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Monday, 31 October 2011

Samhain - the Witch's New Year

Samhain, from which many of traditions of Halloween are borrowed, marks the end of the old year & the beginning of the new, it celebrates the third & final harvest of nuts & berries & heralds the coming of Winter.  The Wheel of the Year has turned full circle & at this point we are reminded that death is an inextricable part of the great Cycle of Life.  The cold, dark, quiet of Winter allows the land to rest.  But deep down in the earth the seeds of new life are buried & will surely stir again.  Birth, growth, death & rebirth.  So the Wheel turns.

At Samhain, as the year dies, the veil between the worlds are at their thinnest, which gives the day its perceived 'spooky' feeling.  It is a time to remember our ancestors & dear departed, to open our hearts to their wisdom & honour them.  It is a perfect time for divination - scrying mirrors, tarot cards, rune stones, etc.- all designed to help us receive messages that the Spirits may have for us. Our Celtic ancestors believed the dead were free to walk this world on Samhain eve.  They celebrated Samhain with ceremonial bonfires, making offerings to the deities in thanks for the year's harvests & symbolically clearing out the old year & welcoming in the new year.  During the celebrations they would wear costumes & as they danced around the sacred fires & honoured the dead, their disguises also served to 'hide' them from any malevolent spirits who might try to haunt or play tricks on them.  Home fires, which would have been extinguished during the day, were then re-lit from the flames of the sacred bonfires & kept burning to protect the household during the Winter months.  Food & drink were also left outside their doors for any spirits roaming the land.  And so we can begin to see the basis for modern, commercialised, Halloween traditions.

Today a witch might decorate her home and altar with symbols of the season - autumn leaves, berries, nuts, pumpkins, etc, with photographs of departed relatives, friends or pets & with black & orange candles.  She might celebrate with fire & a full circle ceremony or light plenty of candles, burn incense & quietly gaze into the flickering flames.  She might use this time to journey through the veil & to cast spells, but in whatever she does she will be connected to the God & Goddess, to Mother Earth & Father Sky & be in tune with the turning of the seasons, the tides of the seas, the phases of the Moon.  In harmony with all that is.

Just as Samhain is a time of  death so that there may be rebirth, so it is time to recognise ideas, feeling & emotions that have become dead to us (or to the wider world), which are not serving us well & banish them.  If we can achieve this, then during Winter's quiet months we can reflect peacefully on the past &  begin to dream of the coming year.  Our hearts will then understand that even the darkness is fertile.

Happy Samhain to you! Blessed be )O(