Today, we call it Hallowe’en. In Ireland, in bygone times, it was Samhain, pronounced SAH-win, the end of summer.
This time of year has a special place in Irish folklore and is still celebrated in various ways on the beautiful and mysterious Emerald Isle.
For instance, the Puca, (Pooka) are the malevolent fairies who spit upon any unharvested apples at this time of year. Woe betide anyone who is unfortunate enough to bite into one of these apples! Could this be the origin of the fairy tale Snow White, where the King’s innocent daughter is offered a cursed apple by her Wicked Stepmother, who is the jealous Queen of the land?
The Puca, my favourites among Irish fairies are not just evil, they can shape-shift, taking many forms. Allegedly, they particularly enjoy taking the place of an elite’s steed, having fun unseating the unsuspecting rider mid-gallop. In times of starvation and death in Ireland, it’s easy to understand how this particular spirit could have been praised for tumbling the wealthy landowners and their cruel agents. The thread-bare indigenous Irish had no money for horses, they walked or stayed put.
By far the most haunting and long-held belief of Samhain is the notion that departed spirits can rise from the dead and re-enter the physical world at this time. Think of the mega-sales of Michael Jackson’s album Thriller, when he and other zombies danced and moonwalked, while Vincent Price’s other worldly laughter echoed around them. We love nothing more than being scared out of our skins!
But away from commerce and American entertainment, the beliefs in the fairies and demons who come to haunt us at Samhain grip us to this day. Trick or treating, bonfires, dressing up as witches, ghosts and devils, these are all customs carried on since times long past. Harmless fun or risking our immortal souls? Samhain, summer’s end, a time of darkness, of mysterious ancient symbols, of fairies, feasting and famine, we remember and we celebrate them all on this ever-changing green island. Happy Haunting!