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The ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain (sow-in) marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the dark time (winter) on the seasonal-based Wheel of the Year. Modern day followers of WICCA and other nature-based spiritual paths celebrate Samhain as one of the Greater Sabbats - which are festivals celebrating the cycle of the seasons. It is a time to take stock of what transpired that year and plan for the dark days ahead, as well as the new planting/harvest cycles to follow. For this reason, Samhain is considered to be the beginning of the new year.
It is also believed to be the time of year when the veil between this world and the afterlife is at its thinnest, allowing spirits of the departed to roam freely about the earth. For many, this was a welcome time as they prepared celebratory meals and offerings to share with the souls of their family members and pets who crossed over. This celebratory theme is also reflected in other paths, such as the Christian celebrations of All Saints and All Souls days, and Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which stems from Aztec traditions.
However, not all people welcomed the spirits during this time. Those who may have done a departed soul wrong in life or who believed that mischievous spirits, sprites, goblins, and fairies could cause them harm, would wear a mask and/or costume as a way to hide or protect themselves from such souls. This practice of dressing in disguise eventually morphed into the Halloween theme as it is celebrated today.
Samhain celebrations can be as simple as an appreciatory nature walk or as complex as a full-blown Sabbat ritual circle. Create your traditions on what seems realistic and genuine for you. Below are a few suggestions. Incorporate any or all of them into your own celebration.
-Take a walk outside and really look at and reflect on the beauty of this time of the year. Bring a small notebook or journal as you may be inspired to compose a story, poem, song, or other work of art during your walk (it's fine if you don't - the main thing is to enjoy where you're at right now).
-Visit a cemetery and commune with the spirits of your loved ones, giving them thanks for being part of your life or lineage., sharing thoughts and stories, or telling them things you always meant to say. Often people will leave a small token, leaf, rock, or something as a grave offering. A long-standing Jewish tradition is to leave a small pebble or rock at a gravesite. The origin and actual meaning of this very old Jewish custom are not certain.
-Create an Ancestral Altar by placing photographs and keepsakes of departed loved ones (people and animals) on a table other surface, along with several votive candles and small seasonal offerings. As with a cemetery visit, speak to your ancestors as you light the candles and reflect on their lives.
- Prepare a meal using foods of the season. Choose from apples, squash, gourds, turnips, nuts, bread & grains, and corn as some foods to include. Light candles and decorate your table with offerings of the season. Add an extra place setting and invite the spirits to join you, asking that they come and leave in peace.
A Fresh Start for a New Year
Take time to reflect on your own year. Make a list of what good things you have reaped, and what things happened that need action, whether it be healing or some type of change.. Think about where you are at now and where you want to be at this time next year. Jot down or make a mental list of any negativity you want to banish and either burn that list in a fire-safe mini cauldron (bean pots work well) or hearth fire - or mentally envision the negativity draining from you to disperse into the earth's fiery core.. Then take the one major thing that you want to change and envision yourself doing so. What small steps can you take to move forward? Let them be the beginning steps on a positive path that moves you forward one day at a time during this new cycle. Many people begin here and use the Gregorian New Year of January 1 to review and reinforce their path.
Have a safe and blessed Samhain.
- Barbara 🙃