About Samhain

About Samhain
a guide to the Sabbat’s symbolism
by Arwynn MacFeylynnd
Date: October 31.

Alternative names: All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween, the Witches’ New Year, Third Festival of Harvest.

Primary meaning: Samhain, pronounced “sow-en” — not “sam hain” — marks the beginning of the cold months or winter; it is the Day Between the Years. Primary elements to contemplate are endings and beginnings, change, reflection and reincarnation. Celebrations honor the dead, ancestors, the wisdom of the Crone and the death of the God.

Symbols: Cauldrons, jack o’ lanterns, masks, balefires, besoms (brooms), bats, owls, ravens and the ever-present witch and black cat.

Colors: Orange, black, brown, golden yellow and red.

Gemstones: Carnelian, jet, obsidian and onyx.

Herbs: Aborvitae (yellow cedar), acorn, allspice, apple, autumn flowers, catnip, corn, chrysanthemums, dittany of Crete, fall leaves (especially oak), ferns, flax, fumitory, gourds, grains, hazel, heather, mandrake, mugwort, mullein, nightshade, pear, pumpkin, sage, straw, thistle, turnip, wormwood.

Gods and goddesses: Crone goddesses, the Father or dying gods, gods of the underworld or death including Arawn, Cerridwen, Cernunnos, the Dagdha, Dis Pater, Hades, Hecate, Hel, Inanna, Ishtar, Kali, Lilith, Macha, Mari, the Morrigan, Osiris, Pomona, Psyche, Rhiannon, Samana, Sekhmet, Teutates and Taranis.

Customs and myths: In England, it formerly was the custom to go “a-souling” on this night, asking for little “soul cakes” and offering prayers for the dead in return. In the British Isles, lanterns carved out of turnips (in the New World pumpkins) were at one time used to provide light on a night when bale fires were lit, and all households let their fires go out so they could be rekindled from the new fire. Another custom was the Dumb Supper, in which an extra plate was laid for the dead and the meal was eaten in silence. Bobbing for apples, roasting nuts in the fire and baking cakes that contained tokens of luck are ancient methods of telling the future now. Ducking for apples was a divination for marriage. The first person to bite an apple would be the first to marry in the coming year. Apple peeling was a divination to see how long your life would be. The longer the unbroken apple peel, the longer your life was destined to be. In Scotland, people would place stones in the ashes of the hearth before retiring for the night. Anyone whose stone had been disturbed during the night was said to be destined to die during the coming year

A Samhain Dance

A Samhain Dance

Author: Lady Wolfwind

The wheel turns. I can feel it. The angle of the light in the morning is different, glowing lower in the sky. The air is cooler. The earth is beginning to give up her heat. The cooler air meeting the warm soil has created a low-lying fog in the meadows. Droplets hang from the long grass. It won’t last long this time of year. Slowly, the rising sun will burn it away. For now it is quiet and it is mine to share with the creatures of the earth. I watch as the squirrels scamper, grabbing nuts and noisily run back up the tree. The birds are busy foraging for their share as well. I see a beautiful red cardinal, his beak full of seeds, land on a nearby tree limb. The yard is alive with activity. Even their frenzied activity tells me that a change is upon us.

This is my favorite time of year. I have anxiously waited for the harvest season. The changing light patterns signal changes in my body. I feel as though I need to prepare for something. Maybe it is an ancestral need to put up supplies for the winter. I feel as though I can take a deep breath, as if the time for rest is near.

Later, in the evening, I return to the yard and it is alive once more. As I sit under the moon, very gradually a vision appears before me. I can see the spirits of my ancestors celebrating around the balefire and they are beckoning for me to join them. The harvest festivals have begun. I hear the drumming and the laughter. I hear the whispered conversations. I see their faces glowing in the firelight. They’re strong, determined faces of people who have know joy and sorrow, of people who have worked hard and the struggle shows in the lines of those faces. I feel their eyes gaze upon me from time to time. They feel my presence as well. They know who I am and they are happy I am here.

Tonight, I sit and I watch. I feel as if I’m an intruder, watching something I shouldn’t. At times I don’t feel it is normal, these glimpses of the past that I am granted. I don’t speak of these things to many people for fear they would think me insane, not even my family. I quietly say a blessing and thank the Goddess for the gifts of insight She has bestowed upon me. I wonder how many people think of their ancestors and all they owe to them.

I sit and contemplate as I watch the dancers celebrate, as I listen to the music quietly suspended in time, meant for my ears to hear. I silently communicate and ask them to tell me about their life as they lived it. I hear snatches quietly whispered in my ear. They tell me of living by the wheel of life. They explain how babies are born and die too soon. They tell me that some years the crops are good and others the crops they rely upon don’t fill the pantries and the cellars. They tell me how it is to be hungry.

Others whisper about good fortunes and fertile cows that they’ve sold for some gold pieces that have increased the family’s standing, about buying more land, and building bigger, better homes for their families. They talk mainly about the harvest and the dark half of the year, of the cold and the boredom and the fear of disease. There is always talk of fear of the dark.

I sit for a while longer and watch. I promise them that I will return on Samhain. I will be ready and we (my children and I) will participate. I’ve always favored Samhain, even before I knew it by its real name or true reason of existence. We will be prepared.

In our home Samhain is a truly special time of year. My daughter and I cook a great assortment of foods. I tell them stories of my family and encourage my husband to do the same. Samhain is a day of feasting and of celebration. Not so much a celebration of the last harvest, but a celebration of our ancestors. I want these people to be remembered, even if it is not by name, but by the fact that they are the reason we are all here today. We build a bonfire and we invite people to our home. They usually are here to celebrate Halloween as they know it, but to us it is nice to have the energy of the living mingling in our midst.

My daughter and I have prepared the names of people who have passed this year and we have woven a grapevine wreath on which to put these names. As the clock tolls midnight we cast the wreath upon the fire and wish those no longer with us safe journeys on the continuation of their paths. We light candles and place them around the yard and the house and invite the wandering souls a quiet, safe place to rest for the night. The quiet, lost souls are always welcome here. I feel them and my daughter sees them from time to time. We both acknowledge their presence and say a welcome to them as long as they don’t cause any trouble.

After all the guests have left, we, as a family, gather together and talk about all we wish to see in the coming year. Samhain is truly the end of this one. I think this year I will speak of my vision and of the departed ones desire for us to participate in their festivities. I think we will throw another log on the fire and dance. We will dance a celebration of life and all that it brings. We will dance to the joys and the sorrows we have faced. We will dance in thankfulness for all that we have and stop longing for all that we think will make our lives better. Most of all, we will dance with all those who have crossed over, one more time. We will not mourn their loss but celebrate all that they have taught us. We will dance in celebration of lives well lived and the gratefulness of having had the opportunity to have crossed paths with these truly special people.

At dawn we will lie in the cool grass and say our farewells and feel overjoyed by the delightful time we have shared with those others have forgotten. The sun will begin to rise and the fire will only be small wisps of smoke. The children and I will look at each other and know that we share a secret, a magical one. We will be hesitant to leave and return to our mundane lives. I think my children have a deeper appreciation of all that it means to be Pagan. We’ve spoken of the Sabbats and we have honored the Goddess at the full moon, but they have never truly been blessed with the presence of the Old Ones reaching out to them. I believe that their lives will be forever changed starting with this new year.

I am thankful for the wisdom I now see in their eyes, wisdom I could never have imparted. They have both been securely set upon their path and I am so ever grateful for this. It gives me a sense of peace that I no longer need to worry about this area of their life. As Pagans I know they will live as kind and compassionate human beings.

Now it is time to look to the future and of the coming year. My children and I will grasp each other’s hands and head into our home to rest. It’s funny how our ancestors have helped strengthen the bond between us. How many people can say something like that? We’ve allowed the long line of family to help build the future. Not only have they helped build our future but also they have helped build it in a positive way.

I hope everyone out there is enjoying this harvest season. It is time to reap what you have sown, may it all be pleasant. If it is not, now is the time to set aside the negativity and allow the positive to flow into your life. A new year and a new start are upon us. You have the power to make this coming year into anything you dream of; you can reach goals you never thought attainable. Take the opportunity of the dark half of the wheel to plan and build your energies, to rest and to prepare yourself to put your plans in place.

I wish you all the greatest Samhain.

Love to all my fellow witches,

Lady Wolfwind

Ancestors, Ancestors, We Are Calling

Ancestors, Ancestors, We Are Calling

 

Ancestors, ancestors, we are calling

Ancestors, ancestors,  hear our call

Sing or chant the above words for at least four rounds, as you stand in honor  of the ancestors to welcome them. As you do, create a simple gesture to welcome  the ancestors, such as prayer hands over the heart, or raised to the heavens.  Ask your body to help you create it and include some form of movement. Have fun  with it but also be focused on the welcome. Try it and see what happens.

This is a way of including those humans in your family lineage that have come  before you and whose genetic and soul influence has a great deal to do with who  you are today, those we can call ancestors. Even your deceased parents are your  ancestors.

These progenitors have experienced what it’s like to have had their energy in  an animate, physical human form. They continue on with their teachings in spirit  world, evolving spiritually beyond what we in physical bodies can even imagine,  though some have touched this world through meditations, revelations, near-death  experiences, or shamanic journeys from the point of death.

If you aren’t already including ancestors when you call on spirit guides,  please do. They want to help us and do avail themselves to us of their wisdom  and understanding. Don’t get me wrong; they aren’t all saints, but they  understand and experience things much differently once in spirit form. The  wisest ancestors are the oldest ones, yet even recent passage into the spirit  world offers a considerable dose of wisdom that they are more than happy to  bring to you. They also can guide and protect you if asked.

We are in a time of critical change and need all the help we can get from the  world of Spirit. The planet doesn’t need saving. We just need to revise our  relationship with this planet and live much more harmoniously with her cycles.  And we’re doing the best we can. Just need the help of the ancestors.

 

Dear Ancestor

“Your tombstone stands among the rest;
neglected and alone
The name and date are chiseled out
on polished, marbled stone
It reaches out to all who care
It is too late to mourn
You did not know that I’d exist
You died and I was born.
Yet each of us are cells of you
in flesh, in blood, in bone.
Our blood contracts and beats a pulse
entirely not our own.
Dear Ancestor, the place you filled
one hundred years ago
Spreads out among the ones you left
who would have loved you so.
I wonder if you lived and loved,
I wonder if you knew
That someday I would find this spot,
and come to visit you.”
– Dear Ancestor

Season Ritual

Season Ritual
By: Willow Myst, White Moon School
This is a ritual for Hallows. I was thinking that, if he’s willing, my husband and I could do this together, late at night after our children are done with trick or treat and fast asleep.
 
Intent: Banish our fears and inspire our hopes for the new year
Need: Jack-O-Lantern already lit
        black and white candles
        Paper and pen/pencil for each person
        Bowl of cooked pumpkin seeds (from Jack-O-Lantern)
        Cauldron/pot for burning paper
Fold papers in half lengthwise. Then on the left half, write fears you’d like to banish and on the right half write your hopes for the future. Then light the black candle to represent banishing the fears. Tear the sheet in half and take the fear half and light it on fire from the Jack-O-Lantern. Light the white candle to represent your hopes. If you are doing this with a partner,  take turns reading out loud your hopes and eat a pumpkin seed for each one. Hang your lists of hopes somewhere you can read them everyday.
About the Author: Willow Myst is a mother of two wonderful children and currently studying to become a Priestess of the Order of the White Moon.

Samhain: An Underworld Tarot Ritual

Samhain: An Underworld Tarot Ritual

by Yasmine Galenorn

 

November 1, Samhain — the Festival of the Dead. The year is waning, venturing towards the winter solstice, the darkest night of the year. Leaves lay crisp on the ground, their burnished reds and bronzes a reminder of the fallow fields of autumn. It is the time of spirits, the time of witches, the time of crackling bonfires around which we dance to the thundering pulse of the drum.

On Samhain we not only remember our ancestors, but we seek a better understanding of our psyches. The veil between the worlds of spirit and of mortal-kind is at its thinnest, and we can now see into the darkness of the void, into the shadows of our own self. We seek understanding, we ask for guidance, we remember our roots.

Late on Samhain Eve — October 31, near to the witching hour, set up your scrying altar. Cover it with a black cloth, preferably velvet, and in the center, prop up a magick mirror so that you can easily see into it. On one side of the mirror set an orange candle, on the other a white candle. In back of the mirror, raised so that you can see it, place a black candle. Prepare music (such as Gabrielle Roth & The Mirrors) for your evening’s work. Set your tarot cards in front of the mirror. Light a stick of copal or myrrh incense and smudge the area. Cast a circle, light the candles, turn on the music and invoke the elements of fire and ice:

“Spirit of the Flame, you who are the passion of the bonfire, you who are transformation, come to me. Light my way into this, the night of the dead, that I might see beyond the veil into myself, into the corners of my psyche.”

“Spirit of the ice, you who are the chill of the mists, you who are illumination and clarity, come to me. Freeze-frame those images which I need to see, on this, the night of the dead, that I might understand and come to self-knowledge.”

Spend a little time in a meditation and lower yourself into trance. Then, take your place in front of the altar. Hold your cards as you look into the mirror at your own image. Keep your eyes focused about an inch above your head in the mirror so that you don’t strain them.

Take three deep breaths and knock three times on your cards. Ask aloud:

“What are the karmic lessons I need to learn in this cycle of growth?” Shuffle three times and remove three cards from the deck, set them face down on the altar.

Again, knock three times and ask:

“What are the strengths which I possess that will aid me in my growth?” Shuffle three times and remove three cards from the deck, place them above the first three.

Once again, knock three times and ask:

“What are the obstacles I face in my current cycle of growth?” Shuffle three times and remove three cards from the deck, place them above the second line of cards.

Knock three times and ask:

“What guidance will aid me in my journey?” Shuffle three times and remove three cards from the deck, place them above the third tier.

Lastly, knock three times and ask:

“What is the overall nature of the energy that I am working with this cycle?” Shuffle three times and remove one card, and place it at top-center of the third tier.

Now set the rest of the deck aside and turn over the cards 1 – 3. Meditate on them. These will show you the lessons you are supposed to learn in this current cycle. Cards 4 – 6 will tell you the strengths that you possess in order to meet the life lessons you are learning. If a card seems negative, you will want to look for ways in which the attributes might be blessings in disguise. Cards 7 – 9 will warn you of obstacles forthcoming, so that you can either avoid them or lessen their impact. Cards 10 – 12 will provide guidance. Card 13 is the summation card, providing a summary of what this cycle is all about.

When you are finished, you may wish to record the reading in your journal or Book of Shadows. Extinguish the candles, thank the elements of fire and ice for being with you, and open your circle. It would be a good idea to watch your dreams carefully over the next few days for messages and omens.

Bright blessings this Samhain, and may you walk between the worlds with caution and with brilliance.

Yasmine Galenorn writes the paranormal Chintz `n China Mystery Series, and the Bath& Beauty Mystery Series (written under the name India Ink), both from Berkley Prime Crime. She is also writing a contemporary fantasy series, The Sisters of the Moon Series, (Penguin Group, coming 2006). She’s written eight nonfiction metaphysical books, (Crossing Press and Llewellyn Publications). She lives in Bellevue, Wash. with her husband, Samwise, and their four cats and can be contacted via her Web site: www.galenorn.com.

This article previously appeared in the Llewellyn 2002 Tarot Calendar.