October 30, 2016
October 30, 2016
Samhain is a time like no other, in that we can watch as the earth literally dies for the season. Leaves fall from the trees, the crops have gone brown, and the land once more becomes a desolate place. However, at Samhain, when we take the time to remember the dead, we can take time to contemplate this endless cycle of life, death, and eventual rebirth.
For this ritual, you’ll want to decorate your altar with symbols of life and death. You’ll want to have on hand a white candle and a black one, as well as black, red, and white ribbon in equal lengths (one set for each participant). Finally, you’ll need a few sprigs of rosemary.
Perform this rite outside if at all possible. If you normally cast a circle, do so now. Say:
Samhain is here, and it is a time of transitions.
The winter approaches, and the summer dies.
This is the time of the Dark Mother,
a time of death and of dying.
This is the night of our ancestors
and of the Ancient Ones.
Place the rosemary on the altar.
If you are doing this as a group ceremony, pass it around the circle before placing on the altar. Say:
Rosemary is for remembrance,
and tonight we remember those who have
lived and died before us,
those who have crossed through the veil,
those who are no longer with us.
We will remember.
Turn to the north, and say:
The north is a place of cold,
and the earth is silent and dark.
Spirits of the earth, we welcome you,
knowing you will envelope us in death.
Turn to face the east, and say:
The east is a land of new beginnings,
the place where breath begins.
Spirits of air, we call upon you,
knowing you will be with us as we depart life.
Face south, saying:
The south is a land of sunlight and fire,
and your flames guide us through the cycles of life.
Spirits of fire, we welcome you,
knowing you will transform us in death.
Finally, turn to face the west, and say:
The west is a place of underground rivers,
and the sea is a never-ending, rolling tide.
Spirits of water, we welcome you,
knowing you will carry us
through the ebbs and flows of our life.
Light the black candle, saying:
The Wheel of the Year turns once more,
and we cycle into darkness.
Next, light the white candle, and say:
At the end of that darkness comes light.
And when it arrives, we will celebrate once more.
Each person takes a set of ribbons – one white, one black, and one red. Say:
White for life, black for death,
red for rebirth.
We bind these strands together
remembering those we have lost.
Each person should then braid or knot their three ribbons together. As you do so, focus on the memories of those you have lost in your life.
While everyone is braiding or knotting, say:
Please join me in chanting as you work your energy and love into your cords:
As the corn will come from grain,
All that dies will rise again.
As the seeds grow from the earth,
We celebrate life, death and rebirth.
Finally, ask everyone to take their knotted ribbons home with them and place them on their personal altar if they have one. That way, they can be reminded of their loved ones each time they pass by.
Note: Rosemary is used in this rite because although it seems to go dormant over the winter, if you keep it in a pot you’ll get new growth in the spring. If there’s another plant you’d rather use, feel free.
Ritual to celebrate the cycle of life and death
October 30, 2016
It is believed that if you listen to the wind at a crossroads on Samhain just before midnight, you’ll hear all you need to know for the year ahead.
Spend time outdoors on Halloween Eve, listening to the wind in the trees, the sound of the sea, water running over stones or bird song. Heed the words you may hear in the leaves or wind or your mind.
October 30, 2016
October 30, 2016
October 28, 2016
Night of the spirits; Feast of the Dead; New Year’s Eve; the year’s turning; Calends of winter; Summer’s End; one of the “joints of the year”; beginning of the barren time; day of divination; festival of the harvest; doorway into the new year; Mischief Night; Punky Night; Samhain; Nos Calan gaeaf; All Hallow’s Eve. These are all descriptions of one of the most important seasonal festivals of the Celtic world, the night of October 31, this evening, Halloween. In Wales it is known as Hollantide, in Cornwall Allantide, and in Brittany Kala-Goanv. Samain’s equivalent on the Christian calendar is All Saints’ Day, introduced by the Catholic church partly to supplant the pagan festival of the dead.
Halloween’s counterpart is the other great “hinge of the year”, April 30, Beltain or May Day Eve, which marks the beginning of summer. To understand the significance of these seasonal festivals, we need to step back in time for a moment, closer to the food production cycle than most of us are today. In pre-Christian Europe, most important holidays were celebrated on the evening of the day before the actual date of the transition from one season to the next, since the easiest way of measuring the passing of time was by observing a complete cycle of the moon – the origin of the English word “month”.
Samhain was the end of summer and the beginning of the new year. It coincided with the rounding up of the herds for culling and penning, the storing of crops, and the beaching and repairing of fishing boats and gear, all in preparation for the coming winter. Warfare officially came to an end at Samhain, partly for practical reasons related to weather, but raiding, especially of cattle, seems to have peaked between Michaelmas (September 29) and Martinmas (November 11), at least in the Border region of Scotland, where we have 16th century accounts of such activity during this time. Herds under cover are concentrated and easier to steal, whereas before Lammas (August 1) the cattle were dispersed in the high shielings. According to one official writing in the 16th century, at Samhain “are the fells good and drie and cattle strong to drive”. Night rides across landscapes like the Border region in Scotland looked a lot less attractive by Candlemas (February 2), due to the foul weather and the weaker state of the cattle. So Samhain was known in some, but not all, Celtic regions as as the feast of peace and friendship, during which no weapon was lifted. Hunting in Scotland also appears to have been limited by law to the period from Beltain to Samhain, in order to give the deer and especially the wild pig, a chance to breed. Samhain coincides with the onset of the breeding season of the wild pig, which lasts from November to January. The pig, wild or domestic, was thus the “sacrificial” animal of Samhain, and it is the pig that is associated with tribute from clients to lords: The Irish law tracts specify that “the name of the food that is carried to the lord before Christmas…is the Samhain pig.” The Catholic Church added its own explanation, depicting St. Patrick as giving the original Samhain pig to St. Martin, in gratitude for his tonsure.
Animals that might not make it through the winter were slaughtered at Samhain, to be consumed in communal feasts associated with the festival. The pastoral basis of the two halves of the year shows up in the terms used to describe food: meat was called “winter food” while dairy produce was called “summer food” or “white meat”. The timing of Samhain coincided with the availability of large stocks of food after the harvest, which is why this was the time that political assemblies were called, fairs and regional markets were held, horse races and other competitions were organized, and religious rituals were celebrated to mark the passing of the old year. According to the Irish sources, the Assembly of Tara, the seat of the High King of Ireland, the most important of the oneachs, or fairs, was held on Samhain. Alcoholic beverages such as mead and beer would also have been available in large quantities at this time of year, since the period just after the harvest meant a surplus of grain was available for the production of alcohol, which had to be consumed quickly in the days before refrigeration.
The evening of the day before a new season marked a boundary in time in the Celtic world. Thresholds and boundaries, in both time and space, were important to the Celts, as can be seen in the archaeological as well as written sources. Prehistoric burial mounds often are surrounded by ditches, post rows or stone walls, as are churchyard cemeteries. Such boundaries work both ways – they protect the dead from the living, and vice versa. On Halloween, according to Celtic tradition, the boundaries thin out and dissolve. The mounds of the dead – the sidh in Irish – are thought to open on Samhain. The association between Halloween and ghosts and spirits today comes from the Celtic belief that it was at this time of transition between the old year and the new that the barrier between this world and the Otherworld where the dead and supernatural beings lived became permeable. Humans could be tricked into passing through to the other side, and might not be able to return to the world of the living, while the inhabitants of the supernatural realm were thought to be able to pass more easily into our world.
Halloween Lecture: Halloween customs in the Celtic world