'Tis the Day
Samhain (October 31st -Nov 1st)
Also known as: Halloween, ShadowFest, Martinmas, Old Hallowmas
It's time for the Last Harvest. The Earth nods a sad farewell to the God and knows that He will once again be reborn of the Goddess and the cycle will continue. This is a time of reflection, a time to honor the Ancients who have gone on before us and the time of 'Seeing" (divination). As we contemplate the Wheel of the Year, we come to recognize our own part in the eternal cycle of Life.
Tonight, millions worldwide will adorn a witch's hat, cape, and broom or some other outlandish garb, but how do real witches celebrate Halloween? ...and where did the holiday originate?
The basis of Halloween - or Samhain - goes back to the middle ages and before. The holiday is actually rooted in a harvest festival first celebrated in the fifth century B.C. by the Celts who lived in what are now Ireland, Britain, and northern France.
Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year, for the Celts divided the year into two seasons: the light and the dark, at Beltane on May 1st and Samhain on November 1st. Samhain was the more important festival, marking the beginning of a whole new cycle, just as the Celtic day began at night. For it was understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground. Whereas Beltane welcomes in the summer with joyous celebrations at dawn, the most magically potent time of this festival is November Eve, the night of October 31st, known today of course, as Halloween.
The Celtic summer officially ended on the last day of October and the New Year, called Samhain, began on the first of November. On the night between years, the Celts believed that on Oct. 31, Samhain eve, the veil between the living and the dead was lifted, and that spirits would search for living bodies to possess. To frighten the spirits away, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes, making them frigid and unwelcoming, and dress up in ghoulish attire, noisily parading around town in an unruly and destructive manner.
Samhain literally means "summer's end." In Scotland and Ireland, Halloween is known as Oíche Shamhna, while in Wales it is Nos Calan Gaeaf, the eve of the winter's calend, or first. With the rise of Christianity, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints' Day, to commemorate the souls of the blessed dead who had been canonized that year, so the night before became popularly known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or Hollantide. November 2nd became All Souls Day, when prayers were to be offered to the souls of all who the departed and those who were waiting in Purgatory for entry into Heaven. Throughout the centuries, pagan and Christian beliefs intertwine in a gallimaufry of celebrations from Oct 31st through November 5th, all of which appear both to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery.
One very common misconception about Halloween (and witchcraft in general) is that it is satanic. This is not so. In fact, witches do not even believe in satan or the devil. Witches are generally peace-loving, caring people who respect the earth and the people they share it with.
While doing a little searching around when writing this, I came across this story. It is about a Baptist minister who befriended a witch and attended a Samhain ritual. If only there were more ministers (or people of all religions, for that matter) like this - it would be a much more peaceful world.
Americanization of Halloween
Although Halloween has its origins in Celtic Britain, until recently the holiday was largely celebrated here in unison with Guy Fawkes Day - the Nov. 5 anniversary of a conspiracy to blow up the English Parliament and King James in 1605.
But, fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes have been overshadowed by the American tradition of dressing children up on Oct. 31 and sending them out to knock on doors for candy.
Communing with the Dead
While the modern American version of Halloween - which has recently been exported back to Britain - is a potluck of Celtic, Roman, and Christian tradition, heavily infused with its own commercial traits, practitioners of witchcraft relate more closely to the original celebration of Samhain.
It's a time to honor the changing season, the dead, those who've passed who had a big impact on our lives.
So, dress up, have fun, but remember to take a few moments to reflect upon those who have passed on and what they have meant to us as well as the year that has passed and your goals for the coming year.
I, personally, will be lighting a candle in my favorite wooded spot, and honoring those who have passed on before me, and I will welcome the new year that is before us. It's been a very rough year, and I will focus as much as I can on a positive start to the new year in hopes that it will be much better.