Saturday, October 31, 2009

Merry Samhain, Happy Halloween

Winter approaches with its chill breath. The harvest has been gathered, granaries and hay barns are full, and farm animals have been tucked into their barns for the long winter. Days are becoming shorter, and nights seem to last forever.

Native Americans call this the time of the Long Nights. Daylight is paler and more slanted, but these late October days have a translucent beauty of their very own. Foliage has already turned red, gold, brown and orange, and the brisk winds of autumn are scouring the hills and sweeping away the colored leaves. The air is spicy and carries the promise of cold days to come. Animals of field and forest are filling their pantries and preparing their burrows for winter.

Halloween or “Samhain”, as the ancient Celts called it, means “summer's end”. According to the old Celtic two-fold division of the year, summer was the interval from Beltane (May 1) to Samhain (October 31), and winter was the interval between Samhain and Beltane. This is (along with Beltane of course), is one of the most important days on the Wheel of the Year. The present year ends at sundown today, and a new year is inaugurated, the first day of the new year beginning in darkness just as the new year itself begins in the darkest time of the year.

To the ancient Celts, time was cyclical and their cross quarter observances represented pivotal cosmic points beyond time, intervals when the natural universal order dissolved back into primordial chaos before regenerating itself. Thus, Samhain is a magical night beyond the confines of time, and on such nights, one may be able to view other points in time using tarot cards, runes or tea leaves.

Two themes are intertwined at Samhain, divining the future
and honoring the dead of one's tribe or clan. It was once believed that the hallowed dead returned to the land of the living on Samhain night to feast and celebrate with their clans and family members. The great burial mounds of Ireland (sidh mounds) were opened up and lighted by torches so that the honored dead could find their way back to their homes. Extra places were set at family tables and extra chairs placed near the hearth - food and drink were put out for loved ones who had passed beyond the fields we know. Old stories tell of Irish heroes making daring raids on the Underworld as the gates of Faery stood open on this night, but both the living and dead had to return to their appointed realms and stations by cock-crow or sunrise.

This is one of the most magical nights in the whole turning year, a night full of jack-o-lanterns, costumes, scarecrows, trick or treating, goblins, ghost stories, divination and scrying. It would be wise for us to remember however, that Samhain is also a night of great power and a night when the veil which separates our world from the spirit world is gossamer thin. Strange creatures are abroad on this night, and uncanny events may befall us if we are not prudent and cautious.

Tonight, as I give out candy to little goblins on the threshold, I shall be reflecting on the past year and entertaining good thoughts about the future. I shall be remembering that death is a natural part of earthly existence and that it should not be feared, whether that death be physical death, the end of a trend or pattern, emotional closure, or merely the settling of issues which need to be laid to rest. Life is a continuous cycle of death and rebirth, and Samhain accepts and celebrates this magnificent never-ending cosmic cycle.

Call it Samhain, Halloween, Hallowmas or any one of its many other beautiful names - it is my favorite day of the turning year.
Blessing to you and yours on this day. May your jack-o-lanterns glow brightly this Samhain, and may there be many small guests on your threshold this evening. May your home be a place of warmth and light, and may your hearth be protected from things which go bump in the night.

Happy Samhain and Happy Halloween, and Happy New Year too!

6 comments:

nefaeria said...

Have a splendid Samhain!

Prairie Star said...

Cate, I enjoyed this post of yours very much! Thank you for the treat of new insights about this very special day.

May your holiday be richly blessed as well, my friend.

Shell said...

Happy Halloween, too. A beautiful post.

Rain said...

Beautifully put and happy Samhain to you also

Karen - An Artist's Garden said...

Bright blessings Cate
K

Rowan said...

A wise and beautiful post Cate. I hope that the coming year will be a happy one for you - you are in my thoughts each day even though I don't comment that often.