Samhain Walk

Image: Common bird’s nest fungi (Nidula candida).

Today is Samhain, or as most people know it, Halloween.  What better way to spend a Halloween afternoon than on a hike through the damp fall woods, battling through spiderwebs and hunting weird mushrooms.

Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, or the “darker half” of the year. It was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter. Samhain was seen as a liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld could more easily be crossed. This meant the Aos Sí, the ‘spirits’ or ‘fairies’, could more easily come into our world.  At Samhain, it was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be appeased to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. The souls of the dead were also thought to revisit their homes seeking hospitality.  Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them.  Mumming and guising were part of the festival, and involved people going door-to-door in costume (or in disguise), often reciting verses in exchange for food. The costumes may have been a way of imitating, or disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí.  Divination rituals and games were also a big part of the festival, and often involved nuts and apples.  The modern Halloween celebrations were derived from the old Pagan Samhain festival.  So … happy Samhain!

xylaria-hypoxylon

Image: Carbon antlers (Xylaria hypoxylon), a real spooky sort of fungus.  Definitely not something you should try to eat!

galerina-marginata

Image:  These beautiful specimens are called funeral bells (Galerina marginata) and are deadly.  Kind of gives you shivers down the spine, eh?

coprinus-comatus

Image:  Just to show that we didn’t go home empty-handed, here is a shaggy mane (Coprinus comatus), a well known edible.  We enjoyed some sauteed in butter, and I am still alive to write this blog!

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