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Samhain

December 24, 2017

Since September, there have been kids gathering fuel for Halloween fires in Dublin. During a hall meeting, we looked out the window to see a few, 10 years old at most,  dragging pallets out of the lot - partly a community garden, partly cracked concrete and meter-high grass - across the street from us.

By the time night fell on Halloween, a tower of kindling stood in the dog park nearby. After dark it turned into a tower of flame about twice as high, casting light over the whole street.

Halloween, and Samhain, which are both the same thing and kind of different, aren’t really one-day events here. Samhain (pronounced like Sow-win) Halloween’s my favorite holiday, so it was fascinating to go one of the few places in the world where it’s also celebrated, but celebrated differently.

The IES Abroad Samhain field trip was out to a rural area not too far from Dublin, and focused around modern paganism. At the site of a hollow hill our two hosts told us the story of a goddess they associated with that area. Her name sounded like Clock-ta to me, and I couldn’t find a spelling of it online after. She traveled the world for knowledge, and was betrayed for surpassing the wisdom of her father who had initially sent her on the journey. She was said to have died in childbirth at that site, in (if I remember correctly) a lightning storm of her own creation. She also blessed the land where she died, Ireland, before completely leaving her mortal form.

The story has a lot more effect when it’s told out in the field on a cloudy day, with almost no sound except the wind through tall grass.

Every year since it started in the 1990s, people have lit a fire at the center of the site for her. For complicated reasons (partly the need to avoid damage to the site from crowds) that wouldn’t happen on Halloween or Samhain (which was November 7th) this year. But with our group present a few weeks before, a small lantern was lit around the makeshift altar nearby, while the hosts played bodhrán and sang for the goddess and for everyone present.

Back in Dublin for the 31st, I hovered across the street from the fire, staring entranced while in costume as the Luidaeg (a sea witch) from the October Daye book series. But once the fireworks started going off in earnest I broke character and half-ran indoors. Getting laughed at once for jumping back and covering my head with my arms was enough times. One of my hallmates had the same idea and we watched the blaze from the window while eating junk food, which was a pretty good Halloween to me.

 

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