[This issue, we sit down with Luke Eastwood. A Druid and author, Eastwood here discusses his new book on the origins of Samhain; his writing process; and his upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: You recently released Samhain: The Roots of Halloween. First, congratulations! Second, what inspired this book? Why a book on Samhain?
Luke Eastwood: I’ve been fortunate to initially become aware about the origins of the festival we now call Halloween through some Druids from county Roscommon, who introduced me to the Hill of Ward (formerly Tlachtga) in county Meath. It is quite clear to me that a lot of people, including many Pagans, know very little about the origins of the modern celebration and the history of the practices and the meaning behind them. There have been a few books that cover the ancient festival of Samhain, but I felt there was plenty of scope for a book that looked deeper into where it comes from and the history of the customs.
ev0ke: What sort of research went into Samhain? Big stacks of books? Long hours online? Conversations with anthropologists and historians?
LE: I did read a lot of folklore and some of the ancient Irish annals as well as John Gilroy’s seminal Tlachtga, Celtic Fire Festival. I’ve reproduced many of the relevant Irish texts (translations into English of course) in the book, particularly in relation to Tlachtga and her father Mog Ruith. I was fortunate to gain exclusive access to some academic research, to interview people (in particular two ladies from Brittany) and I have also had a lot of contact with people involved in the revival of the Samhain festivities at Athboy in county Meath. A couple of authors I know personally were also happy for me to cite their previous work, so one could say I have pieced together many elements of a giant jigsaw to give what is hopefully a more complete picture of Samhain and were it came from.
ev0ke: Samhain includes a discussion of Irish cosmology and the predominance of threes/triplicities. Can you give us an example of one of these “threes” and how that relates to the festival of Samhain?
LE: The threefold model of the cosmos does not relate to Samhain specifically, but gives some context for the ancient Celtic view of life and death. Ancestors were very important to the ancient Irish, which is why they had special places associated with the passage of the deceased into the Otherworld. The three realms in Druidism includes the Otherworld, where the dead reside, and it is quite different from the Christian concept of hell. The three realms are distinct, but to the Celts one could enter and return from each realm, if not necessarily physically then at least in a spiritual or etheric sense. The Sidhe (fairies) also reside in the Otherworld and have the ability to enter the human middle realm — in mythology they can come and go (and take away humans) most easily at Samhain, the summer solstice (Grianstad an t-Samhraidh) and Bealtaine.
ev0ke: Ireland is a very pagan landscape, in that there are numerous landmarks connected to religious holy days, seasonal shifts, and solar and lunar events. Which is your favorite, and why?
LE: I don’t really have a favourite, I celebrate all eight of the festivals, sometimes in a big way and sometimes very quietly. Despite the obvious Christianisation, by the Roman Catholic Church, Ireland has retained much of its pre-Christian ancient culture and it’s still very much there in the landscape, too. I think you can’t really escape it if you live here for any length of time or have grown up here, it’s so ingrained — hence the saying “Scratch an Irishman and you’ll find a Pagan” lurking under the surface!
I’d have to say I find Loughcrew (Sliabh na Cailleach) particularly powerful, perhaps because its remoteness and hilliness has meant that the Office Of Public Works (OPW) have been unable to damage, takeover or change it, as they have often done with other sacred sites around Ireland.
ev0ke: What is Tlachtga? And what is the site’s connection to ancient Samhain observances?
LE: Tlachtga is both a place, an ancient goddess, and a druidess. She gave her name to the site of the first sacred bonfires created by the Druids, that we know of — the archaeology of the site goes back at least 3500 years. The modern tradition of the Halloween bonfire in Ireland can be traced back to that and it is probable that similar practices in other countries are equally ancient.
ev0ke: Where can readers find your work?
LE: You can get the books from most retailers, but I’d encourage people to go a real bookshop instead of buying from the corporate booksellers — going to a bookshop is a real pleasure and I’d hate to see that disappear due to online shopping. However, the best place to find my books, articles and other activities is at my own website — lukeeastwood.com
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
LE: I am doing another collection of folk tales for Spring 2022, a retelling of some ancient stories, together with more modern stories that have become part of modern culture or ‘urban legends’ you might say. I’m also working on some music from time to time and I am currently editor of a new Irish Pagan magazine, called Pagan Ireland. I also try to grow food and work designing or maintaining gardens, although I’ve had to cut down on that recently as I am just too busy. I like to keep myself occupied, but I am aware that overdoing it can lead to elevated stress levels or even a burnout, so I have learned to say no to some things in more recent times.