Blessed Samhain - 31st October
Yes, it is Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) and not Halloween for Pagans. Many people are disappointed and surprised when I say that as a Pagan I do not celebrate Halloween. Sorry! For the Pagan community, Samhain is about an ancient ritual of honouring the ancestors and remembering absent loved-ones. It is believed that the veil between worlds is at it's thinnest on this Eve. Samhain is one of the only Pagan Sabbats that the Church of England have not pinched and adapted, so instead it has become demonised. They do, however, have 'All Saints Day' the following day (as do we - hence 'All Hallows Eve' is the night before it). Similar idea - remembering the ones who have passed over. I must admit I still like to visit the Churchyard where my Mum and Son are and lay flowers on the 1st November if possible.
Samhain in our home is quiet and respectful. I have a special purple tablecloth I use, I lay an extra place at the table for absent loved ones, I light a candle in a west-facing window and leave that window open a crack. And I put out photos and momento's of those who are no longer with us. Nothing to be frowned on by other faiths, I like to think. It is not miserable, but a giving of thanks and a reminder that life is short.
This time of year is about the Goddess in her form of Cerridwen, the Crone or Wise Woman. At this time of year, the wheel has turned once more and now the Lady, like the Land, is old and tired and almost ready to sleep. In Nature we now see the flora and fauna getting ready to bed down and rest over the Winter season after giving so much during the rest of the year. The name Cerridwen comes from a legend centred around Bala Lake in Wales. In Welsh medieval legend, Cerridwen was an enchantress. She is the mother of a hideous son, Morfran, and a beautiful daughter, Creirwy. Her husband was Tegid Foel, and they lived near Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid) in North Wales. Ceridwen is regarded by many modern Pagans as the Celtic goddess of rebirth, transformation, and inspiration. Her name translates as 'crooked or bent woman'. Research the story as it is very interesting, and from this tale we find the animals associated with this particular Goddess at this time of year: Greyhound, Otter, Hawk and Hen.
The cauldron has long-been associated with witches and October; we all know the image of a bent old hag stirring a cauldron! From the tale of Cerridwen, we take the cauldron as a symbol of transformation, death and rebirth. At the polar end of the wheel of the year, we have Beltane (which our friends in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate on this date) so you can see the connection between conception and decay; Sex and Death. The other legend at this Sabbat is the Greek one of Persephone, Goddess of Spring and daughter of Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest. Persephone married Hades, God of the Underworld. Her Mother was so distraught at her loss that nothing flourished or bloomed for half of a year. When Persephone returned, Spring followed and Nature re-awakened. Persephone then spent half the year above ground with her Mother and the other half in the underworld with Hades. This is why we have six months of Winter and lifelessness in the land (when Persephone is below), followed by the joyful reawakening of Spring through to early Autumn (when she is here). Persephone is also known as Proserpina, Kore, Ker (as in Kernel - seed) and Cora. Demeter is also known as Ceres. Persephone ate six enchanted pomegranate seeds fed to her by Hades, thus tying herself to him for 6 months of the year. Goddess of Spring married with Lord of the Underworld - Sex and Death again! Pomegranates have long been associated with mystical properties. There is said to be 613 seeds in one pomegranate; the same number of commandments in the Torah. It is said that the fruit that Eve ate in the Garden of Eden was a pomegranate. One is depicted in Bottecelli's painting of Mary with Jesus. In Greece they are still eaten on important holidays and festivals. So as they are also seasonal at this time, I place them on my altar, and we eat them as a fruit and buy the juice to drink also. They are also connected to the ties of marriage (Hades with Persephone) and union. I recently saw a photo of a beautiful wedding cake decorated with icing-made sparkling slices of them.
The animals associated with this time of year include Crow, Toad and Cat. Crows represent prophetic insight, transformation, death-eaters (from the battlefields etc - look it up), destiny, wisdom, and are keepers of secrets and memories. Toads represent transformation and rebirth (from tadpole), are considered Lunar, and are said to be the guardians of treasure. In Mexico and Africa they are known as 'rain-bringers' and are awarded rock-star status accordingly. Cats represent shape-shifting, many lives, curiosity, cleverness, agility, relaxation, patience, magic and mystery. As they say, cats used to be worshipped in Egypt - cats have never forgotten this! Also pigs, as they were sacred to Demeter (Ceres). Plus the pronunciation of the word Samhain starts with 'Sow' as in pig. At this time of year when the animals were taken off the pastures and put into shelters for Winter, the lean ones and those who may not survive so well in the cold months were slaughtered, with ceremony, and then used for meat and supplies. So much feasting was had at this time. The rest was salted, smoked, dried, cured and stored. Food was often left out as offerings to those friends and family members who had passed on in the year. Other religions have special festivals and dates when they do this, also.
And let's not forget the bonfire - Pagans do love a bonfire! The word comes from 'bone-fire' literally meaning fire of bones, as the bones of animals that had been culled and/or eaten were burned, along with personal and symbolic items in order to be free of something (such as sickness, heartache, poverty, bad luck etc) The idea being that the burnt offering would show and mark the desire to be rid of it. As it was also New Year's Eve for the Celts, this made sense. After the ceremony around the fire, each family would take a torch lit from it back home and light their own hearth-fires from this flame, in order to bring in the luck and ward off misfortune. These home-fires were often kept burning night and day. Now is also the time to burn your Bridie dolls from Imbolc. I'll be sad to see mine go - I was proud of having sewed her myself. Inside her stuffing was a strip of ribbon with my requests written on, back at the start of February when she was made. But those dreams, hopes and wishes from Imbolc have either come true or they haven't.
Out with the old and in with the new!
Sunset on Samhain is the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The old year has passed, the harvest has been gathered, cattle and sheep have been brought in from the fields, and the leaves have fallen from the trees. The earth slowly begins to die around us. For Pagans it is the end of the old year and the start of the new. That's why, if you're like me, you give and receive New Year wishes at Samhain! This is a good time for us to look at finishing 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 tied-up loose ends, then you can begin looking towards what you want from the year to come. We planted seeds of hopes, wishes and dreams at Imbolc, we tended them over the months and we sorted the wheat from the chaff at first and last harvest (Lammas and Mabon) to see that which we wish to keep and what no longer serves us and can be cut out or off. It is also a time for 'going within' and we refer to this as going deep in the cauldron. A time of inner reflection, solitude and thought. Many people start to feel a shifting at this time and a restlessness and hunger for changes. I would suggest some time to meditate, talk, write or read about what changes you are hoping for in the new year. Let things bubble and simmer in your cauldron and give yourself time for contemplation and consideration before making any big decisions. This is the time for mulling things over and giving yourself the privacy and space to do so. Stir the cauldron, throw things into the pot, and wait to see what it all results in. As a self-reminder for inner reflection and deep thought, there is a small hand-mirror on my altar.
This was the time represented by the Two-faced image such as Janus. One looking back over the year, and one trying to peer through the thinned veil to divine what might lay ahead. So it is also a time for Divination such as scrying (crystal balls and so on) whilst the two worlds are closest. Games connected with this are peeling of an apple in one go and then throwing the peeled skin on the floor to see if it formed a letter - to be the initial of your intended. Also dripping hot wax from a candle into a bowl of cold water to see what shape it took to determine either your own or your future spouse's occupation. This is the time when the nights drawing in really affects us and everybody feels tired and just wants to stay home. I find that this is the lull between going out during there summer and the light, mild evenings, and then going out for all the festive celebrations from mid-November through to the very end of December. So during this time, conveniently, there is lots of new stuff to watch on television and almost everyone I know is feeling the pull of cosy nights in and less attracted to busy nights out. I like to think that our ancestors would have spent more time together around now, due to the dark and chill keeping them in beside the fire and at the hearth, doing more talking and sharing, heart-to-hearts, storytelling and singing as well as knitting, sewing and weaving. So I hope you all enjoy this time of quietness and rest before all the excitement starts up next month - not just socialising but also present-shopping, card-writing and planning *groan*. Savour this respite!
Wishing you all respectful honouring and remembering of your ancestors and absent loved-ones, a tying-up of loose ends and re-organising of your life, time and space for your inner reflections, a home that is cosy and a sanctuary for rest and comfort, and a period of waiting and watching to see how you shall emerge born again in the new year. Blessed Samhain to all!