Samhain: The Year Begins Anew Samhain, also known as "Hallowe'en", "All Hallows Eve", "Mallowmas", "All Saints Eve", "All Soul's Eve", "Sauin" on the Isle of Man, "Nos Galan-gaeof" (the Night of the Winter Calends) in Wales, and the "Witches' New Year" (contemporary), is traditionally celebrated on the night of October 3lst. Samhain (pronounced Sowenl is one of the original Celtic fire festivals and means "Summer's End" -when the sun's power wanes, and the strength of the gods of darkness, winter, and the underworld grows great. The activities of the year have come to fruition in the harvest and the warmth of the summer had ended. The days grow shorter and the nights stretch longer. The earth falls into a winter sleep and reawakens in the spring when life renews itself. As Beltaine marks the beginning of summer, Samhain records its end.
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
An additional note for the Samhain ritual:
This is a time for honoring the ancestors, our own personal ancestors, especially those who have gone beyond over the past year. As such, please bring something to place on the ancestor's shrine for the ritual. Memories of departed loved ones, such as photographs or personal possessions, are perfect for this.
Senior Druid's Report
As Winter quickly approaches, the land is getting ready to slumber. The trees are losing their leaves and the water system to the fields has been shut down. Camping will be available for our Samhain ritual for the hardy folks, but you'll have to bring your own water. We plan on the Samhain ritual to be a long one. Dress warm and be prepared for the weather. It will be held outdoors. Please remember to bring a dish to pass for the pot luck after the ritual. After the pot luck, we'll be going back out to the fields for a bonfire and a `wild hunt'. You might want to bring some old clothes and good footwear for this as we will be running through the fields and maze in search of the stag.
I've just returned from helping in a ritual that was being taped for an A&E documentary on modern Druids. The program will air in late March or April and includes segments on Druids in Ireland, England and the US. I'll pass along the air date as soon as I get it. That's all for now, see you on the 31st.
Return to Darkness
The new year beckons us, drawing us once more into ourselves. The darkness creeps in, more and more each day, and Nature reacts, casting off Her green canopy in a final blaze of color. For many, the darkness is a time of sadness, a time of loss, a time to fear. But it need not be so.
For we celebrate this darkness as the coming of the new year, a time for new beginnings. It is time to shed the hauntings of the previous year as the trees shed their leaves; never forgetting, but moving forward nonetheless. For the Romans, this time of year was dedicated to Janus, he who could look forward and back at the same time. We should do the same, looking back and learning, while simultaneously looking forward towards new growth.
The past cannot be changed. The longer we dwell there, the longer we are doomed never again to move forward. The present begins to be completely caught up in memories, and the future grows dim when we concentrate only on that which was missed.
It is at this time of year when the decision must be made to move beyond, to continue to grow. As the year begins anew, so too should our outlook. The coming darkness allows us a deeper glimpse into our own souls, a chance to face the most frightening aspects of the shadow. Revel in the darkness within, there is no attaining the light without it.
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