I have been looking forward to writing this post and it’s shaping up to be a long one.
As a child I was always an ‘other’. While other girls were making up dance routines to the spice girls (I didn’t know who they were, I lived abroad), I was doing them to the red dwarf theme tune and poking at wildlife.
I felt connected to Halloween before my awakening as a witch and my Gothness runs deep. To me, Samhain (pronounced Saw-in) and Halloween are two sides and I celebrate them thusly: the first, my very spiritual, reflective, personal journey as a witch and Pagan.
The second, the silly, party driven, release, I engage in with my friends. I AM THE QUEEN OF HALLOWEEN! Also its Halloween everyday in my life so for this part I’m going to focus on Samhain.
The Turning of The Wheel
Samhain is a bit like pagan new year. It is the end before the beginning comes at Yule. Unlike other new years festivals, the ‘new beginnings’ aspect doesn’t come straight away. There is a ‘tween time. This is known as the cauldron time . A time to look inwardly and recognise the ending of one journey and reflecting on all that has gone, giving thanks, grieving if we must, meditating, reflecting, incubating and nurturing the seeds of the next journey before looking ahead to light and hope of the coming re birth.
It is a time of darkness and contemplative stillness as well as a time to give thanks.
Samhain is the final harvest festival. Having gathered in the last energy given to us by the Green Man (whatever name you give him) so that we may grow and thrive, the hard work of gathering and preparing is done. We have given thanks and now we accept the death aspect of the life, death, rebirth cycle represented by his sacrifice. Now is the time we go to ground, reflect, rest and incubate in the cauldron of the mother before being reborn. This is a powerful time for divination, self reflection and growth. A time where we actively recognise what no longer serves us and let it go. Shedding toxic patterns, old and new wounds, loved ones lost, paths no longer available, delusions, failed attempts, giving it all up and saying goodbye with love. So that we do not carry it into the next stage.
Samhain is a cross quarter day, an in-between time where the veil between our realm and the spirit realm is thin. It is opposite of Beltane which is celebrated at this time in the southern hemisphere.
The Green Man
Across pagan beliefs and mythology there are many facets of the male archetype; The Green Man, John Barley Corn, Cernnunos, Gwyn App Nudd, Arawn, Hern The Hunter and Orion just to name a few.
At Samhain, in celtic mythology, the Wild Hunt is led by Gwynn App Nudd. He rides with his spirit hounds, gathering up the dead and leading the way to the otherworld. This is a mercy to those who may be lost and wondering and is symbolic of what we too must let go of.
This is also mirrored in Christian mythology (as discussed before, where pagan traditions have been adapted to fit a Christian agenda) all hallows is eve is a night where the spirits and demons are present to frighten and torment us only to be chased away by saints on all saints day- November first. We however, welcome and respect the spirits presence.
Spirits and Ancestors
Spirits and Ancestors are around us all of the time, some with good intentions, some with their own agenda, some are simply lost or have long forgotten their purpose (you can read m ore on this here). Some ancestors you will know by name, others are connected to you more vaguely. We speak of ancestors as those who love and guide us.
At cross quarter days the veil between worlds is thin and Samhain is famous for this across many cultures. A time where we can commune with the dead and loved ones lost. A word of warning here…to invite your ancestors and loved ones-the Beloved Dead, to commune with you at Samhain is one thing, to call them by name and force them at any time is another. They are on their own journey. Interfering with them may harm or hinder that. Be respectful and honour their free will.
That being said, leaving offerings and holding a ‘dummy supper’ is traditional at Samhain. You can do this however you feel comfortable as simple as leaving some bread, herbs, wine and a lit candle in your kitchen; or as elaborate as setting a table for you and yours and leaving an empty place with servings for those you hope will join you.
The purpose of this is to make it known to your own Beloved Dead that you welcome them, you are ready to recieve any messages or advice they may have for you and you wish them well. We give thanks for the guidance they offer and appreciate that we will see them again. As you light a candle speak some words to let them know that you are ready to recieve them. Something like:
On this sacred night where the veil between worlds is thin, I invite my ancestors/those who wish me well to share of this meal and speak with love.
This would be a perfect time to practice any divinations you felt inclined to, ask any questions you need answering or simply meditate and listen for what they want to tell you. When you are done, give thanks and say good bye as you snuff out the candle (blowing out candles is bad form) whatever words you are comfortable with, you could say something like:
I thank you for your presence on this night. Go now on your journey with love.
Merry meet, and merry part, and merry meet again.
The Hungry Dead
It is not only benevolent spirits who cross into our realm at Samhain. There are others who wonder our world looking to make mischief, or simply cannot find their way. These are known as The Hungry Dead.
You may not wish these spirits to enter your home and practices. To appease them we leave offerings outside; aswell as candles to light their way. This is where the tradition of pumpkin carving and lanterns come from. In the UK we originally carved faces into turnips (frankly a much more difficult process as turnips are really fucking hard) and other vegetables. The scary face is to act as a warning.
The intended message being-you are recognised and respected but are not welcome and should carry on your way.
When carrying out more ritualistic or specific Samhain rituals, it is important to protect yourself from these Hungry Dead (by casting a protection circle or using salt a cross the boundaries of your home) . They are called ‘Hungry’ because they crave attention and influence. Perhaps they have no one left to remember them or they have malevolent intentions. They are known to lie in order to gain access to our attentions, even pretending to be our loved ones so that they may attempt to sway us to their own ends. Be wary. Leaving an offering, similar to what you would leave for your Beloved Dead, outside is only polite and encourages them to leave you be. Also, as I said, the lost ones are being guided home and would likely be grateful of your recognition on the way.
It is clear to me how these traditions link in with the modern tradition of trick or treating. Give the monsters something to send them away or they well have a ‘trick’ for you.
Through my research and experiences of this, the Christian explanation is again relating to all saints day. However we don’t chase the dressed up children who knock upon our doors dressed as ‘demons’.
I will admit here I am defensive of our Pagan ways when it comes to Samhain. Having had to explain so many times, to more close minded individuals, that ‘Halloween’ is a real holiday and an important one. As are the others, Yule and Ostara being two that have a heavy cross over when it comes to traditions. In all honesty, I don’t care what you believe in as long as it helps you be a better person. However, if you cast judgement on my beliefs and practices as lesser than yours, I will smite you with my knowledge and a smile.
To Make Merry
Samhain is a festival day and although it feels sombre, it is to be celebrated. Just as we clean at spring to prepare it as advisable to do the same before Samhain, clear out your home of old energies (censing is a great idea especially before weather turns and windows are likely to be closed more often), cast off what no longer serves you.
You may wish to decorate your home and Altar traditional additions may include:
- Blacks, purples, and greens to honour The Crone and The Hunter as well as Orange for the harvest.
- Bones, dried flowers and dead things (of which I have a vast collection)
- Treasures you relate to your ancestors, pictures of loved ones lost.
- Seeds and nuts to represent the doormant life awaiting spring.
- Tools for scrying and divination.
- Candles, lots of candles.
Rituals and Bumps In The Dark.
There are many rituals described to practice at Samhain. Some with more risk than others. Personally I prefer to use this time for mediation rather than seeking specific answers or conversations I make myself open and ready to recieve any insights my ancestors feel I need to hear. If you have specific questions you could also ask them.
I begin by casting my circle and giving thanks. I pour a drink for myself and some in a bowl. I also have bread, herbs, nuts and seeds, fruit and maybe some sweet treats laid out.
I sit in the dark for a few moments recognising the significance of the dark before the light, the couldron in which inspiration lies. Then I light a single candle and focus on it, symbolically it is a beacon for myself, reminding myself that light will always come. Physically it is a beacon for my ancestors to find me with the following words:
Beloved Dead, I, Kate The Goth (I also speak my birth name) welcome you into my circle on this sacred night. Only those who wish me well may enter. Share of these blessings with me, tell me what I need to hear.
I sit for a while, focusing on the flame listening with an open heart. I play with my Tarot Cards making notes of any messages that come through loudly I also just sit and talk. Giving my news, I talk of my hopes dreams and challenges. I speak freely of my life and listen.
I eat and drink and when I am done, I give thanks again and close my circle. I leave my offerings where they are (if outside I am sure it is nothing that will harm the natural environment) and journey home with new insights and guidance to follow.
To sum up
I could write about Samhain for days, maybe I will go on to do so in the coming days and years. If you have any questions I will gladly answer them. But for now I give you the basics;
Samhain is a time to let go, to grieve losses if needed and give them up so that we may be reborn in the spring. It can feel sombre. Accept the darkness, embrace it, rest within it and reflect. Hold on through the journey, say goodbye to what needs to be lost, feel it and look ahead, guided by your Beloved Dead, know you and your dreams will be reborn anew.
How do you celebrate Samhain? Hit me up in the comments below.
Merry Meet and Merry Part and Merry Meet again.
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Peace out Witches!