Samhain is one of the major festivals of the pagan calendar! One of the fire festivals, it’s also known as All Souls Night, All Hallows, The Feast of the Dead, Festival of Remembrance, Feast of Apples, The Pagan New Year, and of course, Halloween!!
What Is Samhain (Halloween )?
It is the third and final harvest festival, of nuts and berries, all of the harvest has now been taken in, it is the end of the cycle of life and growth and the earth prepares to lie dormant. The sap in the trees begins its downward flow into the earth, the leaves turn from green to shades of red and gold, the seeds fall deep into the earth and death appears to come to the land.
The God, as Sun King is sacrificed back to the land with the seed until the Winter Solstice, and the Goddess, now as Crone, mourns Him until His rebirth at Yule. He travels the Underworld learning its wisdom. This is the time of the descent into darkness, of pre-conception, out of which new life, new ideas, will eventually emerge.
It is a time when we honour and remember our ancestors. Traditionally the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest. This is a magical time, as the dark half of the year commences. Our ancestors would have huddled around fires, practicing divination and connecting with the spirit world! And planning for the year ahead. We naturally feel a need to withdraw from the world, to go within, like the Sun King, we feel the need to begin our own descent into darkness, into ourselves. Death is always followed by rebirth and while this is the end of the old year, it is the beginning of the new year. For the Celts, our ancestors, the day did not begin at dawn, it began at sunset, it began with darkness. Light is always born out of darkness, they are inseparable, interdependent, and necessary. Darkness is fertile with ‘all potential’. With the beginning of this dark phase comes the opportunity to rest and reflect on the past and to dream of new beginnings. The seed now hidden in the earth will germinate in its season. Look for the seeds in yourself!
Honouring the Ancestors
Honouring your ancestors is a very special thing to do at this time and can be done in many simple ways.
Think about all those departed souls from your life, both family and friends, and of course our pet friends! This is the perfect time to include children in the celebrations – place photographs of them on your altar. Offer them your hospitality, welcome their presence into your home. On this night lay an extra place for them to join you at the table – cook and eat their favourite dishes, talk about them – remember them, bring them closer. You and your children can make an offering for departed pets by leaving some dog food outside on Halloween night, many night creatures appreciate this offering.
A simple ritual can be made by writing all the names of those you want to remember down on a piece of paper. This can be done alone or with family and friends. After your Samhain feast you can all gather around a candle, have a fire-proof dish ready, take a few moments to reflect and remember on the names that you have before you. Switch off all the lights and sit gently in the darkness. Allow the darkness to enfold you. Ask for the presence of your ancestors to come to you. When you are ready, light the candle saying
“We welcome our departed loved ones into this home and honour your presence amongst us”
Read the list of names aloud – maybe someone wants to say a few words about a particular person, or all of them, share some memories and stories! This is one way of honouring our people, to remember them with love and joy! When you feel you are ready to let them go, light the list of names, place it in the dish to burn away and just pause. This is often a moment when you feel your loved ones near. We are all energy – energy cannot be destroyed – when we pass through the veil we just transmute into different vibrations. Our loved ones only need to be thought of to be in our hearts and around us.
Associations of the Season
The apple is a sacred fruit to pagans. There are many apple games played at Samhain which grew out of the belief in the Apple as a sacred and magical fruit. The Apple is a symbol of life and immortality. In Celtic tradition, apples were buried at Samhain as food for those souls who are waiting to be reborn. The Apple, cut crosswise, reveals the five-pointed star, or pentacle at its core, a symbol of the Goddess.
Pumpkins are very much an American tradition which has been successfully marketed in the UK and Europe. Everyone loves them, especially of course, children. If you consider that the Celts regarded the human head as the Seat of the Soul, the concept of the carved pumpkin with a candle inside it as the Light shining from the Soul, it becomes just about acceptable…….. Apart from this the pumpkin has nothing to do with Samhain, however it has weaved itself into our homes and associations of the season.
The Cauldron or Holy Grail is closely associated with Samhain. It is feminine, and is the cosmic container for all life and death, of transformation and rebirth.
The Besom Broom
The besom is used as this time both practically and symbolically. It sweeps away the last of the Autumn leaves, but is also used ritually to sweep out the old, to clean and clear away old energy, creating space for the new. Traditionally besoms are made from birch twigs – the birch is associated with purification and renewal. You can make a besom at this time of year by gathering a large bundle of birch twigs tied together. Drive a broom handle into the middle of the bundle – ideally hazel or ash.
Corvids (Ravens, Crows, Magpies, Jackdaws etc), Owls, Spiders, Bats and Black Cats are creatures associated with Samhain and the night. Ravens and crows have long been associated with death, and several Goddesses and Gods are reputed to shapeshift into them, or have them as familiars, along with the other creatures mentioned.
Artwork by Janie Olsen http://thestorybookstudio.com/
The Acorn is the seed of the great Oak, representing wisdom, longevity, rebirth – a promise of strength to come. An acorn in your pocket is an amulet of good fortune to come. All nuts from our indigenous trees – walnuts, hazelnuts, conkers and so on – are pure potential and carry the attributes of the mother tree.
Colours of Samhain
Black for death and endings, orange for the vitality of life within death, purple for wisdom, insight and inspiration.
The Samhain Altar
A cauldron. Apples, nuts and berries. Black candles to honour the passage to the other side and the Ancestors. Photographs of deceased family and friends. Crystals, associated with the earth. Soil in a dish. A candle. Gourds and pumpkins, leaves, twigs and branches.
Personal Development to Honour the Energies of the Season
This time of year is the perfect time to start the journey of self-exploration and personal development. As the nights draw in it is a natural part of our psyche to want to also begin to turn our attention inwards. There is a duality about this time of year, as we feel the need to hunker down for winter, yet the consumer society is bombarding us with the need to gear up for the commercialism of Americanised Halloween and the impending Christmas festivities, we are pulled in different directions! No wonder there is so much stress and anxiety around this time of year!
Samhain at its very essence is showing us to slow down and reconnect with our inner being, our ancestors, loved ones who have gone before – yet who are also still around us in their energy if we can tune in and hear them.
At AuroraStar I run small group or one to one Meditation courses, which will help you reconnect with your intuition, and give you practical tools which will help you to bring about a sense of peace and balance to the stresses of daily pressures.
Reiki is also the perfect way to begin the journey of self-discovery and healing. I teach Reiki level 1 Initiate, Reiki 2 Practitioner, Reiki 3 Master Teacher, I also run Reiki 2 and 3 refresher workshops.
End of Life Skills
I also run workshops teaching gentle end of life skills to people from all walks of life. I am a soul midwife – in essence we sit with people at the end of their lives, helping them to transition from this world in a peaceful, compassionate way. The techniques we use are ancient wisdom that over the years we have lost – become disconnected from. I passionately believe in bringing these skills back into the community where they belong! We are all going to die!!! We will all know someone who will die, and at some point all of us will care for someone who is dying, and so I believe it is vital that we learn these life skills – it is a re learning of these skills that can enable us to take back some control, and empower us to care for and support those we love at the end of their lives in a sensitive and compassionate way. Too often we feel powerless to do anything, thus making the dying process traumatic for those watching, uncomfortable for those going through it and fearful for us all, knowing that we have to go through it!…we push it to the back of our minds, believing if we don’t acknowledge it, it won’t happen to us!!, by facing it, and learning its processes, some gentle techniques that we can use, we lose some of that fear, and we can live our lives knowing that when the end comes, we are a little better equipped to deal with it. This was the knowledge of our ancestors that has been lost to us, but this simple one day workshop can teach us how to reconnect with that wisdom, thereby enriching our lives, the lives of those we love and ultimately the lives of our whole community!
Who can benefit from this workshop? Anyone who has been or will be touched by death, and that is EVERYONE!! It is perfect for Care staff, at home carers, nurses, counsellors, complementary therapists, and interfaith ministers. The day is interactive, with a mix of practical work, discussion, presentation and sharing of stories. We will learn about the four stages of dying, how to sit in vigil, deep listening skills, as well as many other practical skills. Handouts and certificates of attendance will be provided. I run these workshops in small groups of 4 to 6 people – £120 per person, it is insurable by Balens and Validated by the APTL. More information can be found on my Soul Midwife page.