As I sit and write this, we have turned the clocks back, preparing ourselves for the darker, colder days of winter, at the same time as Wiccans prepare to celebrate their new year.
Samhain, which translates to summer’s end, is the biggest celebration of the Wiccan year and was the most important Fire Festival of ancient times. As the nights well and truly draw in and the mists swirl, the ground hardens, the rusty leaves fall and turn to mulch, life is withdrawing to the warmth of its cocoon to rest and rejuvenate, before reaching for the sky once more in the spring.
Samhain marks the third and final harvest of the year and long ago, farmers would bring animals in from the fields, deciding which ones they would house and keep warm and fed over the winter, and which they would slaughter to provide themselves and their families with sustenance over the frigid months. The farmers used to drive the animals through twin fires to purify them, believing the fires drove away the evil spirits that lurk at the transition of the year. If you grow your own fruit, veg and herbs, now is the time to harvest them, as it is bad luck to leave any crops out past Samhain, as they are seen as offerings to the dead, which is thought to lead to a poor harvest the next year.
The dead are another important part of Samhain tradition. Today is the day the veil between the two worlds is at its thinnest, allowing the dead to walk amongst us. It is time for us to honour these spirits and celebrate the lives of our deceased loved ones. To do so, set an extra place or two at the dining table tonight, with some food, and place a photograph of those you want to remember nearby, inviting them to join you.
Long ago, Samhain was the day ghosts returned from the fields, shivering and cold, seeking food and shelter in their former homes. The hearth was always the centre of any home, and spiritually it is seen as the meeting place for the upper world of the living and the lower world of the dead.
If you do not want to share your home and evening meal with the wandering spirits tonight, then carve a spooky face into a turnip or pumpkin and leave it outside your house, to scare away any negative spirits and discourage them from entering your home.
If, on the other hand, you still want to show respect for the wandering dead, leave food for them outside, giving sustenance to those who have no place to be. A candle in your window will help them on their way, just as apples buried in the garden will sustain them on their journey.
The modern world tradition of Samhain, or Hallowe’en as it is more commonly known, is to dress up in costumes to go to parties or go trick or treating. But the costumes hold a deeper meaning for those who believe in the thinning of the veil. You see, not all the spirits that wander on this day are good; the veil does not discriminate, allowing all to roam. Traditionally, people wore costumes to scare away any negative, unwanted spirits. Some would dress as ghosts to trick the spirits into thinking they were one of them. Others would dress as the deceased, skeletons, ghouls, or ghosts to honour the dead and step into the shoes of the deceased for one night.
For those who use divination, scrying is particularly powerful at this time, as the lifting of the veil allows for a more accurate insight into the unknown and the future. If you have a Ouija board, now is the safest time to use it, or hold a séance, because the spirit world is open to everything. Always show respect, though, and don’t mess around with the spirits; it will backfire!
Samhain this year, as I’ve mentioned, coincides with the turning back of the clocks (in the UK) and in a few days we will have the dark moon of November. It is all symbolic of the darkness we are heading into as nature dies or goes into hibernation, remaining hidden until spring. But death is a celebration as the wheel of the year turns and the circle of life ends. There is no life without death, as death provides the nourishment for new life to form, creating essential balance.
When faced with any ending, we look to the new beginnings it creates. The end of the year brings with it the start of a new one. Old life dying brings with it the knowledge that new life is evolving somewhere within the hardening earth. When outer life decays, the inner life of the spirit is stronger.
This is the time the triple goddess is in her crone phase. With her provision of the harvest over, she acts as wise woman, giving us wisdom and magical power. The sun god is making his descent into the underworld, which is what lifts the veil between us and the spirit world. The triple goddess now swallows the sun god, bringing darkness through the land, allowing the shorter, darker days of winter to take over, until life and the triple goddess as maiden returns in the spring.
This theme of descent also applies to us in our own lives. At this time, we withdraw into our own underworld, facing our fears, and discovering our latent talents. It is a time for reflection and resolution, for making changes and plans, ready to put them into action in the spring. It is also a time to heal and restore, to nourish and nurture your body and your soul.
For me, this is a time to burrow down and stay warm and cosy, to spend time doing things that give me pleasure, and to think about my next steps. Once the dark nights come, I have no desire to venture out after dark, content to curl up with a book and a cuppa and enjoy the tempestuous season from indoors.
Maybe I was a hibernating animal in a former life, but more likely, I am responding to the cycle of life. After all, we can’t be on the go all the time; all batteries need time to recharge.
‘Til next time,