We dance around in a ring and suppose,
but the secret sits in the middle and knows.
— Robert Frost
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, and is the opposite point of the year from the celebrations of life and fertility of May Day, or Beltane (which is being celebrated today by our friends and beloveds below the Equator). The Celtic ancestors divided the year into two seasons – the light half and the dark. With Samhain, the dark time commences.
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. This period lasts from October 31 through the last night of November.
On this day, we honor the Dark Mother and Crone aspects of the Goddess. We give thanks for the many gifts of Cerridwen, Hecate, Hel, Kali, the Norns, the Morrigan, and the Baba Yaga, for these are the Wise Ones who challenge us to grow beyond our comfort zones, to face our truth, and be fully engaged in the sacredness of our lives with the realization that our current incarnation is finite.
In addition, on this most holy day of our year, we remember all those who have been burned, beaten, drowned, tortured, and murdered as Witches. Witchcraft continues to be persecuted today. Sarah Palin, the woman who could be only one heartbeat away from the Presidency of the United States, in fact, is proud of her relationship and the magical blessings she has received from a man whose priesthood is founded upon the torment and persecution of Witchcraft. He has even called Buddhism and Hinduism “witchcraft and sorcery.”
Witch burnings in today’s world might seem a bit unreal, but think again. In the long view of history, what little tolerance we are given is very recent and could vanish in a twinkling. For loss of child custody, harassment in schools and the workplace, and hate crimes towards those who identify as Wiccan, Pagan, and other forms of Earth-based spirituality are an everyday fact of life in 2008 America. May the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution one day be, in fact, fully honored.
Hecate © Joanna Powell Colbert
Finally, let us not forget that the last day of every month, and especially this night, is sacred to Hecate, Queen 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 and lovingly; may you celebrate and remember your beloved dead; and may the Dark Mother cradle you with Her infinite compassion and wisdom.