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Samhain ~October 31st

Death is a part of the life cycle.  At Samhain, we recognize and honor the end of life, and await the mysteries of transformation.  We can see the death around us each year at this time...the death of the summer season and the dry withered plants that once bore food for us and our animal and insect friends.  The trees are asleep, and their bare, bonelike limbs are directly exposed to the elements. 

Samhain is one of two seasonal festivals that are still practiced in modern times to some degree, and on the same day of the year as the ancients observed them.  The likeness of Halloween's symbolism to Samhain is pretty obvious, but many may not know that the Celtic New Year's Eve is also observed on this day. 

As I mentioned before, Samhain is an observance of death, and this is the time to remember and honor our loved ones who have died.

Samhain is also a celebration of the crone and her wisdom.  The crone is part of the modern Halloween's symbolism, but is seen as a gastly hag called a "witch", and is someone to be feared.  Being a crone is part of the lifecycle of a woman, and to honor her as crone in the Samhain sense is to recognize her wisdom and power, and recognize the value of her presence and gifts to our society. 

Samhain is a time of fantasy and intuition.  It calls us to bring out the parts of ourselves that we are just discovering...or have been hiding from ourselves or others.  Making and wearing creative costumes on this day is a way to "try on" these new parts of ourselves.

It is said of Samhain that the boundary between our world and the spirit world is quite transparent on this night, and that we can be recipients of information and wisdom from the spirits.  These spirits can be loved ones that have moved on from our world, or others.  It is also said that unwanted spirits can penetrate through, as well, and that symbolic steps can be taken to assure our safety. 

Halloween has been one of my favorite holidays since early childhood.  I loved the traditions, including pumpkin-carving and making a special, origonal costume every year.  We had a backyard that was thickly wooded, and before going to bed on Halloween night, I would quietly walk through the yard, pausing to sit and observe what my senses were telling me.  There was the  rustling of the leaves in gentle autumn breezes, the smell of dry leaves crunching beneath my feet, and the sense of magic and spirits all around me.  Their mystery and presence made me feel that there was something more to Halloween than I had learned from  our modern day customs.  Somehow, I knew these customs had ancient origins and meanings that were unknown to me. 

I was so happy to find meanings for our modern day Halloween traditions in the celebration of Samhain.  Combining the fun of Halloween with the meanings and traditions of Samhain brings much more richness and depth to this time of year.  It can provide a starting point of discovering our ancient memories of our human existance.  It was what I was looking for long ago in my backyard on Halloween night. 

Here is a description of our observance of Samhain last year.  Much of the traditions we observe come from Cait Johnson and Maura D. Shaws's book, Celebrating The Great Mother.

For a few days before the 31st, I took some time to carve a few jack-o-lanterns.  One had bats and stars on it, another had a funny face, and a few small pumpkins on our altar were covered with carved spirals.  In old European tradition, turnips were carved  and lit with candles to illuminate for our deceased loved ones, as a way to light the way back to us.  They also serve as a form of protection from unfriendly spirits.  I haven't yet tried to carve a turnip, but I carve the pumpkin in the same spirit. 

On the day of the 31st, I made a quiet visit to my now spent vegetable garden, and mindfully pulled up the dead, dry remains of the plants, and put them in the compost pile.  This was symbollic of returning the dead things to the earth, and of clering my life of that which I have outgrown, in order to make room for new growth.  I also saved a few seed pods from the beans and wildflowers to plant the following year. 

We made a special meal on Samhain/Halloween evening, in honor of our dead loved ones.  The meal included: a pork roast, saurkraut (in honor of my grandpa), rice (in honor of my husband's sister), roasted potatoes and carrots (root vegetables, symbolic of the winter season of diverting energy inward for personal growth) and a delicious sweet potato-pumpkin soup.  I also made a loaf of rye bread, as dark breads are traditionally served at this time.  We had pumpkin pie for dessert, after trick-or-treat time.  We ate by soft candlelight, which always makes our meals special.  We set a place at the table with a small plate of the food for our honored loved ones, and after the meal, put the plate outside with a candle for the wandering spirits in the night. 

We lit the jack-o-lanterns at sunset, and waited for the trick-or-treaters.  My son was not into trick-or-treat last year, (at age two) so we stayed home to answer the door.  Several of his friends stopped by throughout the evening, though. 

After pumpkin pie, I did some divinity meditation with lima bean runes, which I made according to the instructions in Celebrting the Great Mother.  I chose three beans, (from a purple pouch I made) and dwelt on the messages of my chosen runes, and how I could use the information in my life. 

You can find more ways people observe Samhain, and other seasonal rites in the following web sites:

           The Witches Sanctuary        Mary's Witchy Page

Links to seasonal rites on this page: (including what is planned)

   Yule   Imbolc   Ostara   Beltane    Litha Lughnasad   Mabon

return to the main Seasonal Celebrations page

graphics on this page are generously provided by the talented individuals who own these sites:

page updated: October 6, 1999

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