Samhain

Have blessed samhain

Samhain is the third and final harvest festival of nuts and seeds.  It is pronounced “Sah-win” or “sow-in”.  Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. It is also known as “Day of the Dead” or “All Hallows Eve”.  It is celebrated from sunset on 31 October to sunset on 1 November, which is nearly halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  Some modern pagans consider it the “witches new year”, though other traditions simply recognize Samhain as the end of the year.  It’s energy is death and transformation.  Customs include jack o’lanterns, spirit plate, ancestor altar, divination, and costumes.  The colors associated with Samhain are orange, black, and indigo.  Tools used during this holy day are votive candles, magic mirror, cauldron, pumpkins, and divination tools.

Traditionally Samhain was a time to take stock of the herds and food supplies.  Cattle were brought down to the winter pastures after six months in the higher summer pastures.  It was also the time to choose which animals would need to be slaughtered for the winter.  This custom is still observed by many who farm and raise livestock because it is when meat will keep since the freeze has come and also since the summer grass is gone and searching for provisions/food is no longer possible.  In may places, Samhain coincides with the end of the growing season.  Vegetation dies back with killing frosts, and therefore literally, death is in the air.

Rituals include bonfires, dancing, divination, healing, honoring ancestors, thanksgiving, releasing old, foreseeing future, understanding death and rebirth.  Bonfires were lit on hilltops at Samhain and there were rituals involving them.  It is believed that the fires (as well as the smoke and their ashes) were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers.  In some places boys asked for bonfire fuel from each house in the village.  When the fire was lit, one after another of the youths laid himself down on the ground as near to the fire as possible so as not to be burned, and in such a  position as to let the smoke roll over him.  The others ran through the smoke and jumped over him.  When the bonfire samhain candlesburnt down, they scattered the ashes, competing eagerly with each other who should scatter the most.  Sometimes, two bonfires would be built side by side and the people, sometimes with their livestock, would walk between them as a cleansing ritual.  The bones of slaughtered cattle were said to have been cast upon bonfires.  People also took ashes from the bonfire back to their homes.  In northern Scotland, they carried burning fir around their fields to protect them.  In some places, people doused their hearth fires on Samhain nights.  Each family then solemnly re-lit its hearth from the communal bonfire, thus bonding the families of the village together.

Samhain is seen as a good time to perform any divination as well.  The bonfires were also used in divination rituals.  A ring of stone was laid around the fire to represent each person  and everyone who ran around it with a torch.  In the morning, the stones were examined and if any was mislaid it was said that the person for whom it was set would not live out the year.  At household festivities throughout the Gaelic region and Wales, there were many rituals intended to divine the future of those gathered, especially with regard to death and marriage.

Seasonal foods such as apples and nuts were often used in these rituals.  Apples were peeled, the peel, tossed over  the shoulder, and its shape examined to see if it formed the first letter of the future spouse’s name.  Nuts were roasted on the hearth and their behavior interpreted… if the nuts stayed together, so would the couple.  Egg whites were dropped in the water, and the shapes foretold the number of future children.  Children would also chase crows and divine some of these things from the number of birds or the direction they flew.

Herbs used at this time included: Rosemary, for remembrance of our ancestors, Mullein seeds, for abundance, Mugwort to aid in divination, rue, calendula, sunflower petals and seeds, pumpkin seeds, apples and apple seeds, turnip seeds, sage, wormwood, tarragon, bay leaf, almond, hazelnut, passion flower, pine needles, nettle, garlic, and mandrake root.  Stones associated with this time are:  black obsidian, smoky quartz, jet, amber, pyrite, garnet, granite, clear quartz, marble, gold, diamond, iron, steel, ruby, hematite, and brass.  Decorations include gourds, pumpkins, apples, Autumn leaves, and nuts.

pumpkin houseSamhain is one of the original festivals behind the holiday we know as Halloween.  Some of Halloween’s most common traditions are rooted in Samhain’s harvest festival roots, such as the carving of pumpkin and bobbing for apples.  The traditional illumination for guisers or pranksters on this night in some places was provided by turnips or beets, hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins.  They may have also been used to protect oneself from harmful spirits.  In some places, young people dressed as the opposite gender.  In Scotland, young men went house-to-house with masked, veiled, painted, or blackened faces, often threatening to do mischief it they were not welcomed.  This was common in the 16th century in the Scottish countryside and persisted into the 20th century.  It is suggested that the blackened faces comes from using the bonfire’s ashes for protection.

Irish and Scottish immigration, which popularized Halloween in North America, had a strong tradition of disguising and pranks.  As it was believed that faeries, witches, and demons roamed the Earth on Samhain, food and drink were customarily set out to make them less hostile or angry.  later on, people began dressing up as these creatures and claiming the goodies for themselves, sometimes performing antics or tricks in exchange for food and drink.  This practice called mumming evolved into trick-or-treating, or it may have come from the custom of going door-to-door collecting food for Samhain feast or fuel for Samhain’s bonfire and/or offerings.

Samhain (like Beltane) was the time when the doorways to the Otherworld opened, allowing the spirits and the dead to come into our world and this facilitates contact and communication with the Dead.  That is when it was believed that demons, faeries, and spirits of all kind would freely roam about.  Some would perform tricks, like the spirits of those who were murdered and who were looking for revenge.  The souls of the dead were also thought to revisit their homes.  Places were set tat the dinner table or by the fire to welcome them.  Some celebrate Samhain with a ritual to guide the dead home by opening a western-facing door or window and placing a candle by the opening.  many pagans still follow this tradition to this day.

samhain AncestorsBut while Beltane is a festival for the living, Samhain is essentially, a festival for the dead.  In the simpler yet brutal times that so many early people lived in, death was commonplace, whether it was the death of livestock through disease, the extremely frequent deaths of women during childbirth, or the death of young infants from common childhood illness.  There was always a lot of deaths going on in a given year.  Samhain was a time to really sit down around the fireplace, connect with your surviving loved ones, and pay tribute to those beloved members of your “tribe” whom you lost over the past year.  For some, Samhain is when we honor ancestors who came before us.

It’s easier to talk to the dead, have lucid dreams in which you connect with the dead, and to spiritually commune with those who have passed during Samhain.  The connection or “veil” between the physical world and the spiritual dimensions is thinner, which makes this type pf psychic contact much easier.  The only other time when this is easy are the three days after someone dies, because for three days their spirit is still hanging out on the earth plane and they will often have a lot to say if you can sit down and get past your own grief and “listen” to them.  For those who have lost loved ones in the past year, Samhain rituals can be an opportunity to bring closure to grieving and to further adjust to their being in the Otherworld by spiritually communing with them.  This is the perfect time to celebrate their memory.  Hopefully, they will communicate back with you to offer any advice or guidance.

You could find yourself remembering people you have had major relationships with.  Relationships which have ended, even if that person didn’t actually die.  maybe the relationship “died” and you’re still processing the emotions related to the experience.  You could be going back and forth emotionally, feeling love for the person one minute and anger the next.  Try to center yourself, connect with “Great Spirit” or your “Infinite, Eternal Self”, or loving the energy of the Universe and reach a place of emotional equilibrium.  Let go of hatred, release fear, and try to expel the toxic energy of anger and grief from your system as best as you can.  Some words to meditate include: remember, appreciate, love, release, transform, and transmute.

samhain decoration

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Lammas

happy lammas

Lammas is the first of harvest festivals, which also includes the Autumn Equinox and Samhain.  Lammas is the celebration of this first, Grain Harvest, a time for gathering and giving thanks for abundance.  It is traditionally celebrated on August 01st.  We work with the cycle of Mabon or the Autumn Equinox, (the Second Harvest of Fruit such as apples), and Samhain, the (third and Final Harvest of Nuts and Berries).  The energy of Lammas is fruitfulness and reaping prosperity.

Lammas is all about the fulfillment and fullness of the present harvest holding at its heart the seed of all future harvest.  So as the grain harvest is gathered in, there is food to feed the community through the winter and through the harvest is the seed of next year’s rebirth, regeneration, and harvest.  Grain has held a place of importance in civilization back nearly to the beginning of time. Grain became associated with the cycle of death and rebirth.  Now is the time to begin reaping what we have sown, and gathering up the first harvests of grain, wheat, oats, and more.

The first sheaf of  corn is extremely important.  It produces the first and the best seed and assurance of future harvest.  There are many customs throughout Europe around the cutting of the grain or corn during Lammas and they applied to all cereal crops including wheat, barley, rye and oats. Both the cutting of the first gain and the last grain are significant.The first sheaf would often be ceremonially cut at dawn, winnowed, ground and baked into the Harvest Bread which was then shared by the community in thanks. The first barley stalks would be made into the first beer of the season. The first sheaf guarantees the seed and thus continuity.

The last sheaf was also ceremonially cut, often made into a ‘corn dolly’, carried to the village with festivity and was central to the Harvest Supper. The corn dolly was made into a Corn Maiden (after a good harvest) or a cailleach, hag or crone (after a bad harvest). She could be dressed with ribbons, even clothed. This last sheaf would live in the home, often above the fireplace or hearth of the home, until the next harvest. Or it might be placed in the branches of a tree or mixed with the seed for the next year’s sowing. In some way it eventually needed to return to the earth from whence it came.

In some parts of Europe the tradition was to weave the last sheaf into a large Corn Mother with a smaller ‘baby’ inside it, representing the harvest to come the following year. Once the harvest was completed, safely gathered in, the festivities would begin. Bread was made from the new grain and thanks given to the Sun’s life-giving energy reborn as life-giving bread.

In early Ireland, it was a bad idea to harvest your grain any time before Lammas.  It meant that the previous year’s harvest had run out early, and that was a serious failing in agricultural communities.  The word Lammas derives from the Old English phrase hlaf-maesse, which translates to loaf mass. In early Christian times, the first loaves of the season were blessed by the Church.

Lammas is also a time to celebrate talents and craftsmanship. It’s a traditional time of year for craft festivals, and for skilled artisans to peddle their wares. In medieval Europe, guilds would arrange for their members to set up booths around a village green, festooned with bright ribbons and fall colors. Perhaps this is why so many modern Renaissance Festivals begin around this time of year!

lammas craftsNow is a great time of year to work on honing your own talents. Learn a new craft, or get better at an old one. Put on a play, write a story or poem, take up a musical instrument, start getting crafty, or sing a song. Whatever you choose to do, this is the right season for rebirth and renewal, so set August 1 as the day to share your new skill with your friends and family.

The natural world is thriving around us, and yet the knowledge that everything will soon die looms in the background. This is a good time to work some magic around the hearth and home.  Lammas is a festival celebrating the first fruits of harvest, the fruits of our labours, and seeing the desires that we had at the start of the year unfold so rituals will be centered around this. At this time it is appropriate to perform rituals for prosperity, generosity, continued success.  

Activities for this celebration include: making corn dollies, baking bread,  braid onion or garlic charms, gathering late summer fruit or the first harvest, getting crafty, go to a craft festival or any festival.

lammas breadCustoms around Lammas include Games, the traditional riding of poles/staves, country fairs, breaking bread with friends, making corn dollys, harvesting herbs for charms/rituals, Lughnasadh fire with sacred wood & dried herbs, feasting, competitions, Lammas towers (fire-building team competitions), spear tossing, gathering flowers for crowns, fencing/swordplay, games of skill, martial sports, chariot races, hand-fastings, trial marriages, dancing round a corn mother (doll)

Like all holidays, Lammas calls for a feast. When your dough figure is baked and ready to eat, tear him or her apart with your fingers. You might want to commence the feast with a prayer or blessing emphasizing the gratitude of being “given this day our daily bread.” The next part of the ceremony is best done with others. Feed each other hunks of bread by putting the food in the other person’s mouth with words like “May you never go hungry,” “May you always be nourished,” “Eat of the bread of life” or “May you live forever.” Offer each other drinks of water or wine with similar words. As if you were at a wake, make toasts to the passing summer, recalling the best moments of the year so far.

corn dollyAnother way to honor the Grain Goddess is to make a corn doll. This is a fun project to do with kids. Take dried-out corn husks and tie them together in the shape of a woman. She’s your visual representation of the harvest. As you work on her, think about what you harvested this year. Give your corn dolly a name, perhaps one of the names of the Grain Goddess or one that symbolizes your personal harvest. Dress her in a skirt, apron and bonnet and give her a special place in your house. She is all yours till the spring when you will plant her with the new corn, returning to the Earth that which She has given to you.

Ideas for decorating your home for Lammas is rally quite simple.  You can use any of the following below, or even all, to dec out your place for the celebration of Lammas.

  • Sickles and scythes, as well as other symbols of harvesting
  • Grapes and vines
  • Dried grains : sheafs of wheat, bowls of oats, etc.
  • Corn dolls : you can make these easily using dried husks
  • Early fall vegetables such as squashes and pumpkins
  • Late summer fruits like apples, plums and peaches
  • Colors include yellow, orange, brown, green, amber
  • Herbs include goldenrod, peony, nasturtium, clover blossom, yarrow, heliotrope, boneset, vervain, Queen Anne’s lace, myrtle, rose, sunflower, poppy, milkweed, Irish moss, mushroom, wheat, corn, rye, oat, barley, rice, garlic, onion, basil, mint, aloe, acacia, meadowsweet, apple leaf, raspberry leaf, strawberry leaf, bilberry leaf, blueberry leaf, mugwort, hops, holly, comfrey, marigold, grape vine, ivy, hazelnut, blackthorn, elder, honey, bee pollen, wheat
  • Symbolism: Fruitfulness, reaping, prosperity, reverence, purification, transformation, change, The Bread of Life, The Chalice of Plenty, The Ever-flowing Cup , the Groaning Board (Table of Plenty)
  • Insence: Wood aloes, rose, rose hips, rosemary, chamomile, eucalyptus, safflower, corn, passionflower, frankincense, sandalwood
  • Gemstones: aventurine, citrine, peridot, sardonyx, Cat’s-eye, golden topaz, obsidian, moss agate, rhodochrosite, clear quartz, marble, slate, granite, lodestone, carnelian

lammas_celebration1Lammas is one of the eight major power days; which are each an incredible doorway through which everyone can enter into cocreation with Spirit.  Identified long ago by indigenous …times when the “veil” between dimensions becomes the thinnest, and spiritual seekers can more readily access the energy of the Divine.  If you do artistic work, meditation, prayer, or any form of spiritual expression during this time, you’ll find it easier to tap into feelings of flow, harmony, and light.

Lammas is a festival of regrets and farewells, of harvest and preserves. Reflect on these topics alone in the privacy of your journal or share them with others around a fire. It is one of the great Celtic fire-festivals, so if at all possible, have your feast around a bonfire. While you’re sitting around the fire, you might want to tell stories. Look up the myths of any of the grain Gods and Goddesses mentioned above and try re-telling them in your own words.

It is a time when we not only think about the fruits of the Sun God and Mother Earth, but also about our own personal harvest. A time when we think about what has happened in our lives and letting go of anger, injustice, hates, and past regrets enabling us to move forwards and planting our own new seeds. Some goals may have been achieved, but some not as we had hoped.

food mandalaRegrets: Think of the things you meant to do this summer or this year that are not coming to fruition. You can project your regrets onto natural objects like pine cones and throw them into the fire, releasing them. Or you can write them on dried corn husks (as suggested by Nancy Brady Cunningham in Feeding the Spirit) or on a piece of paper and burn them.

Farewells: What is passing from your life? What is over? Say good-bye to it. As with regrets, you can find visual symbols and throw them into the fire, the lake or the ocean. You can also bury them in the ground, perhaps in the form of bulbs which will manifest in a new form in spring.

Harvest: What have you harvested this year? What seeds have your planted that are sprouting? Find a visual way to represent these, perhaps creating a decoration in your house or altar which represents the harvest to you. Or you could make a corn dolly or learn to weave wheat. Look for classes in your area which can teach you how to weave wheat into wall pieces, which were made by early grain farmers as a resting place for the harvest spirits.

Preserves: This is also a good time for making preserves, either literally or symbolically. As you turn the summer’s fruit into jams, jellies and chutneys for winter, think about the fruits that you have gathered this year and how you can hold onto them. How can you keep them sweet in the store of your memory?

LughnasadhBlessingstoYou

 

Summer Solstice

sumer solstice 2

The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year and also marks the beginning of Summer, for us in North America.  Summer is seen as a time of rapid growth, fruitfulness, and abundant awareness.  The Sun is the most powerful and this time and shines the brightest.  At this point, we enter the doorway into the second half of the year.  The Summer Solstice holds a much greater spiritual significance.  It represents our Spirit’s ascension to the Divine, the reunion of self with the Divinity.  The light of the Soul is shining its brightest over the darkness of the shadows.   This is an ideal time for you to let go of your ego and old patterns of suppression, and focus on what you desire to bring into your life.  It is a portal opening of energy that overwhelms obstruction, blockages, and ego.  This is a time of strength, accomplishments, and achievement.

Globally, there are a wide range of rituals for the Summer Solstice, which focus on themes of fulfillment, enlightment, abundance, sharing, warding off negative spirits, marriage, fertility, and the joy of living on this beautiful Earth.  Cultures around the world have celebrated the Summer Solstice by watching the Sun rise and making bonfires.  Bonfires were believed to ward off negative spirits and leaping through one was considered good luck.  Protection amulets were were made and charged under the Summer Solstice Sun.  All night vigils and celebrations of feasting, dancing, and singing were held.

So where as in May we honored the Mother energy, in June, we honor the father energy.  This is seen as Father Sky, the Sun itself, or the Yang in the Chinese symbol.  It is the assertive force in life.  It’s characterized as fast, hard, focused, and aggressive.  This energy is beneficial when we need to push through things, shine light on the dark, and transform heaviness into lightness.  It’s the go-getter attitude, filling us up with passion, enthusiasm, and motivation to MOVE and DO.

Ironically, while summer is just hitting its stride, the earth is already turning towards the dark season as the nights begin to lengthen and the days will shorten from this point on util after the Winter Solstice.  Here we celebrate the completion of the cycle that began at the Winter Solstice.  At this point, the paths that lead within us will be energized.  As we too, will soon be turning towards the dark half within ourselves.

summer solstice 3