The Seasonal Hearth
Autumn is fading into Winter.......Samhain is approaching!
Not only are the kids reminding you, almost everyday that Halloween is just around the corner, but you can feel it in the air. And you can feel the energy shifting as the Veil Between the Worlds grows thin, and thinner still...........
|About Samhain||Celebrating the Season|
|Themes of the
The Wild Hunt
The Rise of the Pleiades
The Faery Folk
The Dark Goddess
The Sacred Fires of Samhain
the Ancestor Altar
The Soul Nights
Samhain, also known as Halloween, All Hallow's Eve, and Hallowmas, is celebrated on October 31 - November 1, and is the Celtic Feast of the Dead. It is one of the four major Sabbats celebrated by the Wicca, the Druids, and others who follow the Celtic seasonal cycle. These four Sabbats are sometimes referred to as Fire Festivals, since themes of fire and light play such a prominent part in them. Fire - the making and keeping of it - was of course a vitally important thing to our ancestors, so it is not surprising to find such an emphasis.
Samhain is really a season, rather than just a festival beginning on the night of October 31 and continuing through the day of November 1. It marks the true beginning of the dark time of the year - Winter - and the night that we celebrate as "Samhain" marks the beginning of this season. The word "Samhain" means "Summer's End" in Gaelic. In the Coligny Calendar of the Celtic tribes of Gaul, this begins the month of Samonios, which means "Seeds fall." Samhain corresponds roughly with the Teutonic feast of Winternights - called "Winterfylith" meaning "Winter Full Moon" by the Anglo-Saxons - which is celebrated around the time of the 1st Full Moon after the Autumn Equinox. At this time, just as with Samhain, the ancestors are honored and return to claim their portion.
Looking at the Wheel of the Year in terms of the Wheel of the Day, Samhain is seen to be the point between the sunset point of Fall Equinox and the midnight point of Winter Solstice. Samhain is a time of deepening darkness leading to the rebirth, at Winter Solstice, of the light of the Sun:
From the heart of the darkness is born the light.
Legends of the Wild Hunt are very archaic, and represent - among other things - ancient peoples' understanding of the workings of the great themes of Life, Growth, Death, Cleansing, and Rebirth. The Wild Hunt must ride, the powers of darkness, destruction, and finally, cleansing, must prevail. The Goddess - or God - must lead the Hunt, sweeping away the remnants of old Tide of Life, before the blessings of rebirth - and the new Tide of Life - could begin.........
The Rise of the Pleiades
RJ Stewart, in his book, The Prophetic Vision of Merlin (Arkana, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1986; pg 143), says that esoterically, the Pleiades have been considered, in ancient times, to be the "Stellar Matrix" for the Solar System - as each of the 7 stars corresponds with one of the 7 traditionally known planets. Noting that their rising and setting times have been used as the two great turning points of the seasons, he goes on to say: "In Celtic practice, perpetuated by folk customs well in the 19th & 20th centuries, the rising of the Pleiades in November marked the festival of the Blessed Ancestors, known as Samhain or All-Hallows, when the dead draw close to the living, and the gates between the worlds are opened. All fires were extinguished at this time, a practice known worldwide, and the spirits of the dead were supposed to pass into the Otherworld. At the culmination of the Pleiades, a fresh magical fire was lit ritually, and from this, flames are carried far and wide. The fanciful ceremonies still found today involving bonfires, flaming barrels and similar practices are all echoes of this Druidic rite." As cosmic phase markers these stars have to do with the cycles of Life and Death; Samhain - as the beginning of Winter - is the Death part of the cycle, and Beltane - as the beginning of Summer - is the Life part of the cycle.
There are many theories as to the origin of the FaeryFolk and much lore has come down to us concerning their nature and behaviors. Whatever one believes of their nature and origin, they are noted to be attuned to the land and live in the Underworld, which they enter by mounds known as Sidhes. These mounds are their dwellings (as are other underground spots such as caves, caverns and hollow hills) as well as entrances to deeper parts of the earth. Faeries are said to change residence at every quarter - thus reflecting the change in the seasons and within the earth. The "quarters" referred to in this case are actually what the modern pagan traditions refer to as the "cross-quarter" days - Brigid, Beltane, Lughnasahd and Samhain.
The Underworld is also said to be the dwelling place of the Ancestors (see below) and in Celtic legend and lore there was not always a big distinction made between the faeries and the ancestors. It was often thought that the dead went to live in the "Blessed Isles of the West," often referred to as the Land of Summer or Summerland. These Blessed Isles of the West were also held to be the original home of the Shining Ones of Old - the Tuatha de Danann. One of the Irish legends states that after the defeat of the Tuatha at the hands of the Milesians, the Tuatha were banished to - or chose to take as their domain - the mounds and the hills: that is, the places below the surface of the earth: the Underworld Realm. This brings in the connection with the faeryfolk - whom some say are the Tuatha de Danaan.
Of all the nights of the year, it is only on Samhain that the sidhe mounds, hollow-hills, caves and caverns are open and the treasures of the sidhe can be seen. All the spirits are abroad this time of the year - ancestors and other ghosts, pucas, faeries and hosts of other Under and Otherworldly beings. The Sidhe-dwellers were considered by the Celts to be the rulers of Samhain and of the other spirits at large at Samhain. The costume aspect of Halloween/Samhain might possibly come from the custom of "Ritual Disguise." Only those in disguise would dare venture out this night, their disguise designed to confuse the sidhe dwelling faeries, who along with the revered, but sometimes feared, ancestors, were abroad on this night when the veils between the worlds were so thin as to allow easy passage between them. A Samhain feast was held with special foods and the hearth was prepared for the visit of the Ancestors. Food was left out to propitiate the spirits. In some parts of the Celtic world a place was set for them at the family table. Samhain is a night to honor the ancestors, and the Tuatha de Danaan, and the dwellers in the sidhe, who may, after all, be one and the same. **
In addition to God who leads the Wild Hunt, the Crone Goddess - known also as the Hag or Cailleach, is also associated with the season of winter now beginning, with its themes of death, repose, rest and wisdom. The Teutonic Goddess Holda was said to lead the Wild Hunt. The terrifying hag Cerridwen - the Welsh Goddess of the Death & Rebirth who was also a Goddess of Initiation & Transformation - shape-changed into many forms as she pursued Gwion Bach with intent to kill him for partaking of her Cauldron of Wisdom and Regeneration. When she, in her hen-shape found him - and he in the shape of a kernel of grain - she gobbled him up. But because she is Goddess of Death and Rebirth, nine months later she gave birth to him as a beautiful young babe of "Radiant Brow" (which is the literal meaning of "Taliesin," the name by which he was known after this "initiation"). He was so beautiful she hadn't the heart to kill him, the legend says, but instead set him adrift in a craneskin bag on Samhain (though some say Beltane). He was found by a King's son and rapidly grew into a man of great wisdom. This tale, which is really the tale of Gwion's initiation into the shamanic mysteries of the Goddess, is yet another illustration of "from the night comes the day, from the dark comes the light, from death comes life." Many pagan spiritual traditions honor the Dark Goddess - the Cailleach, the Wise One of death, destruction, purification and regeneration - on this day.
During this season when the veils between the worlds are at their very thinnest, the Mighty Dead and the revered, beloved ancestors were honored and made welcome. The Mighty Dead refers to the more heroic and important members of our tribes and families who have passed on into the Otherworld - the Land Beyond Death. The Ancestors were, and are, ceremonially invited to come back to Mid-Earth, to warm themselves at the family's hearthfire, to partake of the family's Samhain supper, and partake also in the night's festivities. A candle was sometimes set in a window to guide them home, and offerings of food were left out for them, with the hope, perhaps, that this would make them feel welcomed. These food offerings left out for the ancestral spirits also served to appease the less friendly spirits who might likewise be abroad on this night.
In many cultures, the ancestors are said to live in the hearthfires, which customarily are extinguished and ceremonially relit on this occasion of year's end and winter's beginning. We honor our ancestors, but also, we honor our descendants, although we will never know most of them. We are their ancestors. And perhaps they are, in some future time, sitting in front of a Samhain fire..........commemorating us.
Many of the old myths concerning fire attest to the importance and sanctity of Fire in the lives of our ancestors. If we take time to look at the world beyond the walls of our homes and offices, take time to see and feel the rhythms of the Earth, we will see and feel the waxing and waning of the power of Fire during the course of the Year.
With days growing short and cold, it seems that the sacred fire of life is withdrawing from the outer worlds to the inner worlds. The fire of our Sun grow wan and weak, plants wither and die. But the power of fire is only moving inward - into the depths, down to the roots - rather than being extinguished. The inner fires grow brighter and the inner life grows stronger. During this dark time of Winter, our emphasis shifts from the concerns of the outer world, to those of our inner worlds: it is a time for sitting by the fire, for nourishing our roots, for resting, for reflection, and for dreaming the dream that will become the future. In times past, at Samhain, a sacred Fire Ceremony was enacted in the villages. The Old Fire of the dying sun and dying year were extinguished - representing the ending of the year, the season, and the Old Tide of Life. Then the New Fire was kindled - representing the new year, the new season, and the New Tide of Life just beginning. From this New Fire, all other fires of the village were then rekindled.
Thus, this Sacred Fire of Samhain is seen to be a fire of endings and death; yet also of beginnings and renewal, and the transformation that precedes rebirth. For transformation and renewal can only occur if they are preceded by the death and destruction of the old forms and energies. One Tide of life must end so that the next may begin.
From the heart of the darkness is born the light.
This season reminds us to turn inward. It reminds us that the first spark of the New Light, of the New Tide of Life, that of regeneral/renewal, is found within the deepest and darkest of places, and it is there we must go if we seek this light of rebirth.
Our harvest has been brought in; we have celebrated the feast of Harvest Home and given thanks. Our hearthside altar, with its brown, orange and golds cloths, with its red-orange leaves, corn dollies and Indian corn, reflects the harvest bounty and Autumn's colorful glory. Now it's time to let this altar flow gradually and gently into Winter, as we prepare it for Samhain.
Out come the black and red cloths, the statue of the Dark Goddess, the skull, the bones, the stones, the spiders and spiderwebbing, but most importantly, out come the ancestor pictures.
Every year we set up a special Ancestor Altar as part of our Samhain decor. For years, the only ancestor pictures I possessed were pictures of my parents. But a few years back, a generous cousin gifted me with a box of wonderful family 'things' that had been in the possession of her late mother. These things had originally belonged to my grandmother, and my aunt had become caretaker of them when her mother passed on. Now they are mine to caretake, till I pass them into the keeping of my children. And so the cycle continues....
What a treasure trove this box proved to be! It contained, among other things, pictures of grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins going back as far as the 1870's; names of ancestors of whom I'd never even heard, pictures of places they had lived, things they'd done, birthdays and holidays they'd celebrated together, friends they'd had. Faces from the past looked out at me from these pictures, and I could see in these faces the familiar features, expressions, and smiles of my aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and even my children.
Each Samhain, these pictures, and the other family tokens found in that wonderful box, are placed lovingly on our Ancestor Altar. We use a black altar cloth, over which we place a red scarf to represent the blood of our ancestors which flows through our veins. We light the Center candle to represent the Fire of Life That Unites Us All. On each of the Soul Nights before Samhain, we sit by this altar, passing around the pictures, recounting the stories, and lighting a candle in remembrance of each of them. It is a wonderful feeling to connect with ancestors in this way, to keep them alive in our memories that their lives and deeds not be forgotten; and to pass on the family lore - knowing that our children are listening, and will remember..........
The tradition of Soul Nights is one we've observed in our family for many years. Full details for it can be found in my book, "WiccaCraft for Families: the Path of the Hearthfire," (1994, Phoenix, Publishing). But in brief, here's how we do it:
We begin our family Samhain celebration one week before Samhain, on the night of October 24th. Each night, we sit before our Ancestor Altar and commemorate our ancestors. Sometimes we do divination on these nights. Sometimes we tell ghost stories. At the end of the week, we have our Family Samhain ritual, and extinguish our 'Old Fire' and light a 'New Fire.'
~~~ THE SOUL NIGHTS ~~~
October 24 - Night of the Seers
October 25 - Night of the Heroes
October 26 - Night of the Artists
October 27 - Night of the
October 28 - Night of Remembrance
for Family Pets
October 29 - Night of Remembrance
of Forgotten Ancestors
October 30 - Night of the Recent
October 31 - Family Fire Festival
(As always, many thanks to Ed Fitch & Janina Renee for these wonderful ideas, and for allowing me to share them in my book and on this site!)
People have always been intensely curious about what the future held for them, especially with regard to how long they might live, and whom they might end up marrying. At Samhain, the veil between the worlds is thin, the Otherworld - and the information it contains - is more easily accessible to us than at most other times of the year. Thus, Samhain has traditionally been a time when Divination of the future was done. Many of the old Samhain/Halloween customs illustrate this for us - customs such as peeling an apple in one long strip, then throwing the peel backwards over one's left shoulder in order to read the initial formed when it lands on the floor; or that of placing two nuts together into the fire to see if and how well they burn together. These days, many witches and pagans use more modern divination devices such as cards and runes for their Samhain divinations. But the curiosity is the same - none of us can resist the lure of peeking into the future, that we may behold the shapes and shadows of that which dwells there, and perhaps, be prepared......
From Our Home
Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies
1/2 cup softened butter
Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs. Mix in pumpkin and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Add to the pumpkin mixture, stirring well, then stir in the raisins and nuts. Drop by teaspoonful onto a baking sheet, and bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes.
Black Cat Punch
Mix one package of concord grape juice concentrate with some sparkling mineral water, till you have something that is both sparkling and sweet. There are no definite proportions to this recipe, so play with it a bit till it's just right for you.
*(All written material on this page is excerpted from "The Sacred Fires of Samhain," (c) Margie McArthur, 1995, Razing the Stakes Magazine, and WiccaCraft for Families: the Path of the Hearthfire, (c) Margie McArthur, 1994, Phoenix Publishing, Custer, Wa. All the usual copyright laws apply. Yes, we'll notice.)
**Faery Images above are copyright (c) Brian Froud www.worldoffroud.com
Thanks for visiting with us this season. A
Blessed Samhain to you and yours!
For a more personal look at our family's Halloween fun, please click here