Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which means “summer’s end”, is the final of three harvest festivals and is the beginning of the Wheel of the Year.
It is also the origin of the name Halloween (we’ll get back to that in a moment).
In the Celtic calendar there are 8 high holy days that revolve around nature festivals. Samhain is one of the cross-quarter festivals – along with Imbolc (Candlemas), Beltane (May Day), and Lammas (First Harvest) – of the Celtic calendar with the quarter festivals of the Solstices and Equinoxes celebrated in between.
These holy days are times when we harness the energy of connecting to Nature and expand our sense of the Self and the Sacred.
Samhain is a BIG deal in the Celtic calendar (kinda like the New Year) as it is the beginning of the Wheel of the Year in terms of Nature festivals.
It marks the midpoint between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice.
Samhain was actually on November 1st but the Celts typically celebrate major festivals the evening before, hence it was celebrated on October 31st.
The name Halloween is relatively “new”.
Around the 9th century CE after the Romans invaded Celtic lands (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Britannia) the Catholic church claimed November 1st as All Soul’s Day (or All Saint’s Day) and the mass said on that day was called All Hallow’s Mass. The evening before (October 31st) came to be known as All Hallows Eve which over time merged into Halloween.
Cross-quarter days serve as markers to note seasonal transitions. It’s like a “hey, ummm, you *may* want to ready yourself because the Season has reached its high point and is about to change”. See cross-quarter days always fall between an Equinox and Solstice or Solstice and Equinox. So between Winter and Spring; Spring and Summer; Summer and Fall; and now with Samhain between Fall and Winter.
In terms of Samhain, we’re at the end of Summer and in midst of Fall while preparing for Winter. Honouring transitions like this can better help us navigate seasonal shifts.
It was a time to take stock of supplies, like how much grain and how many animals a family or the village had, before Winter. Livestock unlikely to survive were slaughtered and the meat was preserved for later use.
Samhain was, and still is, a sacred time to honour the changing seasons and the ancestral realm.
It was believed that the veil between this world and the next was thinnest around this time and so ripe for heightened intuition, and honouring of our ancestors and the natural cycle of Life. It also opens us to witnessing our shadow sides, and honouring our ancestors and the natural cycle of Life.
Along with taking inventory on winter supplies those less fortunate would send children with baskets to go door-to-door to ask for money and food.
This was called “souling” and is where trick-or-treating came from.
What about costumes? You know how gargoyles are placed on buildings as a symbol of protection? Well, dressing up was a way people could walk around without attracting attention from the ethereal realm. Kinda like how Michonne first appears (many seasons ago in Walking Dead) with a zombie escort to be able to walk among the undead. Dressing up was a way to mask yourself so that no unwanted energies would follow you home.
What unwanted energies you might wonder? Samhain is when many cultures considered the veil between the eternal/timeless realms and the here/now to be thinnest. At this time Nature teaches us about the natural cycle of death and decay. As the leaves are almost completely fallen from the trees the bare branches are like the bare bones of the trees.
All things cycle through birth and death. All beginnings eventually end and make way for the new.
Which is why this time of year was often considered the New Year.
Many cultures around the world celebrate and honour the ancestral realm at this time of year when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. In Mexico they celebrate the Day of the Dead and in Finland and Japan the ancestors are also honoured.
In ancient Celtic times a candle was lit to guide the spirits of our ancestors home. It is from this tradition that the Jack O’ Lantern comes.
How can we acknowledge the Sacredness of this time?
Before you continue to the suggestions on how to celebrate, first connect to the essence of this being a time to recognize the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
Take out your journal and ask yourself:
- As we prepare for Winter’s rest take stock of what you have, what you truly need, and if there are any areas that need to be fortified. Write about this.
- What ancestral traditions would you like to keep alive in your life?
- What strengths or attributes are within you as a result of your ancestry? How can you keep these traits alive?
- What ancestral energy patterns (energy medicine says we carry 7 generations worth) need to be consciously retired?
And finally…the yogis point to one of the main forms of suffering as abhinivesha (pronounced ah-bin-nee-v-sha) aka. the fear of death). This can show up as the fear of our mortality, the fear of ending a way of being, the fear of the unknown.
As Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said:
“Some people live as though they are already dead. There are people moving around us who are consumed by their past, terrified of their future, and stuck in their anger and jealousy. They are not alive; they are just walking corpses.”
The way through these fears is by finally letting die those things that prevent us from fully living, it is a death of ignorance so we can experience being alive.
- What needs to finally be laid to rest so you can become alive in your life?
Ways to Celebrate Samhain
- Take a walk in Nature. Observe and contemplate the colours, smells, sounds, and other sensations of the season. Experience yourself as part of the Circle of Life and reflect on death and rebirth as being an important part of Nature. Perhaps gather some natural objects and upon your return use them to adorn your home.
- Decorate your home with Samhain seasonal symbols and the colours of orange and black. Place an Autumnal wreath on your front door. Create displays with pumpkins, cornstalks, gourds, acorns, and apples. Set candles in cauldrons.
- Create an Ancestral Altar: Gather photographs, heirlooms, and other mementos of deceased family, friends, and beloved pets. Arrange them on a table, dresser, or other surface, along with several votive candles. Light the candles in their memory.
- Share ancestoral stories and learn about your family history while you share these stories with each other about your loved ones.
- Visit and tend the gravesite of a loved one at a cemetery. Call to mind memories and consider ways the loved one continues to live on within you. Place an offering there such as fresh flowers, dried herbs, or a libation of water.
- Have a bonfire outdoor if possible or kindle flames in a fireplace or a small cauldron. Write down a habit that you wish to let go of and toss it into the flames as you imagine release.
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How did you celebrate Samhain?
I’d love to know! Leave your comment in the box below and share your experience with me.
Your Soul Sistah,