I love Halloween. I’d trade in Thanksgiving and Easter for another day or two of Samhain and, if I got to decide on these things, it would be a holiday. Instead of spending the day in the kitchen cooking and cleaning while the extended family rehash the old fights over football games and other assorted mind-numbers on TV, on All Hallows we have licence for one magical day to indulge the darker half of ourselves.
Samhain, the dark winter half of the year, commences on this Sabbat which one of the two spirit-nights, the other being Beltane in the summer. It is a magical interval when the veil between the worlds is thin. The departed journey through this world at Samhain on their way to the Summerlands, so communication with them is easier. It is a a time to honour the Dark Mother and the Dark Father, symbolized by the Crone and her aged Consort.
It’s a ritual, a festival, as old as time, originally the “Feast of the Dead” was celebrated in Celtic countries . The Greater Sabbat has also been known as Third Harvest, Samana, Day of the Dead, Old Hallowmas (Scottish/Celtic), Vigil of Saman, Shadowfest (Strega), Samhuinn, All Hallow’s Eve, (that day actually falls on November 7th), and Martinmas (that is celebrated November 11th). Samhain is considered the Witch’s New Year.
Many of our Halloween traditions have their roots in those practices, although they have been whitewashed of their original spiritual potency and turned into games. Do you recognize some of these in the candy and costumes of today?
Food offerings were left on altars and doorsteps for the wandering dead.
Single candles were set out on a window ledge or near the door to guide the soul of a loved one home.
Extra chairs were set to the table and around the hearth for the unseen guest.
Apples were buried along roadsides and paths for spirits who were lost or had no descendants to provide for them.
Turnips were hollowed out and carved to look like protective spirits on this night of magic and chaos.
The Wee Folk became very active, pulling pranks on unsuspecting humans, so travelling after dark was was not advised.
People dressed in white (like ghosts), wore disguises made of straw, or dressed as the opposite gender in order to fool the Nature spirits.
Crops still in the field on Samhain were considered taboo, and left as offerings to the Nature spirits.
Bonfires were built, (originally called bone-fires, for after feasting, the bones were thrown in the fire as offerings for healthy and plentiful livestock in the New Year) and stones were marked with peoples names. Then they were thrown into the fire, to be retrieved in the morning. The condition of the retrieved stone foretold of that person’s fortune in the coming year.
Hearth fires were also lit from the village bonfire to ensure unity, and the ashes were spread over the harvested fields to protect and bless the land.
Not having any Wicca friends to practice the old ways with, I will celebrate All Hallows in a costume that reflects a side of me that doesn’t fit in my everyday life and (over) indulge in some modern forms of bacchanalia.
And on Monday night I’ll be at my front door in something a little more . . .acceptable . . to hand out candy to all those cute little ghouls and ghosts, princesses and superheroes.
Only for All Hallows . . some 30 Seconds to Mars . . .censored version, but still fair warning it won’t be everyone’s taste.