©The glorious art of Willow Arlenea
We have come to be danced
Not the pretty dance
Not the pretty pretty, pick me, pick me dance
But the claw our way back into the belly
Of the sacred, sensual animal dance
The unhinged, unplugged, cat is out of its box dance
The holding the precious moment in the palms
Of our hands and feet dance.
We have come to be danced
Not the jiffy booby, shake your booty for him dance
But the wring the sadness from our skin dance
The blow the chip off our shoulder dance.
The slap the apology from our posture dance…
— Jewel Mathieson
Today is the Great Festival of Samhain (pronounced SAH-wen, or SOW-wen), which marks the third and final harvest and summer’s end. It is the Witches’ New Year. This is the midpoint between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice (although by strict astronomically reckoning that is Nov. 7 this year). This is the opposite point of the year from the celebrations of life and fertility of May Day, or Beltane.
In contrast to our culture, which is so deeply afraid and alienated from the natural cycles of living, aging and dying (yet makes violence, death and horror favorite entertainment pastimes), this time of year honors and embraces the wisdom that all life must pass.
Our ancestors (and, indeed, other cultures still today, by many different names) took Samhain quite seriously. Any crops not harvested by this day were known to belong to the “Shrouded One.” Ancestors not honored at this time could be expected to plague the living with ill luck. The Faery beings, led by the Lord of the Faery, Finvara, King of the Dead, ride forth, beginning on this night, with the hosts of the dead, sweeping up all the souls of those who have died within the past year.
It was considered very dangerous indeed to be out at night in areas known to be active with the Good People, from October 31 through the last night of November.
On this day, we mark the transformation of the Goddess to Her Dark Mother and Crone aspects. We give thanks for the many gifts of Cerridwen, Hecate, Hel, Kali, the Norns, the Morrigan, and the Baba Yaga, to name but a few. For these are the Wise Ones who brook no nonsense, and challenge us to grow beyond our comfort zones, to face our truth, and be fully engaged in the sacredness of our lives.
In addition, on this holy day, we remember all those who have been burned, beaten, drowned, tortured, and murdered as Witches. Witchcraft continues to be misunderstood and persecuted today. But let us vow:
As with the other great Pagan holidays, the Catholic Church found a way to Christianize this day. The Feast of All Saints, which came into existence in the 7th century, was created for November 1st under the name of All Hallows Day, from which we get the name Hallowe’en (the eve of Hallows). Today’s secular revelries of trick-or-treat, dressing in costumes, and spooky goblins and witches are but a distant echo of a solemn and deep spiritual practice from our collective past.
And as most educated people know, Samhain has nothing whatsoever to do with satan, who is a Christian creation, and does not exist in the beliefs or practices of Witchcraft or Paganism.
Throughout history and across cultures, the myths of the death and transformation cycle, as well as honoring and welcoming the spirits of our beloved dead Ancestors are a pervasive theme at this time. This is the night to seek wisdom through divination and sacred contact with the Otherworlds, while the barriers between are thin. It is a time to contemplate our own ephemeral existence in this Middle World of life, and to accept with grace our place in the Spiral Dance of life and death.
Among the ancient Sumerian people, one of the world’s first known festivals of light descending into darkness is held now as Inanna, Goddess of Life and Queen of Heaven, enters the underworld to spend the next six months with Ereshkigal, Lord of Death and Rebirth — but on condition that She spend the other six in the green places with Her summer lover Dumuzi.
In the Egyptian calendar, festivals of the sun god Ra, the cat goddess Bast and the lion goddess Sekhmet are all celebrated on this day. Sekhmet, in Her fierce aspect as Goddess of magic, the Lady of Fire and punitive destroyer of evil, is the protector of women against rape and all sexual violence.
It is also the Norse festival of the Thin Veil, so named for the belief that on this night, the opaque barrier separating the worlds of the living and the dead becomes transparent, allowing the two realms to see and interact with each other. This time also marks the annual death of Baldur and His beloved Nanna, the Goddess of flowers, both of Whom will be born again in the spring.
The last day of every month, and especially this night, is sacred to Hecate, Goddess of Witches, She who guards the crossroads. It is Hecate, Goddess of the Night, who teaches us the ancient Mysteries. Honor Her with a supper prepared in the dark of the Moon and left at a crossroads. Step this night across the threshold into your own sacred Unknown, with the blessings of Hecate.
This day and night, may the transformation you most need come to you gently, lovingly and surely. May you celebrate with your beloved dead; and may the Dark Mother cradle you with Her infinite compassion and wisdom.
Happy New Year!