Happy Samhain: Ringing In the Dark Half of the Year

Let’s make one thing glaringly plain right at the start: This is not a Halloween playlist. So if you’re expecting “Monster Mash” or “Ghostbusters” or any of that sort of business, you’re trick-or-treating at the wrong door. The songs assembled here are meant instead for ushering in Samhain, a holiday that occurs at the same time as—and is a predecessor to—Halloween, but has different, decidedly older origins. But make no mistake, things surrounding Samhain can still get plenty creepy.

It’s essentially an end-of-harvest commemoration that is Gaelic in origin and goes back at least to the 10th century if not farther. It’s generally reckoned to be connected to paganism, and some of the spooky rites and rituals connected to it (which have also been an inspiration on Halloween) bear that out. But there’s also an organic and naturalistic, almost folksy side to it. Check out the classic ’70s movie thriller The Wicker Man (represented here) some time and you’ll get an idea of that intersection, albeit slanted distinctly toward the dark side.

Then again, positioned as it is to herald the oncoming winter, Samhain is known as the harbinger of the “dark half” of the calendar year. So that darkness manifests itself in more ways than one. And the Samhain-friendly songs here fall all across the spectrum. On one end, you’ve got the gentle folky stuff, be it Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore,” Jethro Tull’s “Songs from the Wood,” or Loreena McKennitt’s “All Souls Night.” Then there’s the moodier, more intense, dancing-naked-in-the-moonlight vibe represented by the likes of Dead Can Dance, Kate Bush, and Faith and The Muse. And on the most unsettling side, you’ve got Black Sabbath, Bruce Dickinson, and Electric Wizard conjuring classic metallic, black-magic imagery.

Some of these tunes have an explicitly subject-specific spin, and some may simply fit the feel, but brought together they provide a soundtrack for the full range of Samhain moods.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash