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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Beltane

may eve

Beltane is the last of the three Spring fertility festivals.  Most commonly it is held on April 30 but sometimes on May 01.  Beltane is a fire festival that represents the peak of Spring and the beginning of Summer. It celebrates fertility of the coming year.  Celtic festivals often tied in with the needs of the community. In spring time, at the beginning of the farming calendar, everybody would be hoping for a fruitful year for their families and fields.

Beltane and Samhain are the two greatest festivals of the solar year.  They both are celebrations of life and death… at Samhain emphasis on death and at Beltane the emphasis is on LIFE.  LOVE is in the Air!  Earth energies are at their strongest and most active. All of life is bursting with potent fertility and at this point in the Wheel of the Year, the potential becomes conception. On May Eve the sexuality of life and the earth is at its peak. Abundant fertility, on all levels, is the central theme. It is about sexuality and sensuality, passion, vitality and joy. And about conception. A brilliant moment in the Wheel of the Year to bring ideas, hopes and dreams into action. And have some fun…..Being a fertility festival sexual pleasures were common often occurring outside on the Land to bless fields, herds, and homes. May Bowl was the beverage of choice, a punch (wine or non-alcoholic) made of Sweet Woodruff blossoms.

maypoleThe Maypole is an important element to Beltane festivities, it is a tall pole decorated with long brightly colored ribbons, leaves, flowers and wreaths. Young maidens and lads each hold the end of a ribbon, and dance revolving around the base of the pole, interweaving the ribbons. The circle of dancers should begin, as far out from the pole as the length of ribbon allows, so the ribbons are pulled tight. There should be an even number of boys & girls. Boys should be facing clockwise and girls counterclockwise. They each move in the direction that they are facing, weaving with the next, around to braid the ribbons over-and-under around the pole. Those passing on the inside will have to duck, those passing on the outside raise their ribbons to slide over. As the dances revolve around the pole the ribbons will weave creating a pattern, it is said that the pattern will indicate the abundance of harvest year.

The Maypole dance is an important aspect of encouraging the return of fertility to the earth….it’s symbolism.  It’s not just an insinuation of  sex (the union of male and female which creates new life) but also is the connector of the three worlds. Dancing the Maypole during Beltane is magical experience as it is a conduit of energy, connecting all three worlds at a time when these gateways are more easily penetrable. As people happily dance around and around the pole holding the brightly colored ribbons, the energy it raises is sent down into the earth’s womb, bringing about Her full awakening and fruitfulness.

bonfire beltaneFire is still the most important element of most Beltane celebrations and there are many traditions associated with it. It is seen to have purifying qualities which cleanse and revitalize. People leap over the Beltane fire to bring good fortune, fertility (of mind, body and spirit) and happiness through the coming year.  Beltane rituals would often include courting: for example, young men and women collecting blossoms in the woods and lighting fires in the evening. These rituals would often lead to matches and marriages, either immediately in the coming summer or autumn.  Other festivities involved fire which was thought to cleanse, purify and increase fertility. Cattle were often passed between two fires and the properties of the flame and the smoke were seen to ensure the fertility of the herd.

The three days before and the three days after Beltane are super powerful times for healing work, psychic meditation, and setting intentions/affirmations into motion.  Beltane is a time of divination and communion with Fairy Folk/Nature Spirits.  Long ago the indigenous people saw how the energy that runs through the “ley lines” of the Earth (power points or meridians) gets stronger and more intense at the equinox and solstice and mini-equinox or mini-solstice times. The electromagnetic field of the Earth is intensified, creating a rich atmosphere for tapping into the energy part of your being. . .the spiritual side or psychic side. This aspect of you is more readily available during the three days leading into one of these times and for the three days afterwards.

The May waters were also seen to have magickal influence.  A common Beltane tradition included Rolling in May Eve dew or washing your face in pre-dawn May Day dew for health, luck, beauty.  Also, getting your head and hair wet in Beltane rain to bless the head.  A common practice was Blessing springs, ponds, other sacred waters with flowers, garlands, ribbons, and other offerings.  People would collect sacred waters and scry in sacred springs, wells, ponds, and other waters.

There would be gatherings and exchanges of Flowers and Greens on May Eve, pre-dawn May Day, Beltane.  People would decorate their homes, barns, and other buildings with Green budding branches, including Hawthorn. Yellow flowers such as primrose, rowan, hawthorn, gorse, hazel and marsh marigold were set at doorways and windows.  Making and wearing of garland wreaths of Flowers and/or Greens.  May Baskets were given or placed secretly on doorsteps to friends, shut-ins, lovers, others.  Oatmeal and dairy products was the food of choice during this time also used for offerings to nature spirits or faeries.

beltane32Beltane is a popular time for pagan weddings or Handfastings, a traditional betrothal for ‘a year and a day’ after which the couple would either choose to stay together or part without recrimination. Today, the length of commitment is a matter of choice for the couple, and can often be for life. Handfasting ceremonies are often unique to the couple, but include common elements, most importantly the exchange of vows and rings (or a token of their choice). The act of handfasting always involves tying the hands Handfasting (‘tying the knot’) of the two people involved, in a figure of eight, at some point in the ceremony and later unbinding. This is done with a red cord or ribbon. Tying the hands together symbolizes that the two people have come together and the untying means that they remain together of their own free will.

However, in addition to sexual fertility, Beltane is also about abundance, in many forms. Don’t just focus on material gains… it’s about the growth of the earth and its bounty, and it’s about increasing your own spiritual and emotional wealth.  Overall, it is a good time for celebration, play, creative activity, and real “magic.”