Halloween versus Samhain and why Oct. 31 is meaningless

Please note this is an exercise in critical thinking and logical debate. When it comes to actual spiritual or religious beliefs, it is of utmost importance that individuals follow whatever worldview/belief system they find personally meaningful and valuable.

Most of my friends in the neo-Pagan community keep insisting Samhain is October 31, and some are protesting the change to move Halloween celebrations to the last Saturday in October.

I will respectfully but ardently disagree with them. Here’s why: The Celts didn’t use the Gregorian calendar, so an arbitrary date in the common era is meaningless. Also, if you believe the veil between the world of the living and the dead and thinnest at Samhain, why would you try to communicate with the ancestors on the wrong date — one that was prescribed by the same people who tried to erase the culture of those ancestors and co-opted their holiday?

The earliest known Celtic calendar is the Coligny calendar, which is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon, France. This collection of bronze fragments was once a single plate, inscribed with writing in the Gaulish language. It is estimated to date to the First Century BCE. This calendar covers a 30-year cycle comprising five cycles of 62 lunar months, and one of 61. Each month begins on a full moon.

Think about this for a minute: If the Celts used a lunar month cycle, and lunar cycles are 27 days long, how can there be a 31st of any given month?

One could make the argument that the Celtic New Year started on the full moon of the month we call November on today’s calendar. In 2022, that date is November 8.

On the Coligny tablet, the month falling in what we would call October/November was Samonios, which means “seed-fall.” This was the beginning of the Celtic year and the month in which Samhain took place. The Coligny calendar has two small sigils indicating the main festivals of Beltain and Lughnasadh. Imbolc, the cross quarter of winter and spring, is not indicated on the tablet.

According to most sources (which also make the argument for October 31), Samhain — the holiday that was the precursor to modern-day Halloween — fell on the twain of the autumn equinox and winter solstice. According to New World Celts, Samhain was, “a time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld was thought to be so thin that the dead could return to warm themselves at the hearths of the living, and some of the living — especially poets — were able to enter the Otherworld through the doorways of the sidhe, such as that at the Hill of Tara in Ireland.”

If you get out your almanac and find the autumn equinox, then count the days to the winter solstice, it should come to around 90. Divide it in half and you’ll get 45. Add 45 days to the equinox and subtract 45 from the solstice and you’ll get the real Samhain. I guarantee the date will not be October 31.

It will more likely be November 6, but by then the Halloween decorations will be in the landfill and the Christmas decorations will be up, except for the minority of people who decorate for Thanksgiving. If you’re a Marine Corps veteran, the next big holiday after Halloween is November 10, the Marine Corps Birthday. Pro tip: Never come between a Marine and their cake. And of course, there’s Krampusnacht on December 5.

Most Pagans with whom I’ve worked have always held their group rituals on Saturdays or Sundays anyway. Moving the secular date will change nothing.

I honestly do not understand this strict adherence to the Gregorian calendar. It was the Roman Catholic Church that tried to erase the Pagan culture, and when that didn’t work, they co-opted the Pagan holidays, symbols, and deities. The new calendar didn’t even arrive until 1582 CE, and it replaced the Julian calendar from 45 CE — neither of which had anything to do with the Celts. Besides, England and its colonies didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752.

If we reconcile the Gregorian calendar with the Julian calendar, October 31 of the Julian calendar falls on November 13 of the Gregorian calendar, according to Steve Morse.

Orthodox Christians still use the Julian calendar. For example, Orthodox Christmas falls on January 7 of the Gregorian calendar. Jews use the Hebrew calendar, not the Gregorian, to determine their holidays. Hindus and Muslims don’t have holidays according to arbitrary dates on the Gregorian calendar. Asian New Year is the second new Moon after the winter solstice.

Why are Pagans carrying water for the mainstream? We fight so hard for equal religious rights and to be recognized as legitimate churches in the United States. Yet we cling so hard to this date on the oppressor’s calendar. Why?

Going back to the belief that Halloween/Samhain is the time of year when the veil between the living and dead gets blurred, think about it. Do ghosts use a calendar? Or do they follow the laws of nature? Do calendars follow the laws of nature? No. If you follow an Earth-based spiritual path, why are you so beholden to an arbitrary date?

So I say have your trick-or-treating on the last Saturday of October. Be sure to eat lots of protein beforehand to counteract all that sugar. Then on November 6 or 7, have your feast for the ancestors and celebrate a proper Samhain.

Also, “Samhain” (pronounced “sow en”) in the modern spoken Irish language is the calendar word for the month of November. Traditionally Samhain lasted a whole season, as did Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh. There were four fire festivals in the Celtic calendar, each at the cross quarters of an equinox and solstice. Many modern neo-Pagans continue to celebrate these holidays, and I write about them in my books, Fermata Cellars and Zinfandel’s Grimoire.

And it wasn’t until Wicca became a thing in the early 20th Century that we started having eight holidays in the wheel of the year. For example, the ancient Celts never celebrated a holiday called Mabon. That name was made up in the 1970s by Aiden A. Kelly.

Appeal to Tradition is a logical fallacy that uses historical preference as evidence that the historical preference is correct. Saying, “We’ve always celebrated on October 31” is not a reason; it’s the absence of a reason.

I’m totally cool with whatever religion you practice. Everyone should have a personal relationship with spirit and that will look different for each person. But please make good arguments for your position on religious matters. If a date on the calendar is sacred, don’t claim it’s because a tradition predates Christianity if it doesn’t.

To learn more about Samhain, I recommend reading Lora O’Brien’s blog at https://loraobrien.ie/samhain-in-ireland/. O’Brien is an Irish Druid, so her advice is much more reliable than mine. You’ll note that she celebrates Samhain from dark moon to dark moon, which in 2022 is October 25 to November 23.

Also, “Halloween Customs in the Celtic World” by Bettina Arnold, Co-Director, Center for Celtic Studies, UW-Milwaukee https://sites.uwm.edu/barnold/2001/10/31/halloween-customs-in-the-celtic-world/

And “Celtic Calendar” by New World Celts http://www.newworldcelts.org/celtic-calendar.html

Published by Gwen Clayton

Gwen Clayton is a freelance writer living in Ashland, Kentucky. She is the former editor of the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly, and has written for numerous other publications since 1986. Her first book, the paranormal thriller "Fermata Cellars," was published in 2016, and her Bible-inspired short story, "Purr: A story of love, lions and a Hebrew named Daniel," was released in 2019. She recently finished writing, "Zinfandel’s Grimoire," which is the sequel to 'Fermata;' that book is in the editing and design phase of publication. Her current works in progress include the third book in the Rivervine Trilogy, tentatively titled, "Comatis Unveiled," and the nonfiction, "Dragon's Poker Table: A rocker chick's breast cancer journey." Her books are independently published under the imprint, Rivervine LLC. In addition to writing books, Clayton contracts as a copywriter for local, small businesses.

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