Friday, October 27, 2023

Episode 667 (10-30-23): A Water Story from the Ancient Roots of Halloween

Click to listen to episode (5:16).

Sections below are the following:

Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Extra Information
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 10-27-23.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the weeks of October 30 and November 6, 2023, and particularly for Halloween.

MUSIC – ~18 sec – Lyrics: “Summer’s over, winter’s coming; summer’s over, winter’s coming.”

That’s part of “Winter is Coming,” by The Steel Wheels.  It sets the stage for an episode on the origins of Halloween in the ancient festival of Samhain, first observed centuries ago by Celtic peoples.  Celtic lands include Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and areas of England and France. 

Samhain marked the end of the Celtic year on October 31, when summer had faded, winter was approaching, and—in Celtic belief—the dividing line between earth and the spirit world was thin, allowing spirits of the dead to roam.  As described by Miranda Aldhouse-Green in her 2015 book The Celtic Myths, quote, “It was at the festival of Samhain, at the edge of winter, that the world of humans was most at risk from the inhabitants of the world beyond: the boundaries were suspended and the spirits could prowl among the living, to their good or detriment depending on the character of the individual phantom,” unquote.

Along with Halloween’s date, many of its traditions can be traced back to Samhain practices, such as donning costumes or disguises, believed by the Celts to help them avoid being recognized by wandering spirits.

When they weren’t wandering the earth at Samhain, Celtic spirits and Celtic gods were believed to reside in what was known as the Otherworld.  In Celtic beliefs, watery areas were considered access points to the Otherworld.  Celtic mythology also gave special significance to swans, whose beautiful appearance on the water might have suggested connections to Celtic gods.  Here’s a short version of an Irish legend about Samhain and swans; the opening and closing sounds are Tundra Swans, a North American species whose Berwick’s Swan subspecies is found in Ireland and Wales.

SOUNDS  - 4 sec – Tundra Swans.

Oenghus was the Celtic god of love.  In the myth called “The Dream of Oenghus,” the god dreamed he saw a woman named Caer, the Celtic goddess of sleep and dreams, and he became smitten with her.  He searched far and wide for her, eventually finding her among a group of other women at a lake, and learning that every other year at Samhain the women turned into swans.  At the next Samhain, Oenghus returned to the lake and, by turning himself into a swan, was able to win Caer’s heart.  The story ends with the pair of swans circling the lake three times, casting a sleep enchantment on everyone below, and flying off together.      

SOUNDS  - 4 sec – Tundra Swans.

I hope your Halloween has rich traditions and a bit of mystery, perhaps about waters or water creatures from worlds unknown.

Thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the swan sounds.  Thanks also to The Steel Wheels for permission to use part of “Winter is Coming.”  We close with another musical selection, which has become a Halloween-episode tradition on this show.  Here, for about 50 seconds, is “A Little Fright Music,” composed and recorded or Virginia Water Radio by Torrin Hallett.

MUSIC – ~50 sec – Instrumental.


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close this episode.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The sounds of Tundra Swans were taken from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (FWS) National Digital Library, online at; the specific URL for the recording was, as of 10-27-23.

“Winter is Coming,” from the 2015 album “We’ve Got a Fire,” is copyright by The Steel Wheels, used with permission.  More information about The Steel Wheels, based in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, is available online at  This music was used previously by Virginia Water Radio most recently in Episode 643, 12-5-22.

“A Little Fright Music” is copyright 2020 by Torrin Hallett, used with permission.  As of 2022-2023, Torrin is the associate principal horn of the Symphonic Orchestra of the State of Mexico.  He is a 2018 graduate of Oberlin College and Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio, a 2020 graduate in Horn Performance from Manhattan School of Music in New York, and a 2021 graduate of the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver.  More information about Torrin is available online at  Thanks very much to Torrin for composing the piece especially for Virginia Water Radio.  This music was used previously by Virginia Water Radio most recently in Episode 640, 10-31-22.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at


Image of part of an October 27, 1912, article in The Evening Star [Washington, D.C.] on the origins of Halloween.  Image taken from the Library of Congress Blogs, “The Origins of Halloween Traditions,” by Heather Thomas, October 26, 2021, online at, accessed October 24, 2023.

Tundra Swan in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, June 30, 2018.  Photo by Lisa Hupp, made available for public use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library, online at; specific URL for the photo was, as of 10/24/23.

A notice in a Roanoke, Va., coffee shop on October 29, 2023, advertising a modern-day observance of Samhain.  Photo by Virginia Water Radio.


The following information is quoted from the Library of Congress Blogs, “The Origins of Halloween Traditions,” by Heather Thomas, October 26, 2021, online at  The blog post has information on the origins of the following traditions (in the order in which they appear in the post): carving pumpkins, seeing ghosts, wearing scary costumes, trick-or-treating, black cats, black and orange, bobbing for apples, pranking, lighting candles and bonfires, candy apples, bats, devouring candy, and candy corn.  The excerpts below are from sections mentioning Samhain.

“Carving pumpkins, trick-or-treating, and wearing scary costumes are some of the time-honored traditions of Halloween.  Yet, the Halloween holiday has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “SAH-win”), a pagan religious celebration to welcome the harvest at the end of summer, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts.  In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor saints.  Soon after, All Saints Day came to incorporate some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before All Saints Day was known as All Hallows Eve, and later, Halloween.”

Seeing Ghosts The festival of Samhain marked the transition to the new year at the end of the harvest and beginning of the winter.  Celtic people believed that during the festival, spirits walked the Earth.  Later on, Christian missionaries introduced All Souls’ Day on November 2, which perpetuated the idea of the living coming into contact with the dead around the same time of year.”

Wearing Scary Costumes - In order to avoid being terrorized by all the evil spirits walking the Earth during Samhain, the Celts donned disguises so that they would not be mistaken for spirits themselves and be left alone.”

Trick-or-Treating - There is much debate around the origins of trick-or-treating, but generally there are three theories. The first theory suggests that during Samhain, Celtic people would leave food out to appease the spirits traveling the Earth at night.  Over time, people began to dress as these unearthly beings in exchange for similar offerings of food and drink. ...”

Black and Orange - The traditional Halloween colors of black and orange also traces back to the Celtic festival of Samhain.  For the Celts, black represented the ‘death’ of summer while the orange symbolized the autumn harvest season.

“Pranking - Playing pranks often varies by region, but the pre-Halloween tradition known as “Devil’s Night,” is credited to a different origin depending on the source.  Some say that pranks started as part of May Day celebrations.  But Samhain, and eventually All Souls Day, also included good-natured mischief.  When Irish and Scottish immigrants came to America, they brought with them the tradition of celebrating Mischief Night as part of Halloween.”

“Bats - Bats were likely present at the earliest proto-Halloween celebrations, not just symbolically but literally.  As part of Samhain, Celts lit large bonfires, which attracted insects, which in turn, attracted bats.  Soon spotting bats became connected with the festival.  Medieval folklore expanded upon the eeriness of bats with a number of superstitions built around the belief that bats were harbingers of death.”


Used for Audio – Sources on Swans

Birdwatch Ireland, “Swans,” online at

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at  Entries about swan species (Mute Swan, Trumpeter Swan, and Tundra Swan) are online at

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Birds of the World,” online at .  (Subscription may be required.)  This site lists the following swan species as occurring in the region of Ireland and Wales:
Mute Swan (entry is online at;
Berwick’s Swan, a subspecies of Tundra (formerly Whistling) Swan (entry is online at; and
Whooper Swan (entry is online at

North Wales Wildlife Trust, “Birds/Waterfowl,” online at

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at  Entries for swans—Mute Swan and Tundra Swan—are online at this link.  Trumpeter Swans are also known to occur in Virginia; see, for example, the All About Birds range map for the Trumpeter Swan, online at

Used for Audio – Sources on Samhain, Halloween, and Celtic Mythology

Miranda Aldhouse-Green, The Celtic Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods and Legends, Thames and Hudson, Ltd., London, 2015.

Brehon Academy, “Irish Mythology: The Dream of Angus (Aisling Oenghus),” 10 min./57 sec. video, online at

Cleveland [Ohio] Clinic, “Samhainophobia (Fear of Halloween),” online at

Feminism and Religion, “Caer Ibormeith, Celtic Goddess of Dreams and Prophecy by Judith Shaw,” January 28, 2015, online at, “How to Pronounce Samhain,” online at

Government of Wales, “Who Were the Celts?”  Online at

Library of Congress Blogs, ‘The Origins of Halloween Traditions,” by Heather Thomas, October 26, 2021, online at

Transceltic, online at  Specific pages used were the following:
“Festival of Samhain,” by Emmitt McIntyre, October 14, 2012, online at;
“Interview with Dr. Jenny Butler: The Celtic Folklore Traditions of Halloween,” by Emmitt McIntyre, October 26, 2016, online at;
“The Swan in Celtic Mythology,” by Alistair Kneale, February 3, 2016, online at

Wilderness Ireland, “Irish Folklore, Myth & Legend: The Children of Lir,” by Dawn Rainbolt, May 20, 2020, online at  This is another myth featuring swans.

World History Encyclopedia, “Samhain,” online at

For More Information on Halloween and Related Celebrations

Boston Public Library Blogs, “The Origins and Practices of: Samhain, Día de los Muertos, and All Saints Day,” by Dhruti Bhagat, October 30, 2018, online at  This site has information about historical and modern observances of Samhain and of Día de los Muertos and All Saints Day.

Library of Congress, “Halloween & Día de Muertos Resources,” online at  This pages states, “The Library of Congress is home to an array of resources on the folk customs, fine art, pop culture, and literature of Halloween and Día de Muertos.  Collections range from classic film clips to recordings of storytellers, and more.”

Library of Congress, “Today in History – October 31,” online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Overall Importance of Water” subject category.

Following are links to other episodes for Halloween.

Episode 185, 10-28-13 – on the Eastern Hellbender (North America’s largest amphibian).
Episode 548, 10-26-20
– “Hello to Halloween with Water Readings.”
Episode 595, 9-20-21 – “Water and the Human Skeleton.”
Episode 601, 10-31-21 – “Halloween, Water, and the Human Body.”
Episode 639, 10-24-22 – “A Halloween Season Salute to the Witch Hazel Plant.”
Episode 640, 10-31-22 – “A Water-related Halloween-themed Tree Quiz.” (whole piece played for closing)

Following are links to previous episodes with sounds of the Tundra Swan.

Episode 565, 2-22-21 – Winter Birds of the Chesapeake Bay.
Episode 554, 12-7-20 – Winter Brings Swans from the Tundra to the Virginia Tidewater.

Following are other music pieces composed by Torrin Hallett for Virginia Water Radio, with links to the most recent episode featuring each piece.

“Beetle Ballet” – Episode 525, 5-18-20, on aquatic beetles.
“Chesapeake Bay Ballad” – Episode 632, 7-18-22, on Chesapeake Bay conditions.
“Corona Cue” – Episode 517, 3-23-20, on the coronavirus pandemic.
“Flow Stopper” – Episode 599, 10-18-21, on “Imagine a Day Without Water.”
“Geese Piece” –Episode 615, 2-7-22, on the Brant.
“Ice Dance” – Episode 606, 12-6-21, on freezing of water.
“Lizard Lied” – Episode 514, 3-2-20, on lizards.
“New Year’s Water” – Episode 610, 1-3-22, on water thermodynamics and a New Year’s Day New River wade-in.
“Rain Refrain” – Episode 559, 1-11-21, on record rainfall in 2020.
“Runoff” – Episode 585, 7-12-21, on middle schoolers calling out stormwater-related water words.
“Spider Strike” – Episode 523, 5-4-20, on fishing spiders.
“Tropical Tantrum” – Episode 656, 5-29-23, on the upcoming tropical storm season in 2023.
“Tundra Swan Song – Episode 554, 12-7-20, on Tundra Swans.
“Turkey Tune” – Episode 343, 11-21-16, on the Wild Turkey.
“Wade in the Water” (arrangement) – Episode 616, 2-14-22, episode three in the series, Water in U.S. Civil Rights History.”


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post.

2020 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2017 English SOLs

5.4, 6.5, 7.4, 8.4, 8.5, 9.3, 9.4, 10.3, 10.4, 11.4 – Symbols, imagery, figurative language, and other literary devices.

2018 Science SOLs

Grades K-5: Earth Resources
4.8 – Virginia has important natural resources.

2023 History and Social Science SOLs

Grade One: Commonwealth of Virginia
1.2 – The student will apply history and social science skills to explain how communities honor local and national traditions.

Grade Two: United States of America
2.3 – The student will apply history and social science skills to explain how communities honor local and national traditions.

Grade 8: World Geography
WG.1 – [Among several other items] The student will...[explain] how characteristics of regions have led to regional labels; [describe] how regional landscapes reflect the physical environment and the cultural characteristics of their inhabitants; and [analyze] how cultural characteristics including the world’s major languages, ethnicities, and religions, link or divide regions.
WG.5 – The student will analyze the characteristics of the European region.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20 – on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.
Episode 531, 6-29-20 – on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.
Episode 539, 8-24-20 – on basic numbers and facts about Virginia’s water resources, for 4th and 6th grade.
Episode 606, 12-6-21 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.