According to the LAROUSSE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYTHOLOGY, the practice of Samhain rituals dates back to the epoch of the Tuatha Da Danaan (the Father of Al1), circa. 6000 B.C. It was a custom in those days to extinguish all fires in the village for at least one full day and then have everyone rekindle their hearths from the central fire. This promoted a sense of union between all members of the hamlet, stressed the importance of the sun and the fire it brought, and nurtured a community spirit.
In the Irish romance Fionn's Bovhood, the mystical nature of Samhain was expressed. In one instance, there is reverence to the Bean-Sidhe (woman of the Hill), who would wail in prophetic anticipation whenever anyone of royal blood was about to die and her shrieks would be heard every Samhain. In another mention, the entrances to the burial caves were left open at Samhain, to allow the spirits of the heroes to come out for an airing; and the interiors were illuminated until cock-crow the next morning. The spirits of the sacred kings of bronze age Ireland were believed to have gone to "Caer Sidi", the Castle of Ariadne, (also referred to as the "Spiral Castle.") where the Cauldron of Inspiration was housed. There was believed to be a revolving wheel before the door of the castle, and no one could enter or exit until it was stilled.
The spiritual significance of Samhain is most important. The festival is regarded as the New Year and also the "Festival of the Dead." Death is mexely a door which opens to another life. It is believed that at this time of year the souls of the dead can walk amongst the living. On the night of Samhain, the doors are opened, the veil between life and death is at its and the revolving wheel guarding the gates of the Spiral Castle has stopped for a brief moment. Legend has it that fairies are active and abroad at this time.
Like all of the traditional Celtic fire festivals, bonfires were lit on the highest hills and the hearth fires were solemnly rekindled from the community fires. This night and all of the first week of November once blazed with ritual fires - on which the early Celts symbolically burned all the frustrations and anxieties of the preceding year. Such rituals in pare-Christian times were overseen by the Druid priests.
Of course, the Roman Catholic Church tried to Christianize SAMHAIN by making November s "Al1 Saints Day", and the night of October 3lst "All Hallows Eve" in tribute to the saints of the past. Again, it was in veneration of the dead. The Church had some problems with assimilating this celebration into its religious agenda because of prevailing pagan influences at the time, so it was banned from their calendar altogether in the mid 1100's and was not reinstated again until 1928, when the Church felt confident that the pagan belief systems were no longer a threat. The Church by then had assumed that the old pagan associations with the holiday were at last forgotten ... perhaps a premature supposition?
An ancient ritual practiced to this day by some groups involves calling the departed to the realm of the living to help them to resolve whatever holds them to the lower tral plane, and to find solace and guidance along their trek through reincarnation. The jack-o-lantern was used in times past as a beacon to the dead. Restless souls were summoned to "come to the light" by participants in the ceremony. Everyone wore black to represent the fragile veil between the dusk and the dawn, the living and the dead. An apple was passed slowly around the circle and cloves were inserted into the fruit to represent each departed spirit being guided to the light. The ritual itself is very beautiful, loving, and emotionally spellbinding.
Excerpted from "The Wheel of the Year" by Kia Marie Wolfe
The leaves whirl through the air, picked up and spun by invisible hands. To the eyes, and earthy rainbow of reds and yellows and browns against a bright blue sky; to the ears, the crisp rustle of the brittle, fragile leaves. These signs mark the end of the fertility for another year, as Nature prepares for a well-deserved rest.
Is it odd that we celebrate the beginning of a new year at this time of seemingly imminent death? Odd, perhaps, to those who do not understand (but then again, they celebrate in the midst of Winter). For us, it only makes sense.
For what is death but a new beginning, a start of something yet to come? In the garden, we plant very dead looking bulbs under a mulch of dead looking leaves; forgotten for the snowy months, only to reappear in the Spring, alive and full of color. In that apparent death, we begin anew the cycle of life. The beginning is now upon us.
Perhaps our minds work in a similar fashion. The coming wintry months are a time of darkness, but darkness is not to be feared, but welcomed as Nature welcomes her sleep. For many, the seeds of growth are sown now, at the coming of the new year. They are not to be forced, but allowed to rest within out minds as the bulbs rest within the frozen soil, protected by the season.
For Winter is a time of quiet reflection, of gaining the knowledge within. When the days grow longer once more and the warmth returns, that which was planted at Samhain can grow in a more fertile place. Do not despair the coming darkness, let it wrap you in a protective (if not very warm) blanket. Let your mind roam into itself, and hold the seeds within you close, preparing for the growth to come.