myth and its representation
Ancient Time and Samhain
Time, for the Celts, as for all ancient civilizations, was cyclical.
In fact, the straight time line that creates a progression of (fleeting) moments to Infinity, was brought into History by Christianity, when the year 0 was fixed with the life of Christ. With this simple determination, two substantial consequences took shape: the first was precisely the destruction of the concept of the cyclicality of Time, because no matter how the seasons continue to alternate, Christ will never return to Earth again except at the moment of the Last Judgement. The second consequence was precisely the mental creation of a dimension of Time that transforms every present moment into the past and projects it into a “place” that does not exist: the future.
There are also those who maintain that progress in History has been marked by the passage from the sundial or hourglass (Ancient Man) to the invention of the mechanical clock (end of 1200), to the pendulum device (1650), to the quartz device (1929, in the middle of the industrial era), until the atomic clock (1946, post-World War II), and that this led to an exponential acceleration in the growth of our civilization, to the detriment of that sacred bond that at the dawn had held the life of Man on Earth.
Actually, all the studies on Time as a mental category developed by philosophers and metaphysicists, quantum physicists, psychologists and psychiatrists are very interesting.
The most interesting theories are those that maintain that Time as we know it today, exists, has a meaning only because it is “in relation” with us: the present exists only because it is in relation with us, the past exists only if we put it in relation with us, and the same goes for the future.
In the absence of “us”, Time would certainly continue to exist, but in its authentic form, the cyclical form of the circular Alternance and its spiral Evolution, which assigns each cycle a different plane.
The Celts lived in this dimension of understanding the world, and the feast of Samhain was the apotheosis of this feeling.
The feast was their New Year’s Day, it lasted three days and three nights, which in their calendar were equivalent to one day, and on this occasion social categories, functions and authorities were suspended. The king was no longer king, and his death was ritually staged, which saw him drowning in wine while his house was set on fire.
The flames remind us of the Sacred Fire: all the house hearths lit were extinguished, the darkness, on those nights, had to be total and no one was allowed to leave the house, only the Druids, who had the sacred task of carrying out the corresponding rituals of Protection of the Living and intercession to obtain the future Prosperity.
The Druids, the following morning, lit the new Sacred Fire, symbol of the renewed covenant with the Divine, threw messages for the dead into the flames and allowed anyone to light torches to rekindle the hearths of their homes.
The true meaning of this festivity was linked to what we call today the cult of the dead. Let us remember that the Celts believed in reincarnation, and honoured their heroes and ancestors, and believed that they would return to visit the living in those three days of suspended time, Samhain, during which the Goddess of Time and Death lowered her shield and allowed the two dimensions to overlap.
Halloween was not, therefore, a feast of terror, but of ancestral memory and reconciliation of Life with Death. Death itself was not seen as an irreparable tragedy, but a passage that brought loved ones as “to another room of the house”, anticipating us by a few decades into a destiny that is inevitable for every human being.
Another extremely interesting aspect of Samhain is its relationship with the stars.
We know that the Celtic Calendar had a very important agricultural-pastoral function, since ancient man had to know exactly when to harvest the last harvest, so as not to be surprised by winter and see his own resources destroyed in the advent of the great cold.
We also know that the Druids had combined it with the appearance of celestial phenomena. For some scholars, in the Samhain calendar corresponded to the heliac rise of Antares, one of the brightest stars in the firmament; for others, with the appearance of the Pleiades in the Sky.
Both conclusions can be considered valid, since in the Iron Age, between 600 and 500 B.C., Antares rose to the east on the first of November, while in the Bronze Age, between 3500 and 1200 B.C., the Pleiades did so.
We remember that the Celtic Civilization is one of the most ancient in Europe, and that it can be considered the continuation of the previous Megalithic Civilization, so it would be correct to think of two different celestial reference points in two distinct Ere, also taking into account the precession of the equinoxes and the nutation.
Moreover, the Celts were settled all over Europe, this means that, for example, Antares, being its heliacal levitation visible only in the southern hemisphere, did not appear in areas such as Sweden and Iceland, where the arrival of the Pleiades could be taken, in its place, as a reference.
Another very interesting element is how mythology itself unites Antares with the Pleiades, through the figure of the Orion Hunter.
Antares, indeed, is the brightest star in the constellation of Scorpio. And it was really a scorpion the animal chosen by the goddess Artemis to punish Orion, guilty of having rejected the advances of the goddess and falling in love with the beautiful seven Pleiades sisters.
The scorpion waited, therefore, for Orion’s return from an exhausting hunt, and in his sleep, it stung him to death, reserving a lethal blow even to his faithful dog Sirius, who had tried to defend its master.
Zeus, angry at the death of his hero, decided to turn Orion into a star, together with Scorpio, and then the Pleiades. But by divine will, the stars were placed at an abyssal distance from each other so that the Scorpio would never again find the mythical Orion Hunter in its path.
Therefore, Antares well represents the spirit of Samhain. Not for revenge (remember that the myth is Greek, not Celtic), but for the concept of Death and Transformation.
And the Pleiades have always marked the Beginning of the Year in various ancient civilizations: Aztecs, Maya, Inca, Lakota (American Indians), Australian Aborigines and the Maori of New Zealand. While the Ban Raji (semi-nomadic people who lived between Nepal and northern India) believed that when the Pleiades rose, they could see their ancestors.
The belief that the World of the Living, in a conjuncture of temporal suspension, merges with the World of the Dead, has never been, therefore, only Celtic, but transversal.
Let us remember all the celebrations that in Mexico are dedicated to the Day of the Dead and their rituals, such as that of leaving food for the dead on their graves. Exactly as the Celts did, who left it outside the doors of their homes.
That was the same feeling of union and love that the Celts lived during their Samhain. Symbolically, it meant that a New Year (a new cycle) could not be born without the inheritance and blessing of one’s ancestors, and the benevolence of one’s God.