In the Northern Hemisphere our brethren will be celebrating Samhain, the Festival of the Dead. This Fire Festival has become the modern day Halloween, which, although retains some of the old symbolism, the deeper meaning has been mostly lost. As most Pagan traditions and rituals, Samhain was adapted by the Christians in order to bring the Pagans into the fold of the new religion.
Falling between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice, Samhain is the celebration of the Harvest and the welcoming of the dark half of the year.
In times past, on the day of the 31st, people would leave their hearth fires to burn out while they collected the years harvest bounty. When the work was done, the Druid Priest would light a huge communal bonfire. An animal sacrifice would be made and all the villagers would offer their thanks for the abundant harvest and prayers for a mild Winter. Each person would take a flame from the bonfire home to relight their own. Offerings would then be left on the outskirts of the fields and village for the Fairies.
Fairies are creatures that are believed to kidnap people and steal Souls. On Samhain when the veil between the worlds is thin, they are more easily able to enter the human realm, so offerings are left on the boundaries between field and forest to prevent the Fairies from entering the village. Personal bonfires were also lit outside homes for protection. People dressed up as animals or monsters to fool the Fairies so that they wouldn’t be kidnapped.
Samhain is considered the “Spiritual New Year.” A time when the veil between the worlds is thin, allowing for communication and interaction between the physical realm and the Spirit realm.
On the eve of Samhain, people provided a Feast for the Dead.
A supper was laid with the bounty of the Harvest and the Spirits of dead ancestors were invited to dine with the living.
Places were set at the table and plates filled for the Spirits of passed loved ones. The adults would update the dead on the happenings of the year, all the news of marriages, births, plantings, harvests, joys and sorrows. The children would play games to entertain their Spirit relatives.
When the feasting was finished, people - dressed to fool the Fairies - would go from house to house offering songs or jokes in return for a cake or sweet. While the family was out, their doors and windows were left open so that the family’s dead could enter and eat specially made cakes that were left for them.
Although we acknowledge Samhain a little differently these days, you can still make it a special celebration. To connect with the Spirits of passed family, set up an Ancestor Alter in your home with images and mementos of deceased loved ones. Offer candles to each one and give thanks for their presence in your life. Visit the graves of loved ones, tidy them up and leave offerings for their Spirits. Learn about family history and tell stories to keep their memory alive within your heart.
Celebrate Samhain by reflecting on the past year. Evaluate what has helped you and what you no longer need. Take walks in nature and observe the cycle of Life and contemplate your place in the bigger picture. Decorate the house with the traditional colours - orange and black - and symbols of the season, gourds and pumpkins, corn husks, dried leaves and grain stalks.
Remember that this is also a time to connect with the living. As Autumn turns to Winter, we begin to move inwards to a place of introspection. We become more solitary and spend more time in self contemplation. Now, at the time of Harvest, make it a point to reach out to others. Invite people over for pot luck dinners, host bonfires or call on neighbours that might not be able to leave home themselves. Creating these connections now will help to sustain you in the cold months to come.
Samhain is a celebration of the rhythms of Nature. At this time the plants are starting to die, animals are gathering their last supplies and preparing dens for hibernation. “Death is in the Air” as the temperatures start to drop, morning frosts begin to cover the ground and the nights are long and dark.
There can be no Life without Death, no rejuvenation without decay and no Light without the Darkness. To honour Death is to acknowledge the cycle of Life.
Whether you are in the South or North, celebrating Beltane or Samhain, honouring Life or Death, the end of October is a special time of year. Light your fires, gather your friends and family and rejoice in the rhythms of Nature!
Blessings to you!