries into early Spring. It’s just not a common sight for us.
However, I chose this name for the holiday meant to replace Lá Samhna not because of Oklahoma’s common climate at the time. Instead, I chose it because for me this is ultimately Cailleach’s season; Cailleach is not only an undeniable Winter Goddess, but also one heavily associated with Snow and Ice because of that… And of the two, snow and ice, the image of snow itself is heavily ingrained into the cultural image of December on a rather grand scale.
Outside of this, surprisingly little has actually changed. What has changed is more in the act of the consolidation and addition of practices associate with the Holiday it is replacing- and indeed, the Dead especially have certainly remained an important part of this Holiday.
Traditionally, during this time activity within the home was primarily geared towards the Ancestors of the Household; candles would have been lit for the deceased and prayers said for them. Likewise, the table would have been set with extra places for the Dead to join the living in meal. The door would have been left unlocked, and a bowl of fresh water would have been left out, and so much more. Due to the nature of the holiday, these are all traditions that I feel are important to carry on into its new incarnation in my calendar- with one additive.
Because of the focus on Ancestors and their entering into the home at this time, I feel like there are (or at least should be) heavy undertones of Hospitality in the celebrations. I’ve written about some of my research into Hospitality and Charity in Early Ireland before, but Hospitality to me also means ensuring that the environment is clean and welcoming to my guests. As a Housewife, I also feel like actions of Hospitality are also directly connected to Febas as well. As a result, Lá Samhna’s incarnation in my calendar as Sneachta begins to take on a lot of Hospitable elements with a focus on cleansing; the house is ritually cleaned from top to bottom, and then sained.
Saining also brings up another tradition related to Lá Samhna- though it is one which wasn’t directly participated in on the exact day. That is the element of protection.
According to Tairis, the Monday after Lá Samhna was traditionally a time when malevolent magic could more easily be performed against the Household. For this reason, protections were usually done either on Lá Samhna, or on the following Monday in order to protect the family against such magics. When combined with the fact that the Fae (at this time in general) were said to be out and about more readily, and that they ruined remaining crops and caused general mischief, working protection into the Sneachta celebrations becomes another thing of importance to me.
And odd though it may seem, the emphasis on Bonfires and the tradition of scattering their ashes in the fields for fertility makes the use of my Bonfire Salt particularly important as well; made with charcoal from a number of woods important to me, it is something which holds significant protective properties in my practice. For that reason, incorporating it into Sneachta seems like an integral part of the protections laid this night.
So not only is the house readied physically (through cleaning) to accept Ancestral guests in a show of Hospitality.. But the house is also readied spiritually (through protections); wards are redone and new protections are laid in place for the benefit of the family over the coming year. But the ritual cleaning and protecting of the house also has another purpose, as well.
You see, Winter has also been a time of introspection and Shadowork for me- not just focusing on the Human Dead. One of the largest parts of my Shadowork tends to be Divination- and traditionally, there was a great emphasis on Divination on Lá Samhna.
This combination of practices could be interpreted (in my opinion) as readying or preparing the family for the next years’ events- not just physically in the cleaning and protecting of the house… But also Spiritually and in other ways. For that reason, the element of Divination remains an important part of its incarnation in my own holiday. It then becomes a time to gather and organize not only your house, but also your own thoughts; a time to reflect on the events that occurred over the last year, and perform divination to gain insight into what the next year could bring.
In addition to that, it also becomes an opportune time to request assistance or guidance from the Ancestors in all matters- possibly more so than any other point in the year.
This, of course, is my own personal way of celebrating the holidays in the best way that I am able. You may feel free to draw inspiration from it or completely disagree with it if you wish (and I do welcome discussion and critique of it)… Either way, fanacht te!
Author’s Note: If I’ve butchered any Irish phrases or words, please feel free to inform me. Irish is not my Native Language and I am only just beginning to learn it. Any help and / or correction is greatly appreciated!
For a list of IriPol resources, including those I used to inform the opinions mentioned in this article, please view this page here.