I never understood why Samhain was considered the Pagan New Year until I looked into it more. Turns out, it’s a poignant parallel to human life and agrarian times.
The best explanation of why Samhain is the Pagan New Year comes from its Irish roots.
Sahmain translates as “Summer’s End.”
This makes sense. The warm, sun-filled days are pretty much gone by the end of October, even though the coldest days and the darkest skies are still a long ways away.
And so, Samhain represents the new year, which has been said to start with the end of summer and the beginning of winter. This suggests that the Irish agrarians thought of the seasons as two instead of four — the growing season and the darker, colder season. I can relate. In my midwestern city, it certainly feels like there are only two seasons.
There’s also an Irish concept that explains why Samhain is the new year. “Before there was light, there was darkness.”
I had to think about this for a while, but something clicked and I realized it’s quite deep and true.
As fetuses before birth, we spend time in the dark wombs of our mothers. The seeds of harvested crops also need to spend time in a dark storage place, or in the earth. We both need the darkness at the beginning of our lives in order to grow properly.
In fact, we could think of the wheel of the year as a triple parallel of the sun’s journey, a year of growing crops, and an entire human lifespan. This is a concept I’ve seen in a few Wiccan books, but it never clicked until now.
From the total darkness of the womb, the sun, humans, and crops are “born” (Winter Solstice)…
We grow and play as children, making dolls and generally being little sprouts (Imbolc)…
We experience puberty/attraction and fertilization of flowers (Beltane)…We have union or marriage (Midsummer), when times are good and we’re spreading out out roots and growing a lot…
We have the first harvest of crops/ the birth of children (Lammas)…
We have a second harvest/ possibly the birth of grandchildren? (Autumn Equinox)…
Eventually, the crops have all been harvested and sorted. Our bodies give way to the reaper’s sickle and the end of our days.
There’s not a lot of evidence that the new year was at Samahin, and some sources cite Sir John Rhys as the one to start that kind of thinking. However, it’s possible that he was the first to write down what everyone else already knew.
I like to think that, in a time before fireworks and electric countdowns, people celebrated the end of the growing season, the love for their dead, and the end of the year, as well as the beginning of a new one. I think this is a beautiful way of looking at Samhain and the wheel of the year.
Happy new year! I hope you celebrate with your beloveds, both alive and deceased.