Samhain. (pronounces sow-in)
The wheel of the year says It is Samhain fire festival time, and the season is about to change as our ancestors head into the long cold months of winter where everything around them is about to become dormant as the Goddess goes underground with her consort the Holly King to prepare for the coming of new life. Winter was considered with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Samhain was the last gasp of summer.
The community has made preparations for their survival. The cattle have been brought indoors for the winter. The harvest has been reaped and carefully stored and those animals for which there is insufficient fodder have been humanely slaughtered, their meat salted and diligently hung in cold-houses. The berries and fruits are preserved or made into wine and beer. Seeds have been saved for next years crop. Cheeses hang in a muslin cloth and herbs for food and medicine are stored in cleverly crafted boxed made from the appropriate trees. Bunches of herbs hang to dry from the ceiling of the storage room and bins of grain are stored for making bread during their confinement. The wood is piled neatly outdoors to stoke the winter fires.
Tonight is the Samhain celebration and the Druids have gathered once more to perform the rituals and guide the tribe. It is a time of chaos, a time where order and structure are abolished for three days and people from the community have been running amuck around the village, cross-dressing, moving horses to different fields, unhinging gates on local farms and generally playing pranks. The children have been knocking on their neighbour’s doors asking for treats. This custom of ‘trick or treating is what we refer to as Hallowe’en – which takes place on the 31st October after the Christians turned this festival into All Hallows day.
The reason for this mayhem was because the Druids knew that psychologically people needed to let loose before they were forced to stay indoors for such a long period of time. The veil is said to be the thinnest at this point of the wheel and it was a great time for divination – and talking to the dead. The tradition of pumpkin heads probably came from the practice of placing human skulls on fence posts to frighten off evil spirits. It seems barbaric to us, but these are different times.
The crowd has assembled on the hilltop to celebrate the gathering of the harvest and the beginning of winter. The Chief Druid begins the formal ceremony by casting a circle and opening the quarters, inviting the guardians of each to enter and guard. He explains that just as the trees let go of their leaves in winter, it is a time for them to let go of all their unwanted baggage, fears, and negative patterning.
He lights the fire by drawing down the divine flame and pointing at the pile of dried wood in the centre of the gathering. His apprentice watches in awe. He invites those spirits of the other world – friends, teachers, and relatives who have passed on – to join them.
People are invited to throw on the fire gifts they have brought with them which they wish to give to the gods, in hope that they would look favourably upon the land and improve the soil, thus ensuring a good crop in the following year. Members of each family lit a torch from the fire and took it back to their homes to light their hearth-fire.
Samhain ritual for the solitary witch
Do a budget.
Throw a party and/or family gathering.
Write a list of all the things that you feel no longer serve you and burn it – either in a candle flame or your Samhuinn ritual fire.
Tune into your dead friends and ask for their guidance.
Read a biography of someone you admire.
Dance as if no one is watching.
Go through your wardrobe and cull everything that you haven’t worn for the last few years.
Revamp or recycle.