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Article ID: 13388
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Author: Cerberus Bindweed
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Samhain also known as ‘Shadowfest’ in Strega and ‘Old Hallowmas’ in the old Scottish traditions is an old Irish word that translates to ‘Summers End’. Samhain is the last of the old Gaelic and Brythonic harvest festivals and the second oldest European unbroken 6, 000 year old holiday celebrating the ending of the waxing half of the year (spring and summer months) and preparing for the waning half of the year (autumn and winter months) with some aspects of the Festival of the Dead tradition that is found in many cultures and religions including Christianity.
Samhain influenced the Christian religion producing the Catholic Spirit Day where followers of the church of Christ would light vigils and honor their deceased loved ones, a practice that is found in Samhain traditions. In fact, the Christian Spirit Days falls very closely to the dates of Samhain.
Samhain is held on the first of November each year in the northern hemisphere according to various sources, and it was on this date that the old Irish royals would come together in Tara to hold a festival in honor of summers ending. Another date that Samhain may be celebrated is on the actual cross-quarter day when the Sun is in 15 degrees Scorpio just after Sunset. This timing of the festival is associated with the Scottish ‘Old Hallowmas’.
Samhain became the premier festival celebrated during medieval Ireland running for three consecutive days with great bonfires starting with the lighting of the fires at the Hill of Tara, a sign to the people gathered around to light their own smaller fires announcing that Samhain has started.
The bonfire is one of the most important aspects of the festival not only does it represent the sun and thus the waxing half of the year slowly dying, but it also was a symbol and tool used to connect the village people together through a tradition of having no lit fires within the home. The villages would gather some fire from the bonfire to light their torches and fires within the home and thus connecting the villages together.
As one of the most important of festivals in the Gaelic and Brythonic cultures, Samhain marked the time when the farmers and villages would prepare for the waning months by gathering the harvests that they have produced that year, the seeds, grains, animals, etc in order to survive the autumn and winter months. This custom is still practiced today by farmers. It is also a time of reflection, looking over what has been accomplished over the past year and understanding the knowledge, wisdom and skills that have been ‘gifted’ to us as the result of the hard work and sacrifices that had been made in the past year.
In Wicca, Samhain is one of the major and favorites of the eight sacred holidays known as Sabbats celebrated by its practitioners. This festival is considered to be the most important of them all and is often celebrated on the thirty-first of October in the northern hemisphere or on April the thirtieth in the southern hemisphere.
Wiccans honor their dead ancestors on this night believing that a black veil that separates the realm of the living and the realm of the dead has thinned, and thus communication with the dearly departed is at its easiest and that departed may enter the realm of the living for the night to pass on messages to the living. It is also a time when Wiccans believe that the earth is grieving the departure of the God who is going into slumber. Divination is heavily practiced on this day especially with the use of spirit boards, scrying tools and runes.
There are many traditions and folklore associated with this festival that is still celebrated to this very day one of them having already being mentioned, the lighting of the bonfires. Jack o lanterns were carved out of pumpkins and squashes with candle placed inside of it to ward off evil spirits, goblins and creatures that come out on this night intending to do harm, black candles are lit to ward off negativity, apples and corn are placed around the home to represent nurturing, nourishment and abundance with the harvest gathered, etc.
I first performed and experienced a Samhain Ritual the first year I discovered Wicca and wanted to pursue my studies in it. It was the night of a Full Moon and I was at the cemetery where my grandmother was buried. I lit various black candles, had Lady of the Nights in the flowerpots with homemade incense burning, soul cookies and apple cider.
I wore all black and cast the magick circle calling the elements using a fallen branch found in the graveyard. I called on my ancestors and meditated on those I was fortunate to have known and asked them to share me their stories. I felt the presence of many of my ancestors there with me, feeling a cares on my mind that had a personality to it I never met before yet felt safe and familiar.
After talking with my ancestors, I made an oath that dedicated my-self to the craft, my ancestors and the Goddess Hecate my Patron deity. I raised energy that nearly overwhelmed me by beating the ground while chanting in Ancient Greek, my ancestral language. At the peak of the cone of power, I threw my hands out in the air looked at the moon and howled like a wolf. The energy was so potent that it extinguished the candle I lit and dropped the heavy vase of flowers to the ground. After grounding myself, I blessed the Cider and soul cookies ate and drank a bit and left the rest at a cross road/path in the cemetery. I thanked deity, ancestors the watchtowers and called my circle back.
I collected some graveyard dirt and brought with me the graveyard branch that I still have on my altar this day to remember the event by. My second time celebrating Samhain was at a local occult sore run by two of Australia famous Wiccans, Selene and Hawthorn. It was my first experience with a group and I enjoyed it thoroughly feeling the mixed energies for the first time, weeping with others as we shared stories of our departed ancestors, etc.
Samhain is celebrated differently each year with me as I am always changing rituals, ideas, decorations, etc. This year with my coven, we did a play that I wrote about the descent of the Goddess Persephone to join her Husband Hades in a truly Hellenic manner.
Samhain is a time when I honor and remember my ancestors, a time where I reaffirm my oath and dedication to the old ways and most importantly, a time when I gather and focus on what I have been given in life accepting the fact that death is part of life and to quote Albus Dumbledore in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, ‘death is just the next great adventure.’
•Wikipedia – Wikimedia Foundation, Inc – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samhain#History
•Bodsworth, T. Roxanne – Sunwyse
•Ravenwolf, Silver – To Rise a Silver Broomstick
•Ravenwolf, Silver – Solitary Witch: The Ultimate Book of Shadows
•Cunningham, Scott – Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner
•Buckland, Raymond – Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft
•Bindweed, Cerberus – Bindweeds Book of Shadows (notes gathered over the years)
•Magazine, Witchcraft – Beginners Guide to Wicca and Magick (collection of articles)
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