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
The Wheel of Time has turned, and we are now in the magical period that ancient Celts and modern Witches call Samhain. The Great Sabbat of Samhain (pronounced SAH-wen, SAH-ween, or SOW (rhymes with cow) -wen) 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 astronomical reckoning that falls on Nov. 7 this year (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.
A most merry Beltane to all our dear ones in the Southern Hemisphere!
A Witch’s View of Human Nature
As most educated people know, neither Witches nor Samhain have anything whatsoever to do with “satan,” who is strictly a Christian invention. While our stories have plenty of tricksters and even a few nasty villains, there is no entity of supernatural evil in the beliefs or practices of Witchcraft or Paganism.
More importantly, most Witches and Pagans do not believe in the myth of fundamental wrongness being at the heart of the world, or human nature.
For centuries, our culture has been haunted and manipulated by the terror that a taint of evil lurks in even the most innocent of us.
Sadly, the fallout from this is that most people are alienated from, and deeply afraid of, the natural cycles of living, aging, and dying. And yet a morbid fascination with violence, death, and horror are central to popular entertainment pastimes.
For our ancestors, as well as in cultures not dominated by the Abrahamic religions, when you eliminate the fear that there is a stain of evil or accursedness dwelling within every single one of us (mediated only by the Church), then you have a very different relationship to the fact of death.
Death may bring deep grief to those left behind, but it is not the grotesque horror that we have turned it into, in our modern, “enlightened” times.
On the contrary, we sense that the boundary that lies between the living and the departed, and between what is past, present, and future has become thin.
This is not a spooky, terrifying thing to us. Consensual reality shifts, and other dimensions are revealed, enabling us to welcome and commune with our beloved dead, as well as our Otherworldly guides and allies.
Halloween and All Saints Day have their origin in the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain. The All Saints ceremonies had originally been in the Springtime, but the Catholic church, in an attempt to stamp out the Pagan rites of Samhain, superimposed it to that time.
We do not, in fact, really know what went on at those most ancient rites, as the wise Ronald Hutton reminds us.
In the modern Gaelic languages, the name of the feast means “summer’s end.” In the modern Brythonic languages, it means “the first day of winter.” It is the end of the end, the beginning of the beginning. The Celts honored the intertwining forces of existence: darkness and light, night and day, cold and heat, death and life.
Celtic knotwork art represents this intertwining. The old ones observed time as proceeding from darkness to light. Thus, the Celtic day began at dusk, the beginning of the dark and cold night, and ended the following dusk, the end of a day of light and warmth.
Similarly, the Celtic year began with An Geamhradh (“an gyow-ragh”), the dark Celtic winter, and ended with Am Foghar (“am fu-ghar”), the Celtic harvest. So Samhain marks the beginning of both An Geamhradh and the new Celtic year.
Throughout history and across cultures, this is a time for making peace with one another, and with the inevitability of death.
This would have been the third and final harvest of the growing season, with Lughnasadh (Aug. 1) being the first harvest of grains and Mabon (Equinox) being the final harvest of fruits and vegetables. Samhain marked the blood harvest of cattle, pigs, and other animals that had to be culled in order to survive the encroaching Winter.
Thus, 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 central to our rites.
Our Magical Legacy
While the revelry of Halloween can be fun, it is not Pagan. Instead, Halloween is a commercialized, secular event. It is amusing that some conservative churches are trying to “clean up” what they fear is the Pagan influence of this night by having “Fall Harvest Festivals,” since that is actually much closer to the Pagan observances.
This night is our most holy, reflective, and deeply sacred time.
So to my friends who love to party, dress up, and carouse on this night, I appreciate your invitations, but my feelings and sensibilities at this time could hardly be further away from those activities.
Instead, like most other Witches, Druids, and Pagans, I will be in sacred space on this most spiritual of nights.
Tonight, we’ll be bidding welcome to our beloved departed ones, freshening our altars in their honor, preparing their favorite foods, perhaps hosting a dumb supper, and lighting candles to show them the way.
We review the old year’s triumphs and shortcomings, and we may burn symbols or actual items in our bonfires representing that which we wish to release for good. We gather with our communities and dance the Spiral Dance.
The Start of the Wild Hunt
This is a night of great power, when we may seek wisdom through divination and sacred contact with the Otherworlds.
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.
Our predecessors took Samhain quite seriously. Any crops not harvested by this day were known to belong to the “Shrouded One” and left alone.
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.
Commonly known as The Wild Hunt, this fabled activity continues until Yule, so beware of dark, lonely places in the night, lest you be taken by mistake.
We Honor the Witches
In addition, on this day, we remember all those men, women, and children who have been burned, hanged, imprisoned, beaten, drowned, tortured, and murdered as Witches.
Let’s be clear.
Witchcraft continues to be misunderstood and persecuted today. In some countries, suspected Witches are still routinely put to torturous death.
But we will continue to strive for justice and understanding for all in danger. And we vow — Never again the burnings! And hangings. And drownings. And torture. And starvation.
Dates of Execution from America’s REAL Witchhunt –
(and, frankly, screw anyone who uses this term for their vanity and ego!)
- Bridget Bishop (June 10, 1692)
- Rebecca Nurse (July 19, 1692)
- Sarah Good (July 19, 1692)
- Elizabeth Howe (July 19, 1692)
- Susannah Martin (July 19, 1692)
- Sarah Wildes (July 19, 1692)
- George Burroughs (August 19, 1692)
- George Jacobs Sr. (August 19, 1692)
- Martha Carrier (August 19, 1692)
- John Proctor (August 19, 1692)
- John Willard (August 19, 1692)
- Martha Corey (September 22, 1692; wife of Giles Corey)
- Mary Eastey (September 22, 1692)
- Mary Parker (September 22, 1692)
- Alice Parker (September 22, 1692)
- Ann Pudeator (September 22, 1692)
- Wilmot Redd (September 22, 1692)
- Margaret Scott (September 22, 1692)
- Samuel Wardwell Sr. (September 22, 1692)
- Giles Corey (September 19, 1692) – Pressed to death, the only such execution on record in America. Last words, “More weight!”
Died in prison
- Ann Foster — convicted and died in custody in December 1692
- Mercy, infant daughter of Sarah Good
- Sarah Osborne— died in prison (May 10, 1692) before she could be tried
- Roger Toothaker – died before trial (June 16, 1692) probably due to torture or maltreatment
- Lydia Dustin – found not guilty but died in custody
Convicted but escaped:
- Mary Bradbury
In Remembrance: Nov. 2018 – Oct. 31, 2019
On this day, we especially remember among the beloved dead the Mighty Ones of the Craft who have departed our world since last Samhain, as well as those who might not be known, but whose crossings matter.
Profound thanks to Oberon Zell, who for many years has faithfully counted our dead and shares this list each Samhain. Here is his roll call of those who journeyed to the lands of the Ancestors this year (in chronological order):
* Robin Beket Arnhold (Beket-Asar Edithsdatter) – Pagan Elder, writer, editor, networker, merchant, astrologer, Weather Witch. Member of Circle Sanctuary Community since its founding in 1974, and founding member of Pagan Spirit Gathering, she wrote many articles for Circle publications.
* Deanna “D.J.” Conway – author of dozens of books on magic, Wicca, Druidry, Shamanism, metaphysics and occult, and three fantasy novels. She also designed Tarot cards.
* Andrei (Andrea) Johnson – Gender non-conforming/transgender researcher, scholar, and eclectic priest of Chango and Ellegua in the Ifa tradition, also embracing Kabbalah, Buddhism, shamanism and ancient mysticism. Therapist devoted to guiding people into self-discovery and awakening.
* Raven Grimassi – Pagan Elder, Strega, author of more than 20 books on Stregheria, Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism. Co-director of the Ash, Birch and Willow tradition; member of the Grey Council.
* David Palladini – author/artist of the Aquarian Tarot and the New Palladini Tarot. He also illustrated several children’s books as well as other projects.
* Ralph Metzner – German-born American psychologist, writer and researcher, who participated in psychedelic research at Harvard University in the early 1960s with Timothy Leary and Ram Dass. Professor Emeritus of psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Author of dozens of books on shamanic subjects.
* Edain McCoy (Carol Taylor) Author of more than 20 books on metaphysical and occult topics, Edain was active in the Pagan community since her formal initiation into a large San Antonio coven in 1983.
* Nancy Maria Thomas Machin – UU Church, Hobart, IN. Pagan Summit 2001. Also with Our Freedom: A Pagan Civil Rights Coalition.
* Teri (Theresa) Gurnell (Lady Dragonmagick) – Pagan Teacher in New York & Vermont, Wiccan High Priestess, Pagan Spirit Gathering Community member.
* Rev. Nora Cedarwind Young – Circle Sanctuary Minister, First Pagan Hospice Chaplain in Washington State, Death Midwife, Green Burial Educator, Pagan Elder, Circle Cemetery Advisor.
* Sue Curewitz Arthen – EarthSpirit Community Elder, Pagan Teacher, International Interfaith Networker, Passage Rites Officiant.
* Michael Thorn (aka Michael Harismedes) – Magus of Polyhymnia Coven; Former National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess.
* Panthera Orbweaver (Amy Miller) – Reclaiming Priestess & Witch
* Rita Morgan – Pagan Elder, Hearth Holder, Witch Mother of Ced Tradition, Manager of Crone’s Hollow Store in Salt Lake City
* Christel Szopieray Sparks – Pagan Networker who was part of Circle Sanctuary & other groups in Wisconsin Pagan Community
* Debi Guindon, a.k.a. Lilye Greenwitch – Master Herbalist. Founder and co-owner of Green Witch Garden. Originally from Niagara Falls, NY, she lived in Cumberland City, TN at the time of her death.
My apologies if there is anyone that has been overlooked.
The Unnamed, But Remembered
The wars in the Middle East and elsewhere drag on and on, while horrifying acts of domestic terror continue. One percent of the world’s population are refugees — the highest numbers in human history (including the post WW2 chaos). There is no way of knowing how many children, women, and men are falling through the cracks of statelessness.
Gun violence and mass shootings in the United States threaten to numb even the most aware of us. So let us remember this night all dutiful protectors and innocent victims, even as we work towards dialogue and peace. Let us pray for — and WORK for — a far more compassionate and enlightened governance.
Last but certainly not least, no matter if the current administration tries to hide the global climate crisis information from our government websites, there is no erasing the staggering loss of life we are now enduring, including countless non-human family members dead, dying, and becoming extinct.
The Earth is losing animal species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate, and as many as 30 to 50 percent of the planet’s species may be extinct by 2050, the Center for Biological Diversity warns. The natural rate is around one to five species lost each year.
Let us give honor to them, as well as the memory of the men, women, and children who have perished this year due to Earth changes, though their names, and sometimes the events, may not be known to us. From wildfires, to catastrophic flooding, drought and resultant famine, and toxic pollution, current estimates are that seven million people are dying every year due to the climate crisis.
What is remembered lives.
The Divine Ones
At Samhaintide, 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.
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.
One of the first known festivals commemorating the light descending into darkness was held at this time among the ancient Sumerian people. It is now that Inanna, Goddess of Life and Queen of Heaven, enters the underworld to spend the next six months with Her sister, Ereshkigal the Lady of Death and Rebirth — but on the condition that She spend the other six in the green places with Her summer lover Dumuzi.
This story, of course, echoes in the ancient Greek tradition of Demeter, and Her daughter Persephone, who must spend six months in the Underworld, thus creating Winter.
In the Egyptian calendar, festivals of the sun God Ra, the cat Goddess Bastet and the lion Goddess Sekhmet are all honored 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.
And of course, the last day of every month, and most 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 Her love.
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 merry meet at the crossroads of your destiny.
Rather than shun or fear them, may you embrace the quiet, needful gifts that the endarkenment offers. And with the blessings of the Dark Mother’s infinite compassion and wisdom, may you begin a very Happy New Year.
To you, and all your beloveds, I wish you a most blessed Samhain!