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Samhain

By Talisman

The first Samhain celebration is thought to have been celebrated more than two thousand years ago by the Celts of ancient England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and northern France. Organized around the last harvest of the year, the word Samhain means end of summer and is pronounced "sow-in" with "sow" rhyming with cow. It was celebrated from sunset on Oct. 31 throughout the night until dawn the following morning. Samhain is one of the fire festivals opposite Beltane. We celebrate the death of the Oak King. The history of Samhain can be traced back to our Celtic ancestors. The Celtic feast of Samhain marks the end of summer and the beginning of winter. Samhain is the beginning of the year and the cycle of the seasons. It is a time when we acknowledge the beginning and the ending of all things. Looking to nature, we see the falling of leaves from trees; the coming of winter and death. It is a time when we turn to the Gods and Goddess's seeking understanding of the turning cycles and life and death. While we are on the threshold of winter we feast and celebrate. For us, this is a time when the gates between this world and the next are open, or a time when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest. It is a time when we communicate with the spirits of the dead, our ancestors and loved ones. Like the crisp autumn winds the spirits are free to roam the earth. We call upon our ancestors to give us guidance and warnings of things that might come to pass in the coming year.

Samhain is a time of transformation where the past and present meet with uncertainty of the future yet to come. Hence, it is a time of divination and magic. The Kings of Ireland would feast for a week for this purpose alone. The seers would foretell of coming patterns of farming and hunting, the times of eclipses, storms and if their neighboring Kings were plotting war against them.

When Christianity was established in Britain, Goddess's and Gods fell under the rule of the saints. All Hallows Day (Nov.1st) known also as All Saints Day celebrates this. However, in the countryside's of our Pagan ancestors, our traditional All Hallows Day was not totally forgotten. It lived on in the guise of Hallowe'en, the eve of all Hallows Day. The new Christian religion saw the deities of the old religion as evil spirits. The uncanniness of Samhain was thought of as a time of danger for the Christian soul. Christians' confused the spirits of the Otherworld, which were called upon by the Celts, with evil demons.

The Christian religion suppressed old Celtic celebrations only to replace them with their own festivals. All Soul's Day (Nov.2nd) is a continuation in the Christian form of the older Pagan Samhain. All Soul's Day is the Catholic celebration to visit the family tomb, say prayers for the dead, light candles and picnic at the graveside just as our Pagan ancestors did. Today many Pagans in Ireland, the UK and the US continue the Celtic tradition of "wassailing" apple trees at Halloween. In the old days, this was done to ensure a bountiful harvest for the year that was to follow. Candles were placed in windows to guide the spirits home. The Dumb Supper is a feast that is prepared for our departed ancestors. These suppers are still done today and done so in silence.

Samhain/Halloween is celebrated in most of the world with the exception of Latin America. However they do believe that the spirits of the dead return this time of year. On Oct. 31, families with children who have passed to the next world, set out toys and food for their spirits. It is believed that the spirit will come back on Nov. 1 to visit.

The yellow marigold is associated with the dead. It is believed to have magickal properties that are supposed to protect against the spirits that are evil. People in parts of Santa Cruz scatter yellow marigold petals from the gravesite to the front door of the departed.

People of Mexico celebrate the Festival of the Dead with skulls and skeletons as reminders of the dead. This is a national holiday in Mexico and is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Cookies are baked in shapes of skulls and are sold around the country in bakeries and by street vendors. Bread of the dead is special bread that is baked and shaped like animals or people and decorated with brightly colored icings. The Day of the Dead in Mexico (Nov.2) fairies are believed to come out of hiding for dancing and playing pranks on humans.

Some Witches in Mexico invoke the "little children" that have departed to the next world in their Samhain Sabbat. They believe that these little fairies help the Horned God and Goddess in the turning of the Wheel of the Year.

In France, the Day of the Dead is celebrated on Nov. 2nd. Graveyards are filled with flowers and garlands and churches burn candles, sing funeral songs and pray for their departed.

In Italy celebrations are similar. Some people go to graveyards and pencil in their names on the tombstones of their departed ancestors.

In Ireland a traditional Irish dish called callcannon is served on Samhain. This is made from mashed potatoes, parsnips, onions, a ring, a china doll, a thimble and a coin. The person who finds the ring in their serving is to be married in the coming year; the person who finds the thimble will remain unmarried that year; the person who finds the china doll is suppose to have children and of course the person who finds the coin is suppose to have good fortune in the coming year. A similar tradition is to bake a cake with a ring and a nut. The person who finds the ring will marry and the person who finds the nut will marry a widow or widower. However if the nut has been broken or shattered, he or she will remain single and may never marry at all.

The symbols used today representing the modern Halloween have roots in ancient Paganism. The cauldron has been linked to our past since ancient times. Symbol of rebirth it is most appropriate for Samhain. Its shape represents the Great Earth Mother and the three legs represent the Triple Goddess, Lunar phases and the magickal number three. It is the symbol of transformation and wisdom. The cauldron has been used for cooking, containing ritual fires, divination and burning incense. The cauldron is associated with Hecate, Demeter, Persephone, Siris and most of all The Celtic goddess Cerridwen. It is her cauldron that brought forth gifts of wisdom, enlightenment, and divination. The cauldron is linked with the Holy Grail or the chalice that is thought to have been used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper.

The besom or broomstick is thought to have been used by Witches at one time to fly to their Sabbats. Flying ointments made with various poisonous herbs, soot and grease were rubbed on the Witch's body and her broomstick. We know now that it was the "acid affect" of the flying ointments that appeared to give the Witch and her broom the power to fly. Brooms were used by Pagans and Witches alike to hobble through the fields of crops to show them how high to grow. Today we use the broom as a sacred tool in handfastings; circle castings, house blessings and many of us still place a broom over our doors and in corners in our homes.

The origin of the jack-o'-lantern is traced to Ireland where hallowed out turnips were used. Faces were carved and carried as lanterns to light the way on Samhain Eve and to frighten away supposedly evil spirits. Eventually the use of turnips turned into what we know as carved pumpkins. Celts believed that the face on a pumpkin gave the look of a head. They believed that the head was the most important part of the body as it housed the immortal soul. Today we as Witches use the pumpkin in our rituals, upon our altars and placed at quarters in our circles. At home, we used them for a light source to welcome back the spirits of the dead.

There is much information about our blessed Sabbat Samhain. Far too much to be included in a report such as this. Today we as Witches celebrate our New Year much as our ancestors did. We have ritual, feast with food and drink, and place pictures of our departed who have gone beyond on our altars. We still light the fires, reflect upon the past year, and use divination to tell us about the year to come and always light a candle to welcome home spirits of ancestors.

Cakes for the Dead/Soul Cakes

1 1/4 cup flour
2 eggs
1/2 tsp.salt
1 tsp. Vanilla
1/2 cup oil
1/2 tsp. Baking soda
1/2 tsp. Grated orange rind
1 cup granola
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in small bowl. Beat oil, honey, eggs, vanilla,& orange rind in a separate bowl. Mix dry ingredients into egg mixture; stir in granola and raisins. Drop by teaspoon onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 mins.

Sources:

Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton
Celtic Wisdom by Caitlin and John Mathews
Ancient Ways by Pauline Campanelli
Wheel of the Year by Pauline Campanelli
"Granny Takes a Trip: Drugs, Witches, and the Flight to the Sabbat" White Dragon No. 30
The Pagan Book of Halloween by Gerina Dunwich


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This page last updated October 2003