The winds of change are upon us as Winter begins to make its chilly arrival. It’s not everyone’s favourite season, but at Samhuinn Fire Festival we turn to face it with open arms. It’s a time of renewal, of looking at a challenging future ahead dead on and marching into it with purpose. In this blog post, we look at the parts of our festival’s story that help us bid farewell to the past and brace for the new.
Moments of denial
Our Summer goddess expressed her rage at the damage done to our planet at this year’s Beltane Fire Festival, and humanity’s environmental impact continues to be felt at Samhuinn. The natural world is changed, and the Winter King and Summer King wake up disoriented. They do not recognise each other as rivals at first, knowing only that the other has a familiar face.
The Kings dance an Autumn Dance as they journey together around Calton Hill. They do not know it yet, but this is the moment that the seasons move hand-in-hand before letting one another go. It is only later, when they meet the Cailleach, that they learn they cannot exist at the same time. They are two sides of the same cycle, and must allow the wheel to turn.
Change does not often go smoothly, nor is it always wanted. We might resist the new, our denial turning into anger as we cling to the past. Our Cailleach this year embodies some of those more difficult feelings that transformation can bring.
As the crone goddess affiliated with Winter, Her journey around the Hill reflects the cold season’s descent. She is the crisping up of leaves as they turn red and gold. She is the growing unease as the weather begins to worsen. And She is the tempestuous wind that bellows and cries out, mimicking the anguish we feel in the face of grief. It is with the lighting of the bonfire that at last She quietens, settling into the new season with the help of the community’s warm hearth.
Facing an uncertain winter
The Summer sun will be sorely missed over the coming months, but not nearly as much as by the ancient Celtic communities that inspire our festival. Samhuinn for them marked the end of the harvest season, and looking ahead to Winter meant sizing up food stocks and hoping they would last until Spring.
We, like generations before us, begin Samhuinn Fire Festival with the lighting of the sacred Neid fire. Lit using a bow and spindle, this is a cleansing fire believed to be capable of burning away impurities. At traditional Samhuinn celebrations, cattle would be driven between two Neid fires to rid them of diseases that could wipe out the village’s livestock over the Winter months.
The Neid fire is also a symbol of togetherness. On the night of Samhuinn, old communities would extinguish the hearth in each home and relight them from one single flame. The Samhuinn revellers were thus united against the cold of Winter, and could face the very real uncertainty that the bitter months would bring together.
Featured image by Sean Bluestone. All rights reserved.