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Samhain and the Turning of the Wheel
The first thing to know about the Pagan/Wicca holiday of Samhain is that it is not pronounced "sam-hane," it is properly pronounced "sow-when." The name comes from Celtic tradition. Sometimes referred to as the Witches New Year, this is one of the most widely-observed of the Neo-Pagan holidays, as well as simultaneously being one of the most solomon and joyous.
This holiday marks the transition from the old year to the new one, a simultaneous celebration of an ending and a beginning. Parts of the ritual often honor and make note of those who have passed during the past year as well as welcoming those who were newly-born. With some belief systems, the time of year passes into Winter and a time of preparedness and gathering of resources before growing. For some, from Samhain until Yule is a special time of "no time" that exists between the worlds, and in a somewhat grey area of the calendar where it's no season until Yule begins in December.
Samhain stands opposite Beltane on the Wheel, and the two are viewed as balancing opposites. Much as Beltane heralds the coming of the peak of light, Samhain very distinctly makes note that the deepest dark is still to come at Yule. There are many associations with divination, either talking with ancient ancestors or making prognostications for the future. The night has long had the belief of having more conductive spiritual energy for hundreds of years.
A Samhain Sabbat Guide
Collecting materials together from various cultures, Llewellyn's guide to Samhain is a good, broad-spectrum guide for those who don't have a traditional framework on which to base their holiday celebrations. This is also a great resource if you are trying to branch out and make your Samhain observances more interfaith, to accommodate a gathering of mixed traditions.
Observe a Dumb Supper Ritual
The Samhain Dumb Supper
The date for this holiday is October 31st, the same date as the secular observance of Halloween. A lot of anti-Pagan ire is thrown at Samhain, and many mistaken people claim that the holiday is the worship of the Devil. The character known as Lucifer or Satan is not part of Neo-Pagan or Wiccan beliefs.
Samhain is a time when the beloved dead are honored and remembered, as well as a time for rejoicing for the new year and offering well wishes and blessings for times ahead. This duality happens because the calendar year is viewed as a wheel that turns, and then comes back to where it started. This night marks both an end and a beginning.
One of the more interesting rituals that some people conduct on Samhain is called a "dumb supper." This doesn't mean the meal is stupid. The usage of dumb here goes back to the archaic meaning, where "dumb" meant "silent" or "without speaking." In essence, the entire dinner party is conducted without any talking or conversation on the part of the participants.
This type of ritualized meal can be found noted in a variety of Pagan faiths. Most often the dinner happens late at night, sometimes even being served at midnight. Doors or windows to the house may be left slightly ajar to allow the blessed dead or spirits to enter the house.
For those living participants, the entire meal is served and eaten in silence. This allows each person to commune with the spirits or energies, and also symbolizes how the deceased are no longer able to speak with voices. Some people watch and listen for signs from the spirits as they dine. Plates of food for the spirits are portioned out and set at places at the table along with the corporeal guests.
History and Observances of Samhain
- Halloween: from a Wiccan / Neopagan perspective
discussion of the perceptions vs the actualities of the holiday
- The Samhain Rite - ADF Neopagan Druidism
Neopagan Druids - ADF is an international organization devoted to creating a public tradition of Neopagan Druidry.
- Silent Supper
This essay originally appeared in The Wiccan-Pagan Times, and was written in response to the September Eleventh tragedies. Some references to this event remain, but the article has been edited to include more general information and directions.
Prepare A Samhain Feast!
Dancing A Spiral Dance
One very popular ritual to include on Samhain Night is the Spiral Dance. This dance has several variations. Essentially, a line of dancers forms holding hands. The person at the very front leads the group in a twisting and turning walk/dance, around the space they are dancing in, and in and around each other.
A spiral dance can be very slow and meandering, or highly-energetic and intertwining. One of the main points of the dance is to bring the dancers into lines which pass past each other, allowing the iparticipants to look each other right in the eyes as each dancer goes past. This can bring a wonder closeness and connective energy to very large groups of people.
My first experience with this type of dance was at one of the most well-known: the San Francisco Reclaiming Collective's San Francisco Spiral Dance. Over the years this group has staged this annual Samhain spiral dance for dozens, then to hundreds and on thousands. A Wiccan-rooted participatory ritual staged for the public, this event casts sacred space, honors the dead and takes attendees on a guided meditation/trance if they so choose. The space is decorated with altars to the four elements, along with unique ones for topics like the beloved dead, animals, the environment and peace activism. It is a clean and sober event, and children are welcome.