SamhainSamhain (Scots Gaelic: Samhuinn) means “Summer’s End”. It is generally celebrated on October 31st, but some traditions prefer November 1st . It marked the first day of winter. Crops had been harvested and the grains, fruits and nuts safely stored for the winter. Hay was brought in for the animals. The cattle, sheep and goats were brought down from the mountains to either be kept safely in the barn or slaughtered and salted to keep the family fed for the cold months. Wood was chopped and stored to bring heat to the home. It was a joyous time of celebration before the long dark days set in. On October 31st the fire in the home was put out. Bonfires (originally bone fires as bones were thrown into them) were lit in the villages. Offerings of symbolic objects for healing, abundance in the coming year, thanksgiving etc. were also tossed into the fire to be blessed by the Druids. When the fire died down, brands were lit that were taken home to light the fire in the family hearth to bless the home. Ashes from the bonfire were scattered on the fields to bless them and to pray for abundant crops the next year.It was thought to be a time when the veil between the worlds is suspended and the dead walk the earth again. It was a time to honour the ancestors, particularly those that had died in the previous year. These ancestors were welcomed by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the “wandering dead”. Candles were lit and left in a window to help guide the spirits of loved ones home. Extra chairs were set at the table and around the hearth for any unseen guest. Apples were buried along roadsides and paths to provide for spirits who were lost or had no descendants. Turnips and gourds were hollowed out and carved to look like protective spirits. Candles were placed in them so they became lanterns to help them on their journey. It was also a time for the faeries and other “wee folk” to come out of hiding and play tricks on unsuspecting humans. When Christianity came to the Isles, these practices were denounced as evil. Although the Celts eventually accepted Christianity, they did not wish to give up their own customs. So, in order to win more converts, in the 7th century c.e., Pope Gregory reaffirmed November 1st as All Saints Day and October 31st as All Hallow’s Eve. All Saint’s Day became Hallowmas – a mass to honour the dead and All Hallow’s Even has morphed into Hallowe’en. It was meant to be a day of quiet prayer and contemplation, but the Celts wished to keep their own ceremonies. The Church’s teaching that the Beings walking the earth this night were evil and to be feared gradually took hold and people began to dress up in costumes to fool the “ghosts” and such that were roaming abroad. The food that was laid out was gradually turned into “treats” that were given to the children and the hollowed out turnips and gourds that were the lights to guide their loved ones home became the Jack O’ Lanterns of today.

Samhain marks the beginning of the “Dark” or “Dream” time and hunkering down for the winter. It is a good time to reflect on the last year and to prepare for the new one. Think about the last 12 months. Have you accomplished what you wished to do? Has your personal “harvest” been bountiful or have you left things undone that you had planned? Now is the time to see what you can do to complete anything that is unfulfilled and to contemplate what seeds you will plant come Spring.

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