From the Irish Gaelic “Summers End”, Samhain is perhaps the most famous of all the greater sabbats. It is a time when the veil that separates the seen and the unseen is at its thinnest - the laws of time and space are temporarily suspended allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the land of the living. If the Autumn Equinox was a time for reflection and balance then Samhain is a time for introspection, to look within at who we truly are.
Pronounced Sow-en, Samhain is an ancient Celtic Fire Festival. The Celts regarded October 31st as the end of summer and celebrated New Year on November 1st - following a lunar calendar the festivities always began at sundown on the evening before.
It is now known outside of pagan circles as “Halloween”, a corruption of “All Hallows Eve”. The festivity is now so disconnected from its original meaning that most people don’t know why they go “trick or treating” (it stems from the tradition of leaving food on the doorstep for our dead ancestors), or why people dress up as all manner of ghosts, ghouls, witches and demons. The Celts burned great bonfires on this eve – these sacred fires were seen as a cleansing of the old year, bringing in the New Year to start with a clean slate. Costumes were donned and dancing took place around the fire, these costumes were worn to honour the dead and allow them to be released from the earth – this time of year is also known as “The day of the dead” in many cultures, particularly Spanish speaking ones who celebrate “Dia de los muertes” on November 1st. Ghoulish costumes were worn in the hope they would fool the malevolent spirits who might also cross over into the land of the living and cause havoc! And finally, special attire was worn to honour the Celtic Gods and Goddesses, giving thanks for the abundance of the harvest and to welcome their blessing for the coming year.
Where Has the Green Man Gone?
The spirit of nature, Divine Masculine, the Green Man, sacrificed his power to ensure a fruitful harvest – he is resting in the womb of the Goddess, ready to be reborn at Yule or Winter Solstice. The Goddess Cerridwen is in her Crone aspect; destroyer and healer, wise woman and midwife of transformation, she holds the power of life and death. Her cauldron is an important part of Samhain tradition, representing the great cosmic womb in which all things are conceived, grow and are born. This is actually from where the witch’s cauldron originates, once again conveniently misrepresented by our organised religions through the ages, as is the depiction of a witch as the Goddess in her Crone aspect. Patriarchal religions have done much damage over the last few thousand years in their suppression of the Divine Feminine which resides in all of us – female and male.
A Time for Introspection
As the sun was in Libra at the Autumn Equinox, representing the balance of nature, at Samhain the sun is in Scorpio – ruled by Pluto, the planet of rebirth, transformation and the great sacred mysteries – it is also the planet of death and the dark side.
The energy of this season invites us to go deeper within, to confront our shadow selves. We are approaching the dark, dreamtime of the year and our shadow side demands some attention, an aspect highlighted by the Scorpio sun. Just as there could be no light without dark, there can be no brightness in our lives without the acknowledgement of our shadow – our shadow craves recognition and only wants to be loved as we love other parts of ourselves.
As the trees drop their seasonal foliage, they prioritise their resources and redirect energy to promote new growth, so we can shed wasteful and taxing behaviours, directing our energy inwards to rest within the potential of new growth. Now is the time to connect with the element of fire – allow it to burn up all that we are shedding and what no longer serves, preparing for the growth and rebirth that can take place if we align ourselves with the energy of this time of year.
As the change in climate to cold and wet weather can challenge our immune systems, this is a great time to give it a boost with cleanses, elixirs and immune strengthening herbs and superfoods.
Keep those winter bugs at bay by making sure you’re getting optimum nutrition. And what easier way than to whip up a smoothie?! Here are some of my favourite Immune Boosting Smoothie Recipes:-
For an indulgent smoothie with a powerful antioxidant punch try this:
And to give a sluggish immune system a much needed kick start, this recipe is hard to beat:
And if you're wondering what to do with all that yummy pumpkin flesh after you've carved out your Jack o Lantern, why not make a delicious and nutritious Pumpkin Pie:
As the nights are drawing in, this is a time when many feel like going into hibernation. Indeed, if we feel like this our bodies are tuning into the natural rhythm of the season, so get some rest, have a pampering, relaxing bath and grab an early night.
Honouring each season as it comes to pass is an integral part of any Wheel of the Year celebration. Welcoming this wonderful energy into our home and consciousness can be amplified by focussing upon specific elements of nature. Allocate a special area in your home to welcome in this energy, decorate it with the colours of Samhain; black, orange, russet and purple. Fill it with apples, berries, acorns, nuts and seeds – representations of the third and final harvest. In the spirit of honouring our ancestors, photographs of deceased relatives are often given special place on traditional Samhain Altars. For a beautiful Samhain Incense Blend you could try:
2 parts Cinnamon
1 part Ground Cloves
1 part Dragon’s Blood
1 part Hyssop
1 part Patchouli
2 parts Rosemary
1 part Sage
Dash of Sea Salt
Gwyn Ap Nudd – Celebrating The Wild Hunt!
Known as the King of the Faeries, Gwyn Ap Nudd is said to live in his mythical glass castle beneath Glastonbury Tor. He is also known as a Guardian God of the Celtic underworld, venerated as a hunter deity stretching back at least to the Iron Age. As leader of “The Wild Hunt”, he traditionally rides out each Samhain, scouring the countryside for the spirits of the dead. He is rumoured to come thundering down the Tor on his white horse Du, with his hounds baying beside him.
This year in Glastonbury a re-enactment of the Samhain Wild Hunt is taking place. In the words of Yuri Leitch of the Glastonbury Dragons Group who are organising this event:
“We will be celebrating Samhain with a homage to the Celtic Wild Hunt, on Saturday 29th Oct – before Samhain. This is because our celebrations are aimed to be community and visitor focussed rather than ‘true’ to a specific belief system – this allows all parties to have fun and a good time but also allows Christians and Pagans alike to do their own thing in their own way on the Samhain/Halloween cusp of October and November.
We have two fifty-foot dragons, a red one and a white one, and they battle it out, representing the two halves of the year – at Beltane the red one, ‘summer’ wins, and at Samhain the white one, ‘winter’ must win. The White one is also symbolic of Gwyn ap Nudd, the fairy king that traditionally resides in Glastonbury Tor (‘Gwyn’ means ‘white’). Gwyn is what is known as a psychopomp; a protective deity that helps lost spirits find their way to the spirit world. In mythology Gwyn is a great hunter and leads the Wild Hunt, gathering souls together to lead them to the Land of the Ever Young.”
And so we honour our ancestors in the belief that the dead walk among the living on this eve and our ancestors will ensure the return of fertility to the land at winter’s end.
As the veil thins
Worlds merge to be as one
Spirit walk among us
as we welcome our ancestors back to be with us.
The hounds of Annwyn ride as the sun sets
collecting the souls of those who have left us
Where they will rest and reflect in the summerlands
either to wait for us
or to come back into our lives
Sources for this article:
Picture Samhain Wildhunt: Alan Royce
Samhain Circle of Light Photo: http://www.renegadebroadcasting.com/radio-wehrwolf-samhain-music-special-10-27-15/