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Samhain and Formation of Irish Celtic Identity

By Jessica Richard

Abstract: Recently, the Irish Celtic festival of Samhain has generated a great amount of interest and research into its role as the origins of modern Halloween celebrations and its role as an important holiday in the Neopagan belief systems; however, for the ancient Celts, the original participants in the Samhain celebration, the festival served as means to form a group identity and to strengthen social bonds. This study seeks to analyze the ways in which Samhain rituals, as well as the religious beliefs attached to them, aided in forming a group identity within Celtic communities. By analyzing the rituals of Samhain I hope to provide deeper understanding of the development and maintenance of Celtic identity. There are many lines of inquiry to explore in the analysis of Samhain’s role in Celtic identity, including: What constituted the Celtic identity? What did the Celtic community hold as its core values , ideals, hopes, and fears? How did Samhain rituals establish and reaffirm Celtic identity? Though focused on the deceased, how did the festival aid in strengthening social bonds among the living? Why did the Celtic people find it important to attempt to form bonds with dead ancestors on Samhain? And finally, what role did the gods of the Celtic pagan religion play in Samhain and group identity? Ultimately, this work aims to identify and explore direct connections between Celtic Samhain rituals and Celtic community identity. Using anthropological, historical, and sociological methodologies and drawing upon Catherine Bell’s landmark Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions, I will explore the way in which ritual forms and informs group identity, specifically that of the Samhain festivals and Celtic community identity.

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