Samhain is the most magical night of the year. Opposite Beltane on the Wheel, Halloween begins the dark half of the year. A night of power, when the veil that separates our world from the Otherworld is at its thinnest. A ‘spirit night’, this is the time of the year when our Ancestors harvested for the last time during the year preparing for the long months of winter. Food was stored, animals brought in from the fields, animals needed for food supply were slaughtered and prepared for long storage, activity was moved from outdoors to indoors, by the warmth of the hearth fire.
Samhain is also known as Halloween, All Hollows Eve, Day of the Dead, All Saint’s Eve, Celtic Winter, Feast of Spirits, Celtic New Year, Third Harvest, Samana, Day of the Dead, Old Hallowmas (Scottish/Celtic), Vigil of Saman, Shadowfest (Strega), and Samhuinn.
Samhain is the third and last of the harvest festivals. This holiday is considered the New Year, representing one full turn of the seasonal year. This day is a celebration of the end of the Goddess ruled Summer and marks the arrival of the God ruled Winter. The name Samhain means Summer’s End.
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 were 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.
As a feast of divination, this was the best time for peering into the future. The reason for this has to do with the Celtic view of time. In a culture that uses a linear concept of time, like our modern one, New Year’s Eve is simply a milestone on a very long road that stretches in a straight line from birth to death. Thus, the New Year’s festival is a part of time. The ancient Celtic view of time, however, is cyclical. And in this framework, New Year’s Eve represents a point outside of time, when the natural order of the universe dissolves back into primordial chaos, preparatory to re-establishing itself in a new order. Thus, Samhain is a night that exists outside of time and may be used to view any other point in time.
Ritual fires of Samhain were lit at the fall of dusk on the sacred hilltops, of ancient times, for the protection of people and land and to guide the souls of the dead home to their kin. Today we use fire in our Magic Circle to build a shield of protection and to light the Path for the future. It was customary to light a fire on the household hearth which would burn continuously until the first day of the following Spring. Huge bonfires were lit on the hilltops at sunset in honor of the old Gods and Goddesses,
As a feast of the dead, it was believed the dead could, if they wished, return to the land of the living for this one night, to celebrate with their family, tribe, or clan. On Samhain, the veil between all worlds is the thinnest. It is a powerful time for divination and contacting those who have walked these lands before us. 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. Extra places were set at the table and food set out for any who had died that year. Many folks leave milk and cakes (“Bannock Samhain” ) outside their door on Samhain Eve. Samhain is a time when we honor our ancestors and the memory they left behind.
This is the time of the season which the Crone rules. She is one aspect of the Goddess; Crone, Maiden, and Mother. It is She who opens the gate for those departed to travel into Summerland. She rules areas of death, reincarnation, occult sciences, healing, and the wisdom of the ages. She comes in the form of Cerridwen, Hecate, Arianrhod, Persephone, among many others. We use the Crone to assist us in the transition from one life to the next, of leaving one level of our existence and entering the next. To bring us into the Womb of the Mother only to assist us in being reborn once again. For it is through Her Wisdom and guidance we learn lessons from experience past and begin life anew from the wisdom gained.
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