Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Happy Summersend

We don't know whether or not the Anglo-Saxon Hwicce—the original Tribe of Witches—celebrated Samhain.

If they did, we don't know what they called it.

It's generally acknowledged by historians that, both demographically and culturally, the Hwicce emerged from a Keltic-Germanic meld. If so, and if they kept Samhain, they may well have called it something like Samonios.

Among their latter-day descendants, the November quarter-day generally goes by one of two names: Keltic Samhain and Germanic Hallows.

Samhain (however you choose to pronounce it) is an Irish name for an Irish festival. The word's original meaning is not entirely clear; likely it derives from samh, “summer.” Folk etymology would read it as “summer ends” or “summers' end.”

It's a good name, an ancient name, but it is and will always be an import.

The native name, Hallows, means “holies.” It's a modern usage, short for All Hallows' Eve/Mass/Day. As such, it clearly references the Christian festival of All Saints', “hallow” (Old English hálig) having been the original word for “saint” (lit. “holy [person]”).

So, two imports: one Irish, one Christian, and neither (at least to me, neither Irish nor Christian) entirely satisfactory.

Well, purism is its own punishment, and in a polytheist environment it's understood that Manyness is an intrinsic good.

So let me suggest a Third Way, a name both new and old, in the time-honored tradition of the loan-translation.

Summersend.

Thus would I English “Samhain,” with its 2000 (and, if Italian anthropologist Augusto S. Cacopardo is correct, 6000) year history.

Wishing you and yours a Summersend of Joy and a New Year of Prosperity.

Happy Summersend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.

Comments

  • Courtney
    Courtney Friday, 03 November 2017

    I've always been okay with the name Samhain b/c half of the modern Wheel came from the big Celtic festivals. But I'm also not looking at things from the same historical perspective as you. I think the discussion I've seen over what to call the holidays is very interesting. John Halstead on allergicpagan.com has recently discussed the problems with the names Mabon and Lughnasadh and offers some better alternatives. And maybe last year Jason Mankey at Patheos Pagan made a similar post about Mabon. I love the Wheel of the Year but I think it's useful for Pagans to update the names and tweak things a bit to fit in with their traditions and/or geographic locations and help reflect what's happening where they are and what they're actually celebrating.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Saturday, 04 November 2017

    Nicely put, Courtney; I thoroughly agree. Our work, it seems to me, is not just to know and to transmit the Lore faithfully, but also (and especially) to be in dialogue with it. Shaping the Received Tradition to fit where and when we are is exactly what the ancestors did, and exactly what we need to be doing. All living paganisms are kinetic, constantly in motion.

    Back when I was still wet behind the ears, I thought in terms of the "right name" for things, but now it seems to me that the more names we have, the richer it makes us.

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