I am the hallow-tide of all souls passing,
I am the bright releaser of all pain,
I am the quickener of the fallen seed-case,
I am the glance of snow, the strike of rain.
I am the hollow of the winter twilight,
I am the hearth-fire and the welcome bread,
I am the curtained awning of the pillow,
I am unending wisdom’s golden thread.
~ Song of Samhain, Celtic Devotional:
Daily Prayers and Blessings, by Caitlín Matthews
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. 6-7, depending on your time zone).
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!
As most educated people know, Samhain has nothing whatsoever to do with “satan,” who is strictly a Christian creation. While our stories have plenty of tricksters and villains, there is no entity of supernatural evil in the beliefs or practices of Witchcraft or Paganism. More importantly, there is no myth of fundamental wrongness being at the heart of the world, or human nature.
Throughout history and across cultures, this is a time for making peace with the inevitability of death. Stories with a theme of the death and the transformation cycle, as well as rituals honoring and welcoming the spirits of our beloved dead Ancestors are a pervasive theme.
Sadly, our modern culture is alienated from, and deeply afraid of, the natural cycles of living, aging, and dying. And yet we make our morbid fascination with violence, death, and horror central to our entertainment pastimes. In contrast, our ancestors knew (and the Wise remember) to honor and embrace the truth that all life must pass.
The old ones 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 Folk, 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, the Cailleach, 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.
The Burning Times
In addition, on this holy day, we especially remember all those who have been burned, beaten, drowned, tortured, and murdered as Witches.
In the period of between the 15th and 18th centuries, across much of Europe, and even in the North America colonies, intertwined with the Inquisition, there was a widespread hysteria that malevolent witches were undermining the Church. Known now by modern Pagans and Witches as The Burning Times, it was over 300 years of holocaust, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 40,000 to 100,000 women, men, and even little children.
Witchcraft continues to be misunderstood and violently persecuted today. So let us vow and join our efforts: Never again the Burnings!
As with the other great Pagan holidays, when they found they couldn’t stamp it out, the Catholic Church devised 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).
Among the ancient Sumerian people, one of the world’s first known festivals of light-descending-into-darkness was held at this time. This is the period 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 some of the modern Kemetic (Egyptian) Pagan practices, festivals of the Sun God Ra, the cat Goddess Bastet 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 wickedness, is the protector of women against rape and all sexual violence.
Many Druids know this holiday as Samhuinn, and Norse practitioners know it as the 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.
Thus, 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.
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.
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.