The meaning of the word Samhain comes from Old Irish meaning “summer’s end,” from summer, samh and end, fuin. The modern Irish word for summer is samhradh, and Samhain is still the name for the month of November in Ireland. Celts considered sundown as the start of the day, which is why, though Samhain actually falls on November 1st, it would have been celebrated starting at sundown the night before, on October 31st. It is one of the four main festivals in Celtic tradition, making up the “quarter days,” the days between the equinoxes and solstices.
With Samhain comes a wide variety of supernatural creatures.
The 1st of August (sometimes the 2nd) is Lúnasa (Lughnasadh, Lughnasa, Brón Trogain) – the harvest festival in Ireland.
In her excellent book, ‘The Festival of Lughnasa’, Máire MacNeill wrote:
“Garland Sunday and Domhnach Chrom Dubh are two of the many names of a festival celebrated by Irish country people at the end of July or the beginning of August. It marked the end of summer and the beginning of the harvest season, and on that day the first meal of the year’s new food crop was eaten. The chief custom was the resorting of the rural communities to certain heights or water-sides to spend the day in festivity, sports and bilberry-picking.”
Publisher: Folklore of Ireland Council; Reprint edition (January 1, 2008)
This is a simple overview of the most prevalent mythic symbols in Indo-European polytheism and comparative mythology, as it applies to Our Own Magic, which is my pet name for what we do.
I like focusing on Irish, Vedic and Germanic myths mostly because they are the best preserved of all the Indo-European sources, with all three containing strong Proto-Indo-European influences. If a practice exists in these three, it makes the strongest case that they are Proto-Indo-European, especially when supported by archeology, linguistics, and anthropological study.
‘Root and branch shall change places
And the newness of the thing shall seem a miracle.
The healing maiden will return, her footsteps bursting into flame.
She will weep tears of compassion for the people of the land,
Dry up polluted rivers with her breath,
Carry the city in her right hand, the forest in her left
And nourish the creatures of the deep.
With her blessing Man will become like God waking as if from a dream.’
from Merlin: The Prophetic Vision and The Mystic Life
by R. J. Stewart
In the online course many of you have joined – Lessons in Magic – I give examples of how simple acts of ‘magic’ have changed people’s lives dramatically for the better. You may well have an experience from your own life that demonstrates this rationalist-mindset-defying possibility. In the course we then dive into how we can work with this – to improve our own lives but also to effect positive change in the world.
When the light of the sun of this day shines into the inner chamber of Sliabh na Calli (The Cailleach’s mound). By solar reckoning, the year is exactly half. Half day, half night. At one exact moment, the world balanced on a pin head. Everything in equal measure, fifty-fifty, resting in perfect balance, a pause. A breath. Exhale. The cry of the cuckoo calls out. Release. We move on to the lighter times. The spring equinox La na Cailleach is here.
I’ve been enjoying what is loosely termed ‘Celtic Music’ since I was a child. It all began with The Unicorn album by the Irish Rovers. My mom had a copy… I think I was 4? 5? Regardless, I’ve always loved Irish and Scottish music. I’ve since branched off from ‘traditional’ Celtic music to embrace more aspects of this genre. Below are some bands I’ve enjoyed. Feel free to let me know of any I’ve missed!
Afro Celt Sound System – I have several of their albums, including Seed and Sound Magic, and love them all. This is Celtic and Senegalese music mixed. Very funky and upbeat.
Aine Minogue – lovely Irish Harpist with a bit of New Age
Albannach – drums and pipes and LOTS of energy
Altan – the lead singer, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, has a wonderful voice!
Anuna – New Age music with a Celtic feel, uses nonsense words to convey dreamy music
Bear McCreary – American composer who has done music for Outlander, The Walking Dead, and Battlestar Galactica
Black ‘47 – sometimes silly, always passionate, fun and energetic
Blackmore’s Night – Ritchie Blackmore used to play guitar for Deep Purple, and then went mystical with his girlfriend singing – neat stuff
Bohola – a Chicago-based duo, really, consisting of Jimmy Keane on piano
Bothy Band – traditional Irish trad group from the 1970sBoys of the Lough – they combine Irish and Scottish influences, but include in their number Cathal McConnell, one of the great Irish song-collectors
Brobdingnanian Bards – Traditional ren band, very good, very nice! I also see them at Dragoncon every year.
Caladh – a local pub group we saw in Kilkenny – they were great! (and the lead singer is cute!)
Capercaillie – This band features wonderful vocals by Karen Matheson, and a haunting feel.
Cara Dillon – Irish folk singer with clear, sweet vocals
Celtic Thunder – Irish American group done with polish and talent, a bit like a male version of Celtic Woman.
Celtic Woman – all-female Irish vocal ensemble which has high production value, and has launched many careers. Chloe Agnew, Orla Fallon, Lisa Kelly, Hayley Westenra, Mairead Nesbitt and many others.
Cernunnos Rising – New Age, Druidic and Celtic music
Cherish the Ladies – New York based group with lovely vocals, traditional/ceili
Chieftains – Another 40 year old band, well respected and making music.
Christy Moore – the Granddad of Irish Folk music
Claire Roche – Irish harpist who loves Yeats’ Poetry
Clanadonia – drums and pipes and tribal energy
Clann An Drumma – tribal band from Scotland, drums and pipes
Clannad – Enya’s family, very talented. They do a lot of trad, but also do many ethereal original pieces.
Coda – male a capella traditional band in Ireland, great harmonies. I got to see them live in Westport a couple of years ago.
Crannog – Traditional Ren Faire musicians
Culann’s Hounds – great traditional Irish folk band from San Francisco
Damh the Bard – Wonderful pagan music, traditional sounds
Danú – a fantastic trad-based band hailing mostly from Co Waterford.
Davy Spillane – hands down, the best Uillean pipe player
De Dannan – Top Irish trad group from the 1970s
Déanta – Lovely young vocal Irish groupDervish – teetering a little close to more modern style songs
Dolores Keane – Classic singer with a fantastic voice
Donovan – Scottish singer with an eclectic blended style, mainstream in the 60s and 70s.
Dougie MacLean – Scottish folk singer, best known for his song Caledonia, which still makes me tear up every time I hear it.
Dropkick Murphys – Celtic Punk Rock band
Dubliners – legendary band from Dublin
Emerald Rose – This is a wonderful live band, not as magical on their CDs though. I see them at Dragoncon every year – they combine Irish traditional with rocking pagan music.
Empty Hats – the prior incarnation was Double Indemnity, and are now Empty Hats. They are one of the BEST ren bands I have ever heard, full of energy, humor, and talent.
Enter the Haggis – Celtic Rock band from America, lots of fun and energy
Enya – Who hasn’t heard of Enya? Her haunting singing and mythical music got her the gig to do the Elves music in Lord of the Rings. Who better? Was part of Clannad (her family) at one point.
Erin’s Guild – Trad Rock band out of New England
Flogging Molly – Celtic Punk band
Gaelic Storm – This is the band that played below decks in the Titanic movie – lots of energy, lots of fun!
Grainne Hambly – traditional Irish harp music
Great Big Sea – they sing a lot of traditional songs, as do most Plastic Paddy bands, but with modern energy and beat (from Newfoundland)
Heather Alexander – Californian singer and fiddler
Hollie Smith – A beautiful haunting, smooth voice, sometimes in duet with Steve McDonald
Horslips – Irish Celtic rock band inspired by traditional musicIrish Rovers – I grew up listening to ‘The Unicorn’ and other fun songs by this very folk group
Iona – progressive Celtic rock band from the UK
Jethro Tull – Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull released (2000) a wonderful flute album called The Secret Language of the Birds that is enchanting.
Julie Fowlis – fantastic Scottish Gaelic singer, on the soundtrack from Brave
Kate Rusby – throaty singer of traditional songsKelliana – Pagan singer extraordinaire
Liadan – lovely group of female vocalists out of Ireland
Loreena McKennitt – She has an incredible range for her voice, and tends to do original songs based on legends and myths in Celtic culture, such as Arthurian legends.
Lothlorien – this New Zealand band takes traditional music and enchants it with mystical music. Theirs is one of my favorite Celtic CDs of all time.
Luke Kelly – Irish singer and folk musician from Dublin, founding member of the DublinersLúnasa – Irish folk band with great energy
Maire Brennan (Moya Brennan) – lead singer of Clannad, she has fantastic music as solo as well
Mary Black – Irish singer of both folk and modern material
Makem Brothers – Sons of Tommy Makem reviving the trad
Mary Black – Beautiful Irish vocalist
Mediaeval Baebes – wonderful a capella harmonies
Mike Freeman/Tania Opland – I first discovered this duo because they produced a wonderful CD based on Anne McCaffrey Dragonriders of Pern books, and I was hooked. They are a wonderful studio band, and my special favorite is Cut to Rhythms. I have all of their albums.
Morrigu – Celtic Trad and Irish punk, mix thoroughly
Narada – This is actually a collection of music, and each CD has a theme. One, Celtic Mysteries, is a mix of Celtic and Indian (Asian) music. There is Celtic Odyssey, Celtic Dance, etc. You get the idea.
Natalie MacMaster – fantastic fiddling
Noel McLoughlin – traditional singer with throaty, powerful vocals
Off Kilter – We saw them first at EPCOT in the Canada exhibition – rock music to bagpipes, what a combo!
Old Blind Dogs – Great harmonies and rhythm (Scottish)
Omnia – Neoceltic pagan folk band based in the Netherlands
Paddy Reilly – best known for Fields of Athenry, a traditional Irish folk singer and balladeer
Pandora Celtica – Delightful a capella band with a great deal of sea shanties and beautiful harmonies
Peatbog Fairies – Scottish rock and house music fusion
Planxty – Irish folk music band from the 1970s, included Christy Moore, Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny and Liam O’Flynn. Helped popularize Irish music.
Prodigals – Another group of great energy, combined with wicked humor. Their CD ‘Dreaming in Hell’s Kitchen’ is just very happy and fun.
Runrig – Great Scottish folk/rock band
Sarah McLachlan – Canadian singer best known for songs that make you cry
Seven Nations – American Celtic rock group with lots of power
Sharon Shannon – Accordion player extraordinaire
Shooglenifty – Celtic/rock Scotland group that does a bit of house style music
Sileas – traditional Scottish harp musicSilly Wizard – One of the forerunners of modern traditional music – no, that’s not a contradiction. They started out in the 1970s playing traditional music to huge crowds, and were one of the reasons for the current resurgence in Celtic interests. The lead singer, Andy M. Stewart, wrote many well known modern songs such as Queen of Argyle and Ramblin’ Rover.
Sinead O’Connor – Irish pop and trad singer. Her vocals in Foggy Dew, for instance, are incredibly powerful
Smoky Finish – They are probably the least Celtic of these, but still have some traditional music in their CDs. Again, modern take and energy on old songs.
Solas – American Irish trad music group
Stan Rogers – Canadian folk and traditional singer known for his sea songs
Steeleye Span – English folk-rock band from the 1970s, still active today
Steve McDonald – Ethereal bagpipes with a story – what else could you want? His CDs Sons of Somerled and Stone of Destiny are among the best I’ve heard.
Teada – another really, really great trad band, whose leader Oisin Mac Diarmada is one of my favorite fiddlers, and who along with flute-player Damien Stinson is from Sligo.
The Clancy Brothers – This group practically defines Irish folk music – they’ve been around over 40 years, singing the folk music to us beautifully.
The Corries – Scottish folk duo, traditional
The Corrs – Pop Irish Trad family, Irish. Andrea Corr had an incredible voice.
The Cranberries – Powerful vocals and lyricsThe Gothard Sisters – Lovely true sisters with beautiful vocals. I just saw them live in November
The High Kings – sort of a male version of Celtic Women, great voices and high production value in concertThe Irish Rovers – Traditional Irish Band that was actually my first exposure to Irish music. My mom had The Unicorn album.
The Irish Rovers – Traditional, high energy, classic.
The Pogues – short for ‘Pogue mo Thoin’, or Kiss my Ass, this punk Irish band exploded on the scene
The Proclaimers – best known for their song ‘500 miles’, this Scottish rock band has many other hits
The Rankin Family – Cape Breton traditional Celtic/American Country band
The Saw Doctors – Irish folk/rock group with lots of powerThe Young Dubliners – American Celtic Rock band
The Waterboys – Traditional band, mainly musicians from Scotland, England and Ireland
Tommy Makem – A founder of the irish folk/traditional revival, father of the Makem brothers
Tommy Sands – Singer and Songwriter from northern Ireland, best known for his sacrifice during the hunger strikes
Turlogh O’Carolan – not a modern composer, but one from the 18th century. The last true Bard, credited with many of the classic tunes.
U2 – The most famous Irish band, enough said.
Van Morrison – Van the Man. Northern Irish singer, mainstream in the 60s.
William Jackson – traditional Scottish harp music
Wolfe Tones – Known for their strong political songs, this is another folk group