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Samhain

October 31, commonly known as Halloween but still known as Samhain to any number of modern Neo Pagans, was once known as Samain in Old Irish. Samain, or Samhain as modern Irish has it, is pronounced, roughly, like the modern English noun sow (as in the word for a female pig) followed by -in; sow-in, with the emphasis on the first syllable.
Old Irish Samain becomes Modern Irish Samhain, cognate with Scottish Gaelic Samhuinn, Manx Sauin. Samain is usually derived from Old Irish sam “summer” + fuin “end.” The Old Irish sam ('summer') derives from Proto-Indo-European semo. This is somewhat unlikely as an etymology, philologically and morphologically speaking, though it is a persuasive folk etymology, and one used in the medieval Irish glosses. We know from the Coligny calendar that an earlier form of Celtic on the continent used samoni-, and did not use the compound -fuin for “end.” In 1907 Whitley Stokes argued for an etymology for Samain derived from Proto-Celtic *samani ('assembly'), cognate with Sanskrit sámana, and Gothic samana ("Irish etyma." Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung. Vol. 40. 245). In 1959 J. Vendryes re-visited Stoke's suggested etymology and concluded that *semo- ('summer') and related cognates are unrelated to samain Lexique Étymologique de l'Irlandais Ancien.) I tend to favor the "assembly" etymology over the "summer" etymology, in part because of references to Samain in early Irish texts.

Samhain is generally celebrated on November 1 in terms of the modern Gregorian calendar, but it was originally a multi-night feast period marking the end of harvest and the agrarian-pastoral year. The medieval Irish tale Serglige Con Culainn opens with the people of Ulster assembled at Mag Muirthemni for the annual November 1 festival of Samain.
Oenach dognithe la Ultu cecha bliadna .i. tri la ria samfuin 7 tri laa iarma 7 lathe na samn feisne. Iss ed eret no bitis Ulaid insin i mMaig Murthemni, oc ferthain oenaig na samna cecha bliadna. Ocus ni rabe isin bith ni dognethe in n-eret sin leu acht cluchi 7 cheti 7 anius 7 aibinnius 7 longad 7 tomailt, conid de sin atat na trenae samna sechnon na hErend.
Each year the Ulstermen held a fair; the three days before Samain and three days after it and the day of Samain itself. That is the time that the Ulstermen used to be in Mag Muirthemni holding the fair , and nothing was done by them during that time but games and gatherings and pleasure and eating and feasting, so that it is from that come the thirds of Samain throughout Ireland.
Other early Irish texts about Samain describe the way that the Otherworld is closer, or more accessible to ordinary humans, allowing passage to and fro by the living, the Fey and the dead. You can read more about Samain/Samhain in What is Samain or Samhain? and I suggest that the medieval Irish Echtra Nera which features incursions from the Otherworld and talking corpses is a perfect Halloween read. You can download a .pdf of Kuno Meyer's facing page edition and translation of Echtra Nera. Gantz's Early Irish Myths and Sagas includes the Serglige Con Culainn/The Wasting Sickness of Cú Chulainn.

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