This time of year is always difficult for me. I often feel on edge, out of sorts and struggle with old, unwanted emotions. I often feel myself thinking about my family- my closest relatives who are no longer with me. My mum, dad, grandmothers and grandfather and my sister. And then I remember why.
Samhain October 31 – Also known as Halloween/Hallows Eve/All souls Night
Samhain means “End of Summer” is the third and last harvest festival and marks the transition into winter. Samhain is a magical time; it is a time the veil between the seen world of Matter and the unseen world of Spirit becomes thin. It is a time to communicate with our ancestors and a time for inner journeys connecting to the wisdom within yourself.
It is a time of transition and transformation.
I use this time for inner exploration, deep meditation, contacting with my deepest wisdom. I use this time for collecting, sorting, seeking out information and learning, so that when the time for action comes, I will have assimilated the knowledge which can be used when needed.
Turn and look at what you fear and the understanding this brings.
Let me tell you about the ancient Celtic tradition of Samhain.
Samhain is a Cross Quarter Festival of Autumn’s end and the beginning of winter. It is the right time to connect to root energy and for internalizing the creative life force. This is the dark phase of the year’s cycles when the mystery of transformation occurs. The process involves a descent and a death of something old in preparation for something new to be reborn. It is a time to make adjustment, reveal a new set of possibilities, a new phase, a new power to life.
Samhain brings a mystical energy which we can use to explore and understand ourselves better.
Samhain was a Gaelic harvest festival held on October 31–November 1. It was linked to festivals held around the same time in other Celtic cultures, and was popularized as the “Celtic New Year” from the late 19th century, following John Rhys and James Frazer. The date of Samhain was associated with the Catholic All Saints’ Day (and later All Souls’ Day) from at least the 8th century, and both the secular Gaelic and the Catholic liturgical festival have influenced the secular customs now connected with Halloween.
The medieval Irish festival of Samhain marked the end of the harvest, the end of the “lighter half” of the year and beginning of the “darker half”. It was celebrated over the course of several days and had some elements of a Festival of the Dead. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. People and their livestock would often walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual, and the bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames.
It is one of the two “spirit-nights” each year, the other being Beltane. It is a magical interval when the mundane laws of time and space are temporarily suspended, and the Thin Veil between the worlds is lifted. Communicating with ancestors and departed loved ones is easy at this time, for they journey through this world on their way to the Summerlands. It is a time to study the Dark Mysteries and honor the Dark Mother and the Dark Father, symbolized by the Crone and her aged Consort. Originally the “Feast of the Dead” was celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the “wandering dead”.
Today a lot of practitioners still carry out that tradition. Single candles were lit and left in a window to help guide the spirits of ancestors and loved ones home. Extra chairs were set to the table and around the hearth for the unseen guest. Apples were buried along roadsides and paths for spirits who were lost or had no descendants to provide for them. Turnips were hollowed out and carved to look like protective spirits, for this was a night of magic and chaos.
The Wee Folke became very active, pulling pranks on unsuspecting humans. Traveling after dark was was not advised. People dressed in white (like ghosts), wore disguises made of straw, or dressed as the opposite gender in order to fool the Nature spirits. This was the time that the cattle and other livestock were slaughtered for eating in the ensuing winter months. Any crops still in the field on Samhain were considered taboo, and left as offerings to the Nature spirits. Bonfires were built, (originally called bone-fires, for after feasting, the bones were thrown in the fire as offerings for healthy and plentiful livestock in the New Year) and stones were marked with people’s names. Then they were thrown into the fire, to be retrieved in the morning. The condition of the retrieved stone foretold of that person’s fortune in the coming year. Hearth fires were also lit from the village bonfire to ensure unity, and the ashes were spread over the harvested fields to protect and bless the land.
The Celtic peoples called the time between Samhain (pronounced “SOW-in” in Ireland, SOW-een in Wales, “SAV-en” in Scotland or even “SAM-haine” in non Gaelic speaking countries) and Brigid’s Day “the period of little sun.” Thus, Samhain is often named the “Last Harvest” or “Summer’s End”. While almost all Celtic based traditions recognize this Holiday as the end of the “old” year, some groups do not celebrate the coming of the “new year” until Yule. Some consider the time between Samhain and Yule as a time which does not even exist on the Earthly plane. The “time which is no time” was considered in the “old days” to be both very magickal and very dangerous. So even today, we celebrate this Holiday with a mixture of joyous celebration and ‘spine tingling” reverence.
The Samhain Holiday begins at sundown on October 31st. The nightide was always a time to be wary of walking alone in the countryside. So much more on this Night when the veils between the worlds of humans and spirits was at its thinnest. Traditional lore speaks of the dead returning to visit their kin and the doors to the Lands of the Sidhe (pronounced “shee”) or Faery Realm being opened. “The Feast of the Dead” (“Fleadh nan Mairbh”) is laid out by many to welcome these otherworldly visitors and gain their favor for the coming year. Many folks leave milk and cakes (“Bannock Samhain” ) outside their door on Samhain Eve or set a place at their table for their ancestors who may want to join in the celebrations with their kin and family.
Review and assimilate what you have learned in the active phase of the year’s cycles. Prepare yourself for the New Year.
Ways to Celebrate Samhain
- This is a good time for us to look at wrapping up the old and preparing for the new in our lives. Think about the things you did in the last twelve months. Have you left anything unresolved? If so, now is the time to wrap things up. Once you’ve gotten all that unfinished stuff cleared away, and out of your life, then you can begin looking towards the next year.
- Share with a friend or family member what you have learned from the old year and where this understanding brings you. Look for the direction this will lead you to how this will serve the greater good.
- Honor the cycle of death and rebirth. Honor grief and loss. Honor friends and family who have died Honor death as part of life.Be in tune with the moon phasesMake a mask and paint it to reflect your inner essence; dance a tribal dance of purification and release.
- Make a list of your year’s event; up until this point. Then light a candle; place your paper in a bowl; dance around the bowl with music and celebrate the events that nourished you; and release the ones that need to be let go.
- Colors for candles and clothes are black and purple
- Honoring the Ancestors: Welcome the spirits of ancestors and the wisdom they bring. Create an altar and place family pictures who have passed or another object that will represent your ancestors. Celebrate your ancestors!