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The Celtic Year

Praying through the Celtic year - Samhain


The festival of Samhain (pronounced 'sow'inn' and the word for November in some Gaelic languages) is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, and is sometimes regarded as the 'Celtic New Year'.

Samhain has been celebrated in Britain for centuries and has its origin in Pagan Celtic traditions. It was the time of year when the veils between this world and the Otherworld were believed to be at their thinnest: when the spirits of the dead could most readily mingle with the living once again. Later, when the festival was adopted by Christians, they celebrated it as All Hallows' Eve, followed by All Saints Day, though it still retained elements of remembering and honouring the dead.

A visual aid - an apple - might be placed centrally to the gathered group. The apple tree had significance to the pagan Celts which we can also appreciate at this time. It comes into blossom in the spring (the Celts saw this as a symbol love and fertility) and throughout the year the fruit continues to develop and ripen. Because many varieties keep over a long period of time when stored this was symbolic of love’s presence, even long past the time of peak ripeness. The apple, of course, should it fall to the ground contains the seeds from which life begins again.

nb. This has been written with the hope that it might be appropriate both for Christian groups to use, and also as a means of reaching out to those on the fringes, those who seeking after spiritual fulfilment but attracted more to the ancient pagan rituals and customs of this time of year. Please give me some feedback so that this liturgy might be refined over time.

celtic preayersA Christian liturgy for Samhain

Let's just spend a moment or two in quietness.


Yours is the day, yours also the night; you established the luminaries and the sun. You have fixed all the bounds of the earth; you made summer and winter.
(Psalm 74:16-17)


In the fading of the summer sun,
the shortening of days, cooling breeze,
swallows' flight and moonlight rays

In the browning of leaves once green,
morning mists, autumn chill,
fruit that falls frost's first kiss

Creator God, forgive our moments of ingratitude,
the spiritual blindness that prevents us
from appreciating the wonder that is this world,
the endless cycle of nature,
of life and death and rebirth.
Forgive us for taking without giving
reaping without sowing.
Open our eyes to see
our lips to praise
our hands to share
and may our feet tread lightly on the road.



Listen to the profound words of the French novelist Albert Camus, and just think about them for a moment :

'Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower'


(Here a song, chant or hymn might be sung)


We see signs of summer's passing in golden leaves,
shortening days, misty mornings, autumn glow.
We sense its passing in rain that dampens,
winds that chill, Harvest's bounty placed on show.
Creator God, who brings forth
both green shoot and hoar frost,
sunrise and sunset,
we bring our thanks
for seeds that have grown,
harvests gathered,
storehouses filled,
mouths fed.
And, as your good earth rests
through winter's cold embrace,
we look forward to its re-awakening
when kissed by Spring's first touch.

For summer's passing
and harvest home

For autumn's splendour
and winter's chill

For seed that has fallen
the promise of spring

As a part of nature's wondrous cycle
Of new birth, growth, fruitfulness and death
We rejoice in the creation of new life,
For parenthood, the passing on of knowledge,
For understanding and the wisdom of years.
We are grateful for those who have gone before
Passing on to us our spiritual heritage.
May our lives blossom as the apple tree in Spring
May we become fruitful in thought and deed
And may the seed of love that falls to the ground
Linger beyond our time on this earth.



St. Francis of Assisi wrote these wise words: 'Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received…but only what you have given'

The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap... (Psalm 92:12ff)

'The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power' (1 Cor 15:42-43)



For fruitfulness

For a generous spirit

For wisdom and faith

For old age and new birth

For those who have gone before us
Seeds planted in your rich pasture
With the hope of life eternal
May their enduring spirit live on
Enriching and empowering our lives
Their love linger
Their presence be near
Until we meet once more.


For your embracing love
A Father's love
A Mother's love
The love that sees our failings
And forgives us
The love that sees our joys
And embraces us
The love that knows no end
or beginning
A love that could die for us
We bless you.



(Here a song, chant or hymn might be sung)



Together we say

We bless you, God of Seed and Harvest
And we bless each other
That the beauty of this world
And the love that created it
Might be expressed though our lives
And be a blessing to others
Now and always



"We invited several friends from church and from work to come together for a Christian Samhain celebration. We used your liturgy as we held hands around the harvest-laden dinner table. We invited our family and friends to bring photos of deceased loved ones and placed them on a table with a candle. During dessert of homemade soul cakes and mulled apple cider we took turns talking about our loved ones. Everyone went home very sanctified as well as edified." Stephanie, USA (used with permission)

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©John Birch · Prayers written by the author may be copied freely for worship. If reproduced elsewhere please acknowledge author/website
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