The popular holiday of halloween has its roots and origin in the Celtic holiday of SAMHAIN. It is truly fascinating that how halloween and many other ancient indo-european festivities, have been preserved untouched in Mazdyasna or Zoroastrianism with the original ancient beliefs behind them.
The Modern Irish word Samhain is derived from Old Irish SAMAIN and roughly translates as “summer’s end”. Sam (‘summer’) compare with Avestan “shem;” and fuin (‘sunset’, ‘end’) compare with Avestan afdüm/conclusion, so that samfuin would be a restitution of the original meaning. Bealtaine, Lúnasa and Samhain are still today the names of the months of May, August and November in the Irish Language. Similarly, an Lùnastal and an t-Samhain are the modern Scottish Gaelic names for August and November.
The Celts divided the year into two halves. Samain marked the end of the harvest, the end of the “lighter half” of the year and beginning of the “darker half”. Traditionally, Samain was time to take stock of the herds and grain supplies. SAMAIN like the 4th gahanbar or thanksgiving festival of the Zoroastrians, marked the end of summer and the beginning of the cold season, when the herders led the cattle and sheep down from their summer hillside pastures to the shelter. This holiday marked the end of the harvest and the lunar cycle which fell nearest to the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. Samain like the Zoroastrian thanksgiving holidays was designed to align the lunations with the agricultural cycle of vegetation, rather than the exact astrological position of the Sun. It was traditionally celebrated over the course of several days. The hay that would feed the cattle during the winter must be stored in and tied down securely against storms. All the harvest must be gathered in. Wood for winter fires were stacked high by the hearth. It was a joyous time of family reunion, when all members of the household worked together.
Many scholars believe that Samain was the beginning of the Celtic year. It has some elements of a festival of the dead. The Gaels, like the Zoroastrians believed that the border between this world and the otherworld became thin before the new year; it thus allowed the spirits to reach back through the veil that separated them from the living.
At at all the turning points of the year, the gods drew near to Earth, so many sacrifices and gifts were offered up in thanksgiving for the harvest. Personal prayers in the form of objects symbolizing the wishes of supplicants or ailments to be healed were cast into the fire, and at the end of the ceremonies, brands were lit from the great fire to re-kindle all the home fires of the tribe. As they received the flame that marked this time of beginnings, people felt a sense of the kindling of new dreams, enterprise and hopes for the year to come. BONFIRES played a large part in the festivities. People and their livestock would often walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual. With the bonfire ablaze, Each family then solemnly lit its hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the community together, a custom which is still practiced among the Zoroastrian villagers of iran and other iranian peasants. Often bonfires would be built side by side, and the people would walk between the fires as a ritual of purification, the cattle and other livestock would be driven between the fires, as well.
The same ritual of rekindling homefires from the great fire exists to this day among the Zoroastrians. Afterwards, ashes from the fires were sprinkled over the fields to protect them during the winter months. Similarly, the sprinkling of ashes over the fields is still alive among iranian peasants. These magical bonfires provided islands of light and joy within the oncoming tide of darkness, keeping away cold, discomfort, and evil spirits long before electricity illumined nights.
This bonfire ritual is still celebrated by the iranian people during “chahr-shanbe suri” or the wednesday night before the new year. It should be added that in the modern “chahr-shanbe suri” dancing and drinking has been substituted with jumping over fires. The “Hiroem bowy” fires lighted by the Zoroastrians’ seem to be much closer to the ancient Gaelic customs. Before lighting the Hiroem Bowy fire, the Zoroatsrians holding each other’s hands, bow and in a loud voice pray for the departed spirits, and by taking their names and saying the word ‘Hiroem-bowy’, commemorate their memories.