ON November first was Samhain ("summer's end").
"Take my tidings:
"A chill wind raging,
"Dull red the fern;
"Keen cold limes each weaker wing,
--GRAVES: First Winter Song.
Then the flocks were driven in, and men first had leisure after harvest toil. Fires were built as a thanksgiving to Baal for harvest. The old fire on the altar was quenched before the night of October 31st, and the new one made, as were all sacred fires, by friction. It was called "forced-fire." A wheel and a spindle were used: the wheel, the sun symbol, was turned from east to west, sunwise. The sparks were caught in tow, blazed upon the altar, and were passed on to light the hilltop fires. The new fire was given next morning, New Year's Day, by the priests to the people to light their hearths, where all fires had been extinguished. The blessed fire was thought to protect the year through the home it warmed. In Ireland the altar was Tlactga, on the hill of Ward in Meath, where sacrifices, especially black sheep, were burnt in the new fire. From the death struggles and look of the creatures omens for the future year were taken.
The year was over, and the sun's life of a year was done. The Celts thought that at this time the sun fell a victim for six months to the powers of winter darkness. In Egyptian mythology one of the sun-gods, Osiris, was lsain at a banquet by his brother Sitou, the god of darkness. On the anniversary of the murder, the first day of winter, no Egyptian would begin any new business for fear of bad luck, since the spirit of evil was then in power.
From the idea that the sun suffered from his enemies on this day grew the association of Samhain with death.
"The melancholy days are come, the
saddest of the year,
"The wind-flower and the violet, they
perished long ago,
--BRYANT: Death of the Flowers.
In the same state as those who are dead, are those who have never lived, dwelling right in the world, but invisible to most mortals at most times. Seers could see them at any time, and if very many were abroad at once others might get a chance to watch them too.
"There is a world in which we dwell,
These supernatural spirits ruled the dead. There were two classes: the Tuatha De Danann, "the people of the goddess Danu," gods of light and life; and spirits of darkness and evil. The Tuatha had their chief seat on the Isle of Man, in the middle of the Irish Sea, and brought under their power the islands about them. On a Midsummer Day they vanquished the Fir Bolgs and gained most of Ireland, by the battle of Moytura.
A long time afterwards--perhaps 1000 B.C.--the Fomor, sea-demons, after destroying nearly all their enemies by plagues, exacted from those remaining, as tribute, "a third part of their corn, a third part of their milk, and a third part of their children." This tax was paid on Samhain. It was on the week before Samhain that the Fomor landed upon Ireland. On the eve of Samhain the gods met them in the second battle of Moytura, and they were driven back into the ocean.
As Tigernmas, a mythical king of Ireland, was sacrificing "the firstlings of every issue, and the scions of every clan" to Crom Croich, the king idol, and lay prostrate before the image, he and three-fourths of his men mysteriously disappeared.
--Dinnsenchus of Mag Slecht (Meyer trans.).
This was direct invocation, but the fire rites which were continued so long afterwards were really only worshipping the sun by proxy, in his nearest likeness, fire.
Samhain was then a day sacred to the death of the sun, on which had been paid a sacrifice of death to evil powers. Though overcome at Moytura evil was ascendant at Samhain. Methods of finding out the will of spirits and the future naturally worked better then, charms and invocations had more power, for the spirits were near to help, if care was taken not to anger them, and due honors paid.