Samhain, a holiday!

Hallowe'en is coming, and it is my absolutely favourite holiday. I wrote this up a few years ago, as I was working my way through the Wheel of the Year, and wanted something that I could use to tell the story of Samhain to kids. It's pretty basic, and I left out the bloodier parts of the story. If you like faerie tales, then I encourage you to read the original. It's in Scots-English, and so the spelling is strange to our eyes. Any way you look at it, this week I'll write about Samhain, which is pronounced Sow-an or Sow-ane, not Sam-hane... and for the record, there is no god Sam Hain who witches worship... but I'll get into that one later. 


Tam Lin: A story of Samhain

This is a retelling of the Scotts song, the Ballad of Tam Lin. The best copy of the ballad I found was in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads by F. J. Child. The original author of the ballad is unknown.

The retelling is done here to tell the story of Samhain, a holiday of Earth Based religions the world over. It is meant for parents and children to enjoy together and an explanation of terms in included for some of the terms that may be unfamiliar to our American readers.

As summer wound to a close, that year, the High King made a proclamation to all of his subjects “Let all unmarried women stay far from the forest Caterhaugh. There is a Sidhe man there who would steal them away.” 

Now, his daughter, Janey would not hear of this, for he had given her that lovely forest months ago. So, she decided to run out and visit her beautiful glen of trees and flowers of all kinds. She pulled her green dress up, just below her knee, and ran all the way to Caterhaugh, with her golden hair flowing behind her.

She didn’t hear the guardsmen of the castle call after her; they shook their heads seeing her running in her green dress, “She goes to court the Sidhe, and they’ll find her, sure enough.”

She arrived at Forest Caterhaugh, and walked slowly into the centre of it, into the glen where her beautiful flowers grew so wildly. She saw something new, rose bushes, and thought that her father must have had them planted for her, as a surprise.

When she had walked through the glen, she went back to the rose bushes and searched for the perfect bloom to take home to her father in thanks; when she had plucked one she heard a strange voice.

“Lady, don’t pluck any more!” a young man, with grey eyes demanded.

“This is my glen, and my roses, I’ll pluck them if I please,” Janey stood with her chin jutting out.

“You owe me the price of that Sidhe rose that you have taken,” he said.

“And what is that?” she asked.

“Your hand,” his eyes danced. “You are wearing green, the colour of the Sidhe; did you not feel the pull? You are unmarried. Now, you’ll be my wife; that is the price.”

“And your name?” she could feel the pull of the “Good Folk” on her soul.

“I am Tam Lin.”

Weeks passed, and there were many times Janey could feel him calling to her. Often the call was so powerful that she nearly ran back to the grove in Carterhaugh. The pull was like a rope or a string tied to her heart. She thought she could stand still and still be running to Carterhaugh when he called her. Soon, as the leaves turned colours and fell there was talk of her strange behaviour.

The palace was busy preparing for the up coming feast of Samhain. The Wicker Man was being built to show the death and sacrifice of the God. The Great Cauldron was being cleaned and polished to show the Path that the God would take into the Summerland as well as the Path that the Dead would walk as they were reborn. Bonfires were being laid; final harvest was being brought in. The apples and pumpkins harvest were especially good this year, and everyone was glad.

As her father was watching the preparations from the castle walls, he called to her. “Come up here and speak with me.”

When she joined him, he turned to her and asked her to tell him why they made ready for the feast. He asked this of her every year, so she smiled and told him the story.

“Father, the Goddess has given us a bountiful harvest. The cattle have been culled and we are getting ready for the long dark winter. The day light grows shorter, and this shows us that the God of All is growing weaker as he ages through the year. The year is almost over and soon He will lay down his life as a sacrifice for the earth; this shows us that we will have a winter, but it will not last forever. Soon, He will be reborn. Even now, the Child quickens within the belly of our Goddess. This will be our last great Feast of this year; and we will go into winter knowing that the God will soon enter the Cauldron of Babh and enter the world again- bringing the sun with him.”

This was the oldest story, as Samhain was both the end and the beginning of the year. Janey had learned the tale as a small child from her mother.

“I know you’re going to Caterhaugh to see the father of you child, Janey. Who is your husband?” her father asked, suddenly.

“I won’t tell you. The baby is mine, and no other man but my husband will name him. You can ask me all day and night, I still won’t tell you,” she was her father’s daughter, so he knew that she spoke the truth. “My love is an elfin knight with eyes of grey. My love is an elfin knight with a milk-white steed. But his name, I’ll not tell.”

She felt the pull to Carterhaugh. As clearly as she could hear a hunting horn, she felt it pulling, deep within her soul. She lifted up her green cloak and ran to the grove. No one stood there, Tam Lin was not by the well. She could see his white horse, but could not find him. She went to the Sidhe roses and plucked one. Suddenly, he appeared!

“Lady, why did you pluck that rose? How could you break the perfect stem?” he asked her, grey eyes twinkling. “You could harm the beautiful baby we have made.”

“Tell me, tell me, Tam Lin. Are you a mortal man who has walked the world, and worshipped in the groves? Or are you one of the Sidhe? I must know?” Janey pressed the rose to her cheek.

“I was mortal once. My father and grandfather are the Roxbrugh, from the glen. My grandfather took me hunting here, and I fell from my horse. In the cold that day the Queen of the Sidhe found me. She caught me up and took me to that green hill over there,” Tam Lin pointed to the east.

“That hill?” Janey asked. It seemed like a normal hill to her eyes.

“It is the door to the home of the Tuatha de Danann. The door to the Sidhe. It is beautiful there in the home of the Tuatha. But I have a terrible tale to tell: every seven years the Sidhe pay a tribute to the Cauldron of Rebirth, on the night of Samhain. Because I am mortal, the tribute is my life. It is a living wicker man,” Tam Lin looked pale and afraid.

“What can I do? How can I save the heart I love?” Janey asked.

“If my love will win my freedom, this is what you must do. On the night of Samhain, at midnight be at the Mills Crossing. You must bring an offering of milk and well water, as well as apples. 

“At midnight the army of the Sidhe will ride through the Crossing. First let the black horse and rider pass you by; then let the brown. When you see the milk-white steed, grab the rider and pull him from his horse. Hold him tight, for he is me. I will wear a glove on my right hand, and my hair will be in a tail. 

“Cover me, my love, with a green cloak, and don’t let me go. I will be changed into many things, but I will never hurt you. When I go through the final change, put me into the bowl of well water. But if you let me go, I will be lost to you forever. If you love me and our baby- don’t let me go!”

Samhain was only a day away. Waiting was difficult for her, but Janey waited until the Day that was Between. She knew that Samhain was a special day, and that it was neither part of the old year, nor the new; it was between.

When Samhain dawned, Janey began gathering the things that she needed to save the live of her husband. She drew 3 skins of clear well water, and took 3 pans of fresh milk from the kitchens and poured them into skins. She then waited until full darkness.

When the darkness had fallen, the rest of the castle was celebrating and making merry in the hall, and court yard. She went into the stable and loaded a donkey with the skins of milk and water. She, lastly, took a bag of apples from the kitchen and wrapped herself in her green cloak as she led the donkey to Mills Crossing.

The poor donkey was afraid, being out on such a wild night, but Janey led him firmly and kindly. When they arrived at the Crossing, she tied him to a tree branch on the east side. She breathed a prayer of thanks that the Sidhe offering bowls were still in place beside the roads. She heaved the stone bowls into the middle of the roads. Then she took the heavy skins and poured the milk on the North and South branches of the Crossing. The water, she poured into the West and East branches, and placed the apples in the centre of the cross roads. Then, she waited, praying for the safety of her beloved.

It was at the minute of midnight, and Janey heard a strange noise from the West. At first it sounded like the trees were bending before a great wind. Then, it sounded like the ocean was flowing toward her. Soon, she knew it was the sound of the Army of the Queen of the Sidhe. Janey could hear the horses neighing; she could hear the creak of the saddles and the jingle of the bridles. She also heard something that frightened her: the sound of the Sidhe, a sighing, almost moaning noise. She knew it was so that mortals, like herself, would know the Sidhe rode and to warn them to run away. Praying again, she stood near to the Western road, and waited.
Soon, she could see the terrible army. They road past her with a swiftness like the wind, and brought a chill from beyond the Cauldron. She saw the black horse, and let him ride past her. She saw the brown horse, and let him pass as well. She then saw the knight riding a white horse, and she took both hands and grabbed his cloak. She pulled him down onto the ground by the apples, and covered him with her cloak, from the top of his head, to the bottom of his feet.
The army wailed with shock. Then, Janey felt Tam Lin changing. The magic of the Queen turned him into a giant adder with poisonous fangs. Janey did not let go of him, even though she was frightened of snakes. She held him as tight as should could. The snake that was Tam Lin fought with her, he pushed up, and tried to escape her arms.
When she didn’t let him go, the snake began to change again. Soon, Janey hear the growl of a bear. She felt the bear try to rip her cloak and eat her, but she held on to him. All the while, she whispered to Tam Lin that she loved him, and she was never going to let him go.
The bear began changing, and Janey thought that it might be the end. It was not the end; Tam Lin was changing into a terrible and hungry lion. She could smell the milk as it soured and then she smelled blood, but she held the lion with both arms.
The changes were coming faster. Now Tam Lin was a burning hot bar of iron. Janey felt the heat. She still held him; she knew he would not hurt her, he was her husband.
Now, the final change was coming, she could feel it. The army began wailing and keening with horror. The air seemed to freeze in her body, and the wind was so cold it seemed to cut through to Janey’s soul. Then, her love changed into a burning hot bar of lead. She gathered him up and stumbled to the East fork of the road. She put him, cloak and all, into the large offering bowl.
The steam was like fog, but she saw her love. She pulled him out of the bowl, and saw that it was empty. Then, she covered her husband with her green cloak, to keep him warm, as all of his armour had burned off, and he was naked.
The army surrounding her then parted. There was a clear path toward the West. A tall woman came riding up to her, riding a blood red horse. The army then knelt before this woman, and Janey knew it was the Queen of the Sidhe, herself. Janey covered Tam Lin with her body and closed her eyes.
There was a noise from the North, and Janey heard the voice of a Raven calling. The Raven spoke with a woman’s voice, old and wise, but angry and vengeful.
“Who is this mortal who would take our beautiful boy from Us?” the Raven that was Babh asked.
Janey said nothing. She waited, whether to die, or for the dawn. As long as it was dark, and she lay in the cross roads, she was not in the world, but she knew she was not in the Otherworld, either; she was Between.
From the South, Janey heard another sound. The army around her fell silent and Janey opened her eyes. She saw a blooming broom bush, on fire, but not burning. A voice came from the bush.
“If we knew that his grey eyes would see this mortal and love her, we would have taken them out and given him eyes of wood,” the Sister-self of the Queen spoke, her voice sounded full and rich.
Then the army again whispered their horror that a mortal would steal something from the Queen. The Queen looked down from her great horse, and lifted her helm off of her red hair. She was very angry, and when she spoke Janey thought her heart would stop from fright.
“If we knew that the most beautiful man in all of our court would love a mortal, we would have given him a stone heart in place of the living one that beats in his chest. You have fulfilled the requirements, girl. He is yours,” the Queen turned to her army, and motioned for them to mount their horses.
She then led the terrible army on the Eastern fork of Mills Crossing, into the coming dawn.

Janey had won her love from the Queen of the Sidhe; but she knew that she would only have him while he lived, after death everyone went into the Cauldron, and Tam Lin would belong to the Queen again.

Explanation of terms:
Samhain: [sow-en] old Irish-Celtic name for Halloween; this feast typically lasted from 31 October to 2 November [by our calendar] and was thought to be a feast that was between the old year and the New Year
Sidhe: [she] the Good People, another name for the fairies
Queen of the Sidhe: another name for the goddess Mo-Rhiogghan [the Morrigan]
The colour of the Sidhe/green: thought to be the special colour belonging to the Good People
Path that the God would walk/Path of the Dead: it is believed that God would die every year so that people would not be afraid when it came time for them to die
Summerland: the Otherland, another name for heaven, or place that a person’s soul goes when they die
God of All: another name for the Daghdha, or the God who created the world; also called the Good God
Cauldron of Babh [bove]/Cauldron of Rebirth/Great Cauldron: people are thought to travel through a giant cauldron when they are birthed, both into the world and into the Summerland; Babh is the Goddess who stirs the Cauldron and helps people into and out of it.
Elfin knight: a man who rides with the Sidhe; in this story, it is Tam Lin
Tuatha de Danann [too-ahhtha de dan-an]: another name for the Sidhe and the Gods and Goddesses of the Celts [kelts]
Between: used to describe something that is near to, but not a part of another place, time or day; for instance, midnight is not morning nor night; a cross roads is neither one road nor another
Sidhe offering bowls: large stone bowls on the sides of cross roads and other places where milk, apples, honey and other things could be left for the Good People.
Apples: they are symbols, or pictures of the autumn and the souls of the dead; and are special to the Sidhe
The Raven: another name for the Mo-Rhiogghan [morrigan, more-ee-an]
The Wicker Man/Sacrificial God: a tall man made out of wheat straw, it was done to show how the God would die to bring fertility and Spring back to the world; he was also called the Sacrificial God

Celebrating Samhain:
This section contains a few simple ways that someone can celebrate Samhain now, as well as what the celebration means.

The Offering of the Apples:
This is a simple rite, and one that many people do to call to the Sidhe and give blessings to their family members that have gone to Summerland. By burying the apples after offering them, you are helping bless the earth with the possibility of a new tree or with good fertilizer for the ground.

During the daylight take three apples, of any colour and type, and place them outside your front door. Leave them alone, and don’t touch them until the next morning. In the morning, gather the apples and take them to your yard and bury them. If you don’t have a yard, you can plant them in planters, or take them to a park or other outdoor place. Then, watch next spring for an apple shoot, you might have planted an apple tree.
*Instead of apples you can leave a dish of milk if you like.

Giving Money:
Long ago, instead of going “Trick or Treating” children would knock on their neighbors door and ask for treats or pennies. Now, we just give away candy.

Simply give coins to all the people who come to your home Trick or Treating. Quarters and dimes are acceptable, it doesn’t have to be five dollar bills.

Lighting the Way to Summerland:
We believe that on Samhain the road to Summerland is open and people who have died can walk and visit their families and friends. Make sure you close your door if you don’t want a visit; it is thought that the open door is an invitation. Whether they come in or not, is up to them.

Leave a candle burning in your front room windows until you go to sleep. Never leave it unattended, and make sure that nothing around it is flammable. However, it is thought that the Souls that walk this night will see your candles and the light will help them find the road back to Summerland when the night is over.

The Wicker Man or Wheat Dolly:
You can make one yourself, or purchase them at many hobby stores. These are a representation of the God and Goddess. If you do purchase or make one, keep it safe until the Spring time, and then you can bury it, or burn it. Just do not throw it in the garbage bin.

Eating and Feasting:
This is the most fun. Anything you eat that is part of the last harvest, like apples, pumpkins and grains are fine; of course, sugary sweets are wonderful too, especially if they are fruit cobblers or pies. Just remember that this is a feast to be thankful for the harvest and to look forward to the hibernation and rest of the earth.

(c) 2004 E.Crawford


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