Duncan.  Riders of the Sidhe.

The Riders of the Sidhe. John Duncan. 1911. McManus Galleries, Dundee.

The ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain begins at sunset on October 31. Lasting three days, Samhain marks the end of the harvest and the beginning of the "dark half" of the year. According to Celtic mythology, along with the holidays of Beltane (May 1) and Midsummer (June 21), it is a time of enchantment, a time when the veil between grows thin and for three days, both mortal and immortal may pass back and forth between this world and the Otherworld.

John Duncan (1866-1945), the Symbolist artist who created this piece, was born in Dundee, Scotland. His work borrowed heavily from early Celtic myths, legends and decorative art. Considered a mystic by some, a madman by others, he stated that he could hear "faerie music" while he painted. Duncan married a woman whom he believed had found the Holy Grail in a well near Glastonbury. The marriage did not last and he never remarried.

This painting depicts Sidhe riders on Midsummer night. The riders carry two of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann: the cauldron of Dagda and the sword of Nuada. The other two treasures, not pictured, are the spear of Lugh and the Liath Faill also known as the Stone of Destiny.

Sidhe refers to the earthen mounds that the Celts believed were home to various benevolent supernatural beings, including the fey, the elves, the spirits of Nature and, in later traditions, the Tuatha Dé Danann (the pantheon and immortalized heroes of Irish mythology).