Sparks from the hearth
Of the Queen of Death and Life
Swarm through the dark,
Dance through the Night.
by J. Robin Gall
from Second Chants, Serpentine Music Productions
This is the Great Sabbat of Samhain (pronounced SAH-wen, or SOW (rhymes with cow) -wen), and is the third and final harvest, marking Summer’s end.
It is the celebration of the New Year in both the old Celtic calendar and also in many traditions of the Craft. In the Northern Hemisphere, this marks the midpoint between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice (although by strict astronomically reckoning that falls on Nov. 7 this year).
Samhain is the opposite point of the year from the celebrations of life and fertility of May Day, or Beltane, which our friends below the equator are celebrating today. Merry Beltane to you all!
Our modern culture is deeply afraid of, and alienated from, the natural cycles of living, aging and dying. And yet we make morbid fascination with violence, death and horror some of our favorite entertainment pastimes. In contrast, our ancestors knew (and the Wise remember) to honor and embrace the truth that all life must pass.
Our ancestors 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. Thus, tonight is an important time to set a place at the table for your beloved dead, and give offerings to those who have crossed over to the Summerlands.
The most fierce Faery races, 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. This was also known as The Wild Hunt.
Therefore, it was considered very dangerous 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.
They are the Wise Ones who tolerate 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. So let us vow: Never again the Burnings!
Speaking of which, 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 placed on 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 strictly a Christian creation. There is no entity of this kind anywhere in the beliefs or practices of Witchcraft or Paganism.
Throughout history and across cultures, the myths of the death and the 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 was held at this time. Now is when 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.
And so it would seem that our receiving The Sun for our Card of the Week is not strange, after all!
The Druids know it as Samhuinn, and 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.