Musings on Samhain.
A Brief History.
Pronounced "sow-en", Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest and heralding the beginning of winter. It was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter. In medieval Ireland the festival marked the end of the season for trade and warfare and was an ideal date for tribal gatherings. These gatherings are a popular setting for early Irish tales. It marks the time when the veil between our worlds is thinnest, and when fairies et al can be best seen - think fairy rings of mushrooms, crop circles and the like.
Samhain was a time to take stock of one's cattle and supplies, making sure that all was ready for winter. It was also a time to determine which cattle would be slaughtered, ready for the months ahead. In terms of Wicca, it is seen as a time to pay your respects to the dead, ie elders of the faith, family members, friends etc who have gone to the Summerlands (the pagan version of the afterlife).
Samhain In Popular Culture.
Samhain became known as All Hallow's Eve, or Halloween, shortly after the Roman conquests. At this time, it became a festival to celebrate the lives of the departed and to look through the veil in order to communicate with the dead. It has seen many rituals of varying natures, and pagans often decorate their altars to celebrate the festival. Autumnal colours, falling leaves, conkers and the like often adorn the altars, and for children it is a time to dress up as witches, cats, ghosts and other spooky characters.
Halloween has now become associated with witches with green faces a la The Wizard of Oz (see below), and has become more about the fun of it than the ancient rituals. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it allows all ages to become involved in a fantastic festival, and can also serve to educate people about not only Samhain as a festival, but paganism and Wicca as a faith. Thankfully, most people will ask me about my "get-up", since I usually wander about in full regalia - black top and skirt, dark green velvet cape, black nails and plain yet sombre makeup - and am more than happy to answer questions.
Halloween is also a time for the film industry to bring out all it's "scary" movies (think exorcism films, horror films, zombie films and the like), which is rather amusing given that the purpose of Samhain is not to scare, but to reflect! I always find the movies themselves rather amusing, since they do very little to actually scare me. Exorcisms films are possibly the only films that truly scare me, but that is down to a rather sensible fear of dark magick (curses, hexes etc) rather than a fear of the Devil!
My Own Take on Samhain.
For me, Samhain has always been about remembering those who have passed on. Sadly, since my family isn't young, there are more and more names being added to the list with each passing year. They are listed below.
- Margaret Tester aka Nanna Peggy 03/08/2003.
- Sophie Rhodes 13/10/2006.
- Richard Evans 06/12/2006.
- Jean Rhodes 10/06/2010.
- John Stathers 15/02/2012.
- Mary Taggart 18/05/2013.
They will always be remembered with love and affection, as will my friends Keith Woodger and Tony Regan, who sadly passed away in the last few years. Some day we will all meet again in the Summerlands. You may have your own family and friends to remember, and I hope that you take some time to think of them. Know that they are watching over you, almost like guardian angels, and will be keeping you safe throughout your life.
Samhain is also a time for my own cleansings, both spiritual and material. It's a time for me to take stock of the past year - my faults, my achievements and my losses. I clear out all the things from the past year that I don't necessarily need or want, and then spend some time meditating. This year I will have the company of my two black Bombay kittens and their younger tortoiseshell sibling, which will be fun! It's shaping up to be the best Samhain I've had so far.