Tuesday, 4 November 2008


(Pronounced Sow-in)
(31st October)

Samhaine, or Halloween, marks the beginning and the end of the year when Mother Earth rests to gather her strength for the turning tides of nature, affirming rebirth in the midst of darkness. As the leaves begin to fall, and the nights are long, this is the time to gather together to hear the old stories. The Celts called it Samhaine, which means 'summer's end', according to their ancient two-fold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltaine to Samhaine and winter ran from Samhaine to Beltaine.

Samhaine was the time of the slaughter, and preservation in salt, of livestock for winter meat and for the selection of the fittest animals for future breeding. Some suggest an earlier explanation of Samhaine that refers to a time when the Shamans would enter the Realms of the Dead at the first frosts, to conduct the souls of the recently departed to their place of rest, and to bring back knowledge and enlightenment. Many of our myths reflect this image and are good to tell at this time of year when the nights draw in.

To those who celebrate this time, Samhaine is one of the four High Holidays, Greater Sabbats, or cross-quarter days. Because it is the most important holiday of the year, it is sometimes called 'THE Great Sabbat.' With such an important holiday, some people often hold two distinct celebrations. For some Samhaine is a time for one of the more serious rituals and children are not always invited, but adaptations can be made and children can be made welcome. Since my daughter has been old enough we have celebrated Samhaine with children.

Bobbing for apples is one activity popular at this time of year. This may well represent the remnants of a Pagan 'baptism' rite called a 'seining', according to some. The water-filled tub is a latter-day Cauldron of Regeneration, into which the novice's head is immersed. The custom of dressing in costume and 'trick-or-treating', not just by children, is of Celtic origin with survivals particularly strong in Scotland. In ancient times, roving bands would sing seasonal carols from house to house, making the tradition very similar to Yuletide wassailing.

In ancient time Samhaine was believed to be a time when the veil was thin between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The dead are our friends and family, our ancestors who gave us life. We call them our ‘beloved dead’. Death is a natural part of life and one of the gifts of the Goddess.

Samhaine is a time to look back over the year and count our blessings, the time to get out our photographs and put them in albums or on a wall display, the time to ask ‘what have we done for the garden?' 'What have we learned that helped us or made us happy?' This is the time when we clean our house from top to bottom to prepare for and welcome the ancestors. It might be good to visit the family graves and do some brass rubbings.

At this time of year we like to mark the festival with a gathering of friends around a fire - outdoors if weather permits. Here are some of the ideas I have used successfully: We sometimes use two candles to mark the passing of the year, a black one for the old year and white for the new. A simple way is to light the black candle and let it burn away completely. While this happens we write on pieces of paper anything that we do not want to take forward into the New Year with us; for example any negative thoughts or beliefs we might have, or anything we might have done that we wished we could do differently. We don't tell anyone what these are. We then throw them on the fire and let them burn. One of us will read something appropriate about the turning of the year or we will tell a seasonal story. When the candle has burned down we light the white candle and write on pieces of paper things that we want to take forward into the New Year. We keep these pieces of paper and take them home with us. Then it is time to eat together and share seasonal food and drink, for example apple and honey cakes, oatcakes and cider. Plenty of vegetables in a stew can be enjoyed and fruit salad to celebrate the harvest. One year our friend, Rae, asked us each to make a weaving of our experiences through the year. Those of us who remembered brought back a beautiful representation of our year and shared them with the group. They were far too beautiful to burn so they have been kept as a happy reminder of our Samhaine gathering.

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