Wheel of the Year: Samhain

So we’ve talked about the Gods and Goddesses, the charge, and some definitions related to the craft. Now it’s time to start talking about Holidays. They are fun for the family. They are a great way to let off stream….and most of them are not going to be on your work’s days off list, which sucks but can be worked around.

Before we get too far, I do want to note that there are some variances on this depending on tradition or just the books in general. I’ll try to note all the discrepancies and let you decide what works for you. Okay?

So what are the Holidays of a witch?

Well most of us still celebrate the general ones, but for us particularly there tend to be eight major Holidays. (Note: Asatru follow a completely different set of Holiday’s. See the Asatru Alliance web page for more info on that.) They are as follows:

Samhain:               October 31                                            Greater Sabbat

Yule:                      December 21(Winter solstice)          Lesser Sabbat

Imbolc:                  February 2:                                            Greater Sabbat

Ostara:                  March 21 (Spring equinox)                 Lesser Sabbat

Beltaine:               May 1                                                     Greater Sabbat

Litha:                     June 21 (Summer Solstice)                 Lesser Sabbat

Lughnassadgh:    August 2                                                 Greater Sabbat

Mabon:                September 21 (Autumn Equinox)       Lesser Sabbat

Essentially we begin and end our year with Samhain in most traditions. And it’s not really considered either a beginning or an end. It’s just a continuance of the cycle.  So let’s start there.

First of all, let’s all learn how to pronounce it correctly its Sow-en. I’m not sure why, probably has something to do with old languages that are beyond me, but that’s how its pronounced in most pagan books, so we’re going to stick with it. No need to make things more complicated right?

God/Goddess Roles

This is the point in the cycle of the year where the God dies.  He remains gone until his rebirth at Ostara (Or Yule, depending on tradition. Trust me the whole mess makes more sense once you learn the whole cycle.)

What do we do?

This is the time of the year where we honor our dead. Many of us light candles to those we have lost in the previous year as well as those who we have lost further back in our past.  Some people meditate, some say they astral travel to other planes (depending on what you believe individually).  Others still take their kids out trick or treating and just hold the meaning of the day in their hearts. It really depends on your life and your perspective.

Me, I like to cook recipes from RavenWolf’s Halloween book. I’m not a fan of most of her work, as I feel she leaves glaring holes in the education of pagans and puts spellwork before the foundations.  It bothers me, but that’s beside the point.  I also trick or treat for charity, taking canned good donations. It depends on the year and what all I’m involved in, but I try to do something to either benefit others or respect those who I’ve lost in my own life over the years.

What is it all about?

It is a celebration of death and renewal.  In Celtic, the name means “end of summer” or “beginning of winter” in old Gaelic.  The druids used to make sacrifices to the Gods for a prosperous year. Usually their sacrifice consisted only of animals, but in harsher times, some men would volunteer to be the sacrifice.  It was an honor to either be chosen or to volunteer as the Gods made life.

However, most witches took a very different approach to this time of the year.  A huge fire was often built in the center of their ritual space or in the town.  It was a symbolic sacred fire.  It represented the spirit or rebirth from the darkness.  People would extinguish every light in their homes before going to ritual and before they returned they took a burning ember from the fire, from which they would relight the hearth for their year.

See, back then most families kept some sort of fire burning in their homes. It was a necessity to make bread, to cook food, to heat the home. It was the heart of the kitchen and what many believe to be the earliest beginnings of the Kitchen Witch.

Samhain is the time between times. Just as it is considered the day that the veil between the worlds is at its weakest.  Lanterns are set outside door ways to guide the dead back home for a visit. Offerings are placed at doors as both a welcome and a hope that they will return home at the end of the night instead of haunting them.  Sigils are hung to protect the home from dark energies.

It is also known in some cultures as the third harvest.  It was the time at which the people pulled together their final provisions for the harsh winter.  It was the time that villages put down any animals that they thought would not last the winter. They had to make sure that what would not survive the cold could be preserved to fill their bellies in the harsh cold.

It was also a time when people disregarded old habits and tried to pick up new ones. Sounds like our modern day resolutions, only this has been around much longer. It is considered more powerful to make such resolutions on this day due to its nature of being between times.  There is also often a feast to usher in the new year.

Types of Magick

Usually this is a time of the year where people banish negative aspects from their lives. The magick on this day is going to relate to getting rid of something negatively affecting your life or a renewal of something good in your life.

Pumpkins and Trick Or Treating

So what’s the deal with pumpkins and Halloween? Well back in the day, they considered this a time when we could commune with the dead. So they would light candles to guide them back to us right? Well, they wanted to make sure that the candles didn’t go out, so they placed them in gourds or, yes, pumpkins.

Where did carving them come into the picture? Well, families would mark the vessel with names, runes, and talisman of luck for the departed as well as the family.  Eventually, when the holiday was converted into a night of fear and costume, the natural thing to do was to carve scary faces into them. Some also say that the scary faces were carved into pumpkins to scare away evil spirits.

And what about trick or treating? Well, that’s another old tradition. It was once believed that departed spirits, if not properly welcomed with food, would leave marks, hexes or unpleasant gifts at your door. This eventually evolved into costumes and candies…and upset children if you weren’t passing out candy lol.

And with that I leave you to ponder the first of the Eight Sabbats.

Blessed Be.

For more information there are a wealth of sites on the web talking about Samhain. You can also look to teaching Witchcraft by Miles Batty, my source for this article. It’s in my reading list.

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