The Death Goddesses of Samhain and Winter.

(C.) David Halpin.

Summer feels very far away now, and looking back on my photos of warm evenings and blue sky, there is an impulse to wish for these times to extend themselves and allow us to experience the call of birds skimming over long, summer grasses, or the lazy drone of a bee returning as dusk slowly descends.

Is it always like this, the desire to drag against the natural cycle, or is there more trepidation in the world today because of current events, I wonder?

As we move ever towards Samhain, this time represents a moment of both death and rebirth and the start of a new cycle in many ancient traditions. This contradiction can sometimes cause confusion.

It can seem strange to people living today that our ancestors saw life this way; death and birth being so intertwined.

All across the world, though, in our deepest wisdom traditions, this duality is one of the most important aspects in the understanding of life itself.

Without an end there cannot be a new cycle of rebirth.

This is also why some people fear the winter goddess in all of her forms. She shows us that we can never escape our own fate. She comes to bring us face to face with the consequences of the life we have lived.

For those who cling to this mortal existence, the winter goddess is an ominous figure stalking the edges of their life, but someone who cannot be evaded.

From the Cailleach to Baba Yaga, from Ragana to Giltine, these goddesses clear the way for the new, and by doing so, remind us of our own eventual end.

Giltine is a Baltic death goddess who wraps herself in a white cloak and whose appearance is marked by the sound of a whip cracking three times.

Giltine sometimes travels with her two sisters and once she has called your name there is no escape.

Her symbol is the owl, itself often considered a messenger from the Otherworld, and although fearsome, Giltine’s work is necessary in order for the world to bring forth new life from the bones of the old.

In some interpretations of Irish legends, the sound of an owl calling three times is a sign of impending death and it is often a precursor to the arrival of the Cailleach herself, so there is an interesting link to Giltine in that aspect.

Another point to note is that the owl in Celtic tradition is almost always female.

(Marija Gimbutas argues in The Living Goddesses that the owl goddess is portrayed inside Newgrange. P69. Ch. The Tomb and the Womb.)

One of Giltine’s sisters is Laima, a goddess of pregnancy and birth, so we can see the link to seasonal cycles in Giltine’s dominance in the world before Laima arrives in the springtime.

Another European goddess associated with winter, death (and also the dark moon) is Ragana. However, Ragana is also a goddess of regeneration so once more we find that same awareness of the need to cull before new life can be created.

Ragana’s name comes from the verb regeti, which means “to divine” or “to prophesise”.

Related to Ragana is the fairy goddess, Lauma, who again can also appear with her sister deities. In this case there is some interesting Gnostic crossover, I feel.

You see, just like Sophia in many Gnostic creation tales, Lauma descended into the human world in order to try and alleviate suffering but by doing so she now has to share our fate. (There are interesting parallels to Aradia and Diana here too!)

However, there are other aspects of Lauma which are not so sympathetic, especially if you are a man!

Lauma and her sisters can use their sexual appeal to entice, exhaust, destroy and even tickle men to death! Marija Gimbutas writes in her book, The Living Goddess, that “Lauma’s physical appearance vividly reflects her Palaeolithic origins. She has bird feet and a bird body combined with a woman’s breasts. Her sexual superiority and manifestations in threes and in groups clearly stem from the pre-Indo-European social order.”

This death aspect of the triple goddess is found in just about every ancient European tradition including the Norns, Moirai, the Parcae, the Erinves, and, of course, the Morrígna in Celtic mythology.

The Slavic goddess of winter and death, Morana or Marzanna, as she is sometimes better known, is more often associated with rituals celebrating her leaving as opposed to her arrival these days.

You might notice similarities reminding us of the interplay between the Cailleach and Brighid here in Ireland. Just like Imbolc, the Slavic people celebrated the coming of springtime and the arrival of the goddess of new life and birth, Kostroma.

Morana is also said to be part of a sisterhood as well as being associated with the spirit known as the ‘night hag’, who would appear at the stage between dreams and wakefulness, sitting on the chest of the person encountering her. Some say the root of her name is ‘mora’ which is related to the root of the English term ‘nightmare.’

The Norse goddess, Skadi, is considered a giantess or ‘devourer’ and as such is linked to both winter and death and was said to reside where the snow and ice never melted and where darkness lingered.

Of course, even outside of Europe we can find death goddesses associated with winter. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead traditions following Samhain go back to the ancient Aztec rituals dedicated to the Goddess Mitctecacihuatl, the lady of the dead.

In ancient Egypt, Nephthys was the goddess who symbolised death as opposed to her sister, Isis, who symbolised birth.

In Japan, the goddess Izanami was also a ruler of both death and creation.

All of these goddesses have their own individual myths, rituals and folklore, as well as origin tales.

Some have alternative versions of their names depending on location but the common motifs and attributes demonstrate how ancient people saw death as being not only the end of life, but the instigator of new beginnings.

Perhaps this explains why Samhain was understood as both a necessary aspect of the yearly cycle as well as a time to celebrate and reflect upon.
Death and regeneration were inseparable and the goddess, although taking us from the earthly world, also accompanied us to the next.
What became of us in the Otherworld was dependent on how we had conducted our lives in this one so perhaps this is why she was anticipated with such trepidation.
(C.) David Halpin.
Image: Baba Yaga by She Who Is.
Facebook Page: She Who Is

Samhain(Halloween And The Ghosts Of Things To Come.

(C.) David Halpin

I recently finished Andrew Micheal Hurley’s excellent folklore novel, Starve Acre.

Without spoilers, the protagonist discovers the bones of a dead hare and digs them up. After he brings them home to examine them he begins to notice that they seem to be reattaching themselves and re-growing muscles, sinews and fur.

I won’t say too much more about the actual novel but I thought it was interesting when compared to other folklore accounts of the dead coming back to life, or at least re-entering the mortal world, particularly at this time of the year.

I have previously written about the saying ‘thinning of the veil’ and how some people think it’s a bad phrase, and an inaccurate description of how we move from the human world to the Otherworld, and vice-versa.

I don’t mind it myself, and although we cannot be sure about many things regarding the original cross-quarter observations and rituals thousands of years ago, if you have trust in the longevity of oral tradition, the concept of thinness or liminality is not unfair.

I’ll write more about this in my next post.

For the characters in the novel, though, something placed in the earth somehow receives the ability to return to life and this, too, is very much an idea associated with Samhain, of course, but also of all of life in general.

What sometimes separates fairy folklore and that of superstition from the cycle of nature and regeneration is the belief that the same thing returns from the Otherworld as opposed to something new.

And, many times, there is a dark reason for this.

Sometimes it is to avenge a wrong-doing. Other times it is a curse that must be fulfilled.

And, at other times, especially with fairy changelings and kidnappings, there are reasons that we do not understand and cannot explain.

In this Irish ghost story a man discovers a horse on his land.

He abuses the horse and works it to exhaustion and boasts about how much he can make the horse do.

Returning to the field after his dinner the man notices that the horse has gone.

When he goes home he finds all of his family dead and an old man standing in the room. The old man is actually the horse who had been buried in the field and had returned to life in the form of an animal.

The ‘horse man’ killed the mans family in revenge for having been beaten and worked so hard and then kills his abuser.

There are some fascinating themes and subtexts to this tale, not least the idea that the horse-man came from the earth or the underworld and could shape-change.

In Irish lore, of course, many view beneath the earth as the realm of the good folk, both literally and symbolically.

At Samhain we often think of the earth as barren and empty.

Life and nature struggle to eek out an existence with food being scarce and many animals hidden away in burrows and caves.

But this is the essence of the secret of this time of the year: death and starvation may represent the surface, but beneath the earth new life is already starting to grow.

When later peoples came to Ireland they seem to have associated this dark time with the Otherworld and ancestors.

They also acknowledged the ending of one cycle and the beginning of another.

Because we are so used to the Gregorian calendar we often forget this, but it is worth remembering, particularly as nights get shorter and we have the opportunity to allow deeper thoughts and plans to find root.

(C.) David Halpin.

Image: Jeremy Enecio.

Do The Fairy Mounds Open At Samhain According to Folklore?

(C.) David Halpin

Recently, there has been an argument put forward that Irish folklore does not record that fairies, the dead, and those taken to the Otherworld can return more easily at Samhain and this point of the yearly cycle.

Some who posit this opinion have said that until the Duchas archives were recorded in the late 1930’s, Irish people did not think of this time as particularly liminal or dangerous in terms of the good folk.

(We know that Irish Medieval writing specifically links this time to fairies and monsters but let’s look at further examples which continue this idea.)

One reason for this, it is argued, is the fact that the phrase ‘thinning of the veil’ is quite recent.

This is actually true, as far as literal wording is concerned. However, Irish folklore does indeed record that the concealing ‘mist’ between the fairy world and the human world is lifted which allows the beings and creatures of the fairy realm to enter our own world.

Considering the fact that the first people living in Ireland neither spoke English or Irish, as we know it today, for me, getting hung up on what seems to be fairly similar descriptions and explanations takes away from the overall point.

To be honest, there really doesn’t even seem to be a consensus as to what this description means in the first place, with some researchers strongly in favour of it being a dividing dimensional marker between worlds, and others advocating for a more psychological or consciousness-based explanation.

There are also those who do not think the terms ‘veil’ or ‘mist’ are helpful, full stop, as there is, in their view, no separation between the fairy realm and that of the human world in the first place.

Looking at the examples of those who have encountered the good people, a person could make a strong argument for any of the above theories.

In this following account from Irish folklore there is a definite physicality to the way the fairies separate those who have trespassed onto their territory.

Not only do they draw down a thick mist to make the humans lose their bearings, but a stone wall appears out of nowhere so there is no way back until the good people have left.

“There is a field in this locality known as Knockparson where the fairies are said to dwell. On several occasions people went there after nightfall to gather mushrooms.

When they entered the field a great thick mist seemed to fall everywhere. When they tried to get out of the field they found it surrounded by a great stone wall. The persons inside in the field had to remain there until morning. As soon as daybreak came the mist suddenly cleared and people could get away.”

But what about the point that before people knew about the Duchas archives they wouldn’t have associated Samhain with fairies entering our world and that this is a 20th century add-on?

Well, it doesn’t take much effort to find that this is simply not true.

I would encourage everyone to explore the vast free and public online book collections of Irish folklore, but here is an example from a published work from 1870, roughly 70 years, or a lifetime, before the Duchas collections.

Whether you call this time Halloween or Samhain, or something else entirely, folklore and traditions around the world associate this time with spirits, fairies, and the dead.
“It is considered that on All-Hallows Eve, hobgoblins, evil spirits, and fairies, hold high revel, and that they are travelling abroad in great numbers.
The dark and sullen Phooka is then particularly mischievous, and many mortals are abducted to fairy land.

Those persons taken away to the raths are often seen at this time by their living friends, and usually accompanying a fairy cavalcade.

If you meet the fairies, it is said, on All-Hallows Eve and throw the dust taken from under your feet at them, they will be obliged to surrender any captive human being belonging to their company.

Although this evening was kept a merry one in farmsteads, yet those who assembled together wished to go and return in company with others; for in numbers a tolerable guarantee, they thought, was obtained from malign influence and practices of the evil spirits.”

From: Irish Folk Lore: Traditions and Superstitions of the Country, with Humorous Tales. Published 1870 by John O’ Hanlon.

So, considering the fact that this excerpt comes from a book published in 1870 but probably researched and gathered a few years earlier than that we can safely say that there was indeed a belief in the fairies moving from the mounds/ raths at Samhain at this time and before.

It’s also worth remembering that the euphemism of a veil is as much to do with perception as it is to do with boundaries. The concept of a veil hiding something profound is an ancient one. One explanation is that it refers to archaic Goddess mysteries and, indeed, looking at the overlap between fairy-type beings and their queens this makes quite a bit of sense.

In European tradition Diana is a good example of this.

Later 19th century occultists would use the veil as a metaphor in their rites and initiations.

The context was the same: the veil represented the separation between worlds and only when it was lifted could a person realise the full depth and transcendence of the higher consciousness realms.

Another example is A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland by P. W. Joyce.

This is a edited compilation of earlier writings from the 1880’s published in 1906.

Again, a lifetime before Duchas.

The section to note begins, “On Samhain Eve, the night before the 1st of November, or, as it is now called, All Hallows Night, or Halloween, all the fairy hills were thrown wide open; for the Fe-fiada (Concealing mist) was taken off.

While they remained open that night, any mortals who were bold enough to venture near might get a peep into them. No sooner was the Fe-fiada lifted off than the inmates issued forth, and roamed where they pleased all over the country; so that people usually kept within doors, naturally enough afraid to go forth.

From the cave of Cruachan or Croghan in Connaught issued probably the most terrific of all those spectre hosts; for immediately that darkness had closed in on Samain Eve, a crowd of horrible goblins rushed out…”

What is really important here is the description confirming that when the concealing fairy mist vanishes, this allows the beings of the Otherworld to enter ours from the mounds and raths. It’s probably a bulls-eye in terms of contradicting the claims that there was no supernatural connotation to the mounds opening at Samhain.

The theory that the veil may occupy the same time and space but remain unseen is also something which Irish folklore tells us in its own way.

We are warned that the good people may be standing next to us or passing by and we will not know it. This may refer to their human-like characteristics making them indistinguishable from us as well as potentially hinting at some dimensional blind-spot existing parallel to our own world.

Sometimes the veil seems strangely specific in terms of location, seeming to open and close like invisible windows to another dimension.

Andrew Lang, in his introduction to The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies by Robert Kirk (1691) recounts an anecdote about a woman who declared that a number of the gentle people (Sleagh Maith) “occasionally frequented her house; that they often conversed with her, one of them putting its hands on her eyes during the time, which hands she had, to be about the size of those of a child of four or five years of age.” The family were “worn down” with these visits, and from the mention of touches of hands.

Even the most ardent argument for fairy encounters being insubstantial and merely altered psychological states becomes difficult to sustain when there are multiple witnesses.

The fairy mist, then, takes on properties which allow it, and those who dwell within and as a part of it, to live outside of time as human beings currently understand it.

In fact, this has always been a gift of fairies in the first place.

Although altered states, or the ‘veil’, may well act as a gateway for these encounters, the overwhelming folkloric record of every culture describes something affecting and physical emanating from beyond it.

Ultimately, the description of a veil may continue to have many meanings for those invested in deep fairy exploration but as a phenomenon it is much more interesting than its current controversy and will also continue to beg even more questions.

(C.) David Halpin.

Image: Rachel Lefaye.

Astronomical Samhain And The Pleiades: A Path to the Ancestral Dead.

(C.) David Halpin Circle Stories
The astronomical cross-quarter will occur here in the Northern Hemisphere on Tuesday, November 7th.
For many, this is the time of ‘true’ Samhain, as marked by our ancient ancestors over 5’000 years ago.

For others, Samhain is a period of time which encompasses the whole month of November.

It is worth keeping in mind, though, the astronomical cross-quarter was marked before the term, and later associations of, Samhain.

We do not know for certain just why this time was so important to our ancestors, or how they ritualised it. (There are lots of theories and assumptions by passionate advocates, but it’s really important to remember this.)
When we look to other parts of Europe and the world we do find common observances relating to spirits, ancestors, and remembering the dead.

For ancient Ireland in general, star lore is conspicuous by its relative absence.

There are some theories that the Celtic stories of Gods, Goddesses and cycles are astro-theological references to constellations and stars but there hasn’t been much deep research into this as of yet. However, in recent years some writers and researchers have discovered parallels between other ancient world mythologies and stellar observations.

David Mathisen’s book, The Undying Stars, is a great introduction to this topic.

Because many Irish megalithic monuments and sites are pre-Celtic, the deities and ancestors they *may* have been originally dedicated to, and built for, would obviously be different to the Gods and Goddesses we are familiar with from Irish mythology.

(That is, providing we accept that they were indeed built for such purposes.)

Another interesting note is that Walter Evans-Wentz writes in his work, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, about the similarities of aspects of Asian star lore which seem to have parallels to Irish folklore. According to the pre-Buddhist beliefs of the people of Siam (Now Thailand), the stars and constellations are the dwelling places of the Thevadas, who are spirits or gods very similar to the Tuatha De Danann.

Back in April I wrote about how both Bealtaine and Samhain were both associated with the Pleiades.

November is often called the month of the Pleiades because in this month the stars in this cluster are visible from dusk until dawn.

The month of November and Samhain may have been a time when the midnight culmination of the Pleiades and the cross-quarter day were celebrated as simultaneous occurrences in ancient times.

Today, in 2023, the dates of Samhain and the Pleiades culmination are 2/3 weeks out of sync and the culmination occurs around late November.

The reason for this changing date is due to the perceived movement of the stars and the precession of the equinoxes.

You can read more detail here:…/halloween-derived-from-ancient…/

The Pleiades features in many folklore anecdotes and myths relating to the dead and passing to and from the spirit world.
In some traditions this middle place, veil, or Otherworld is the realm between the human world and the abode of the gods. It is a place where imagination, archetypes and the spirits all reside. You can understand why, for many, there is an overlap between fairies and the dead in this context.
Either way, November is a month dedicated to deceased loved ones, ancient ancestors and spirits in many cultures and traditions.

It’s fascinating to note the different opinions within Irish fairy folklore and magic regarding whether November is a good time or bad time to encounter the good people.

For some, as this is a liminal time when the ancestors are close then surely it must be a good time.

Others, though, feel that more contemporary traditions serve as evidence that this is a period of the year when we should stay away from places associated with fairies completely.

The custom of drawing ones own blood as a sacrifice on St. Martins Day, November 11th, may be a remnant of much more ancient warding and protective practices.

Obviously, since the newer Christian overlay, many have forgotten why this may have been done. We do, though, have recorded accounts in the folklore archives of this day being specifically associated with protection against damaging spirits and influences.

The Pleiades are also very much part of ritual observances at this time of the year.

There are also examples of pre-Celtic Irish traditions of recording the movement of the Pleiades.

In the book, Harvesting the Stars: A Pagan Temple at Lismullin, Co. Meath, by Aidan O’Connell, the author examines the recent discovery and documentation of a Pleiades alignment in the Gabhra Valley, beneath the Hill of Tara, Co. Meath.

As well as this, the Dowth megalith named ‘Stone of the Seven Suns’ by Martin Brennan has been suggested to portray the Pleiades by Anthony Murphy of Mythical Ireland and the researcher Richard Moore. Anthony has also drawn attention to the Dowth legend relating to the king, Bresail Bó-Dibad (lacking in cattle), at the time of a great cattle famine in ancient times which left one bull and seven cows remaining in Ireland. This would seem to be a reference to Taurus and the seven ‘sisters’ of the Pleiades.

The Pleiades were frequently called The Stróilín here in Ireland and people often timed their journeys by the position of these stars.

Interestingly, as well as being known as the seven sisters, the Pleiades also have a possible link to swans as the whooper swans arrive at Newgrange at this time of the year, as one example, and there is also an old tale of Orion chasing the seven sisters of the Pleiades across the sky before they turn into swans or doves.
Of course, a more obvious connection is how the Pleiades as a cluster resembles a long-necked bird in flight.
(C.) David Halpin.
Image: Reimund Bertrams.