Sunday, October 23, 2011

Samhain: The Battle Of The Summer And Winter Kings

Yesterday's post gave you a taste of the Samhain celebration in Scotland.  Today I'd like to continue that ancient Halloween theme to put you in the mood for our own modern holiday -- and also to get you curious about my upcoming book, Becoming Brigid, which has a lot to do with ancient Celtic festivals.
No one knows exactly what happened at those ancient ceremonies, of course.  CNN wasn't there, and no one posted cellphone videos on YouTube.  In fact, when I attended Samhain in 2004, no one posted cellphone videos on YouTube, either -- and that was only 7 years ago!
However, we know Samhain was the new year festival, and we know it was a time for summer to end and winter to begin.  It is thought that this may have been portrayed in a ritual dance or skit that showed the transfer of power from summer to winter.  (As similar dances/ceremonies/acts of the Beltane ritual of the re-birth of the Green Man through the help of the May Queen have lasted for millennia, this is probably a fairly good guess.)
The modern Samhain festivals generally include the acting out of the Winter King "killing" the Summer King, who will, of course, be brought back to life again in the spring.  I use this idea heavily in Brigid.  (Curious?  Good. )

So, today, for your Halloween pleasure, I bring you photos of the Samhain parade in Edinburgh in 2004, with the two kings in their pre-battle state.

Here the Summer King is carried on his throne.

Here, he pulls grapes from his sporran and eats them.  Yup, this is supposed to be rather sexually suggestive.  Lugh, the Summer King, was a fertility god, after all.  (In real life, it wasn't particularly gross; he was having a good time with the crude humor, and the crowd laughed a lot.)

But all good things must end.  Here the Winter King waits solemnly, with his skull-headed staff of holly.  A bit creepy, isn't he?


  1. It's only suggestive if you think it is. :) Besides, we all got here because of I remind my kids whenever they give me trouble.

  2. I teach junior high. That means I deal with kids ages 12 to 15 all day, every day. EVERYTHING is suggestive to them. I'm used to it. ;)