Thursday, October 31, 2013

HALLOWEEN IS NOT SAMHAIN

Regular readers might find me to be a broken record, but I suppose I am something of an evangelist for true Samhain.  I am not trying to take away from another way of celebrating Samhain, but instead wish that all witches knew the true roots of this, our most important Feast Day.

Samhain is from sunset on November 7th to sunset on November 8th this year (2013).

Samhain ("sou-en" or "sow-en") is the ancestor of Halloween, or All Hallows Eve.  The Druids discovered the day and marked it.  It occurs when the sun is approximately 15 degrees of Scorpio, the actual calculation (the opening of the doorway between the worlds) having to do with the position of the Pleiades in relation to the centre of the Milky Way galaxy. The Catholic Church took the Feast for themselves, and at the time, the Eve was on the 31st. (An alternate theory is that they specifically chose a date when there was no chance of the spirits being present, to divert people away from an otherworld that was not Catholic.)

The Druids marked a new day when the sun set, not at sunrise, or midnight.  Samhain was the Druidic New Year.  It began at sunset, and Samhain itself was considered the Twilight of the Year.  The period between Samhain and the Winter Solstice- the rebirth of the sun, the "dawn" of the year- was considered a fallow time.  Many witches, myself included, do not practice magick during this time.

The Celts were mainly pastoral, that is herders, not agricultural farmers.  Bealtaine, which marked the other half of their year, was the Feast of Fertility, the mating of the herds and the departure of shepherds to the fields. (They had only two divisions to the year- probably not marking the other "Quarter Days", the modern Pagan Feasts of Imbolc and Lughnassadh. Samhain remains the month name for November in Irish, and Bealtaine the name for May).

The week preceding Samhain was the annual slaughter of the animals, an echo of this remains in the Circle chant "Red Blood/ White Bone/ Black Earth/ Harvest Home" of  modern witches.  The Feast itself lasted a week.

Halloween is mostly an American tradition.  A melting pot of beliefs from different European traditions, along with the addition of New World foods.  Irish children would have carried a carved turnip in their pockets, as protection from visiting spirits with malevolent intent.  The "tricks and treats" were for the dead- people would leave out offerings to appease the spirits, and also be prepared with various "tricks" (charms and riddles) to ward off ghouls and non-human entities. 

(It's not just Mercury retrograde messing with you right now. The pixies are out of control this year.  Leave them a dish of cream with some honey and ring a bell.  Hopefully they will stop stealing your keys and messing with your electronic devices.)

If you tune into the energies, Samhain is unmistakeable.  It is the busiest night of the year for Mediums.  I celebrate with a Feast for my ancestors and I burn Chinese Hell Money in the bonfire for them, along with other offerings- letters, incense and herbs. I put out a jack o lantern out and a few apples or pomegranates for the hungry ghosts, and leave a candle burning all night.

Happy Halloween, and Samhain Blessings!