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Holidays >> Samhain
hungry spirits, pagan traditions, foul breath, eternal circle

Samhain - October 31st

Author: Blathnaid (a/k/a Erin Scott)

The Celtic year is divided into halves, marked by the two great Fire
Festivals of Samhain and Beltaine. The period from Samhain to Beltaine is
called "an Ghrian beag" or the "lessor Sun", and the period from Beltaine to
Samhain is called "an Ghrian mor" or "greater Sun".

Samhain marks the New Year for most pagan traditions. It is said to be one
of the two times, the other being Beltaine, when the veil between the worlds
is very thin, when souls that are leaving this physical plane can pass out
and souls that are reincarnating can pass in. It is a powerful time for
divination and contacting those who have walked these lands before us. In
fact, divinations are particularly easy at this time of year for those with
enough courage not to fear the answers they might receive.

In older times, "Oidche Shamhna" was the "night of Samhain", and the
boundaries of the civil and cosmic worlds dissolved into the twilight.
Bonfires illuminated hilltops and fairy folks swept through the forest and
glen as the sidhe mounds yawned open and freed upon the world their
preternatural inhabitants. Men and women masqueraded as each other to
deceive the spirits of the Otherworld who roamed the crossroads. A candled
burned in each window and supper by the hearthside welcomed the flitting
shades of relatives passed away. By honoring and welcoming these hungry
spirits, a family might see better luck in the coming year. Those
inattentive to their spectral ancestors might find their possessions tossed
into the field, their gardens in disarray and the foul breath of bad luck
heavily upon them - the original "Trick or Treat". By leaving a bit of food
and drink on Samhain near the pictures or other representations of loved
ones now deceased, by evoking their names and welcoming them, or by leaving
a candle or light in your window, you can walk the eternal circle of life
into death into life - the same as your loved ones have done who await you.

The time between Samhain and Yule is the time of the Crone, the Dagda, the
Cailleach, the Morrigu, powerful, dark and wise … imposing and compelling at
once. The cycle remains faithful to nature's laws: to all that lives, comes
death. While some threads are long seeming and others cut short, in the
end, we all enter the eternal cauldron. Samhain provides the rightful
season for chaos and disintegration of both the physical world around us and
the unconscious world which dwells within us. By embracing the death of the
season and the psychic Winter which is upon us, we assure our humanity and
the light which will return again in the Spring. We realize that all of us
must allow death to be a part of our lives on this day, whether that death
be of a physical nature, a specific train of thought, or even an emotion,
habit, or issue that needs to be put to rest. We go through death and
rebirth throughout our lives … it is called change!

This is the time of season which the Crone rules. She is one aspect of the
triple Goddess, made up of Crone, Maiden and Mother. It is the Crone who
opens the Western gate for those who have departed to travel into the
Summerland. She rules areas of death and regeneration, occult sciences,
healing, and the wisdom of the ages. We use the Crone to assist us in
transition from one life to the next, leaving one level of our existence and
entering the next. This brings us into the Womb of the Mother to assist us
in being reborn once again. It is through Her Wisdom and Guidance we learn
lessons from experiences past and begin life anew from the wisdom gained.
Through the Crone aspect, many of us pagans perform rituals to leave behind
that which we do not want to carry on into the future: outdated habits, past
relationships, insecurities, and those things which do not serve us to carry
on. Normally, a fire is included in these rituals, be it in a fire pit,
cauldron, or some other such vessel, and into the fire go representations of
our failures, our fears and our faults, expelling them from our lives even
as the fire quells the darkness, pushing the shadows to the corners where
they can no longer disturb us.

The Goddess is found in a trinity in the Celtic Realm. As the Maiden, we
see her first at Imbolc as Bride or Brigid. In the Mother aspect, we see
her at both Beltaine and Lughnasadh. But is here at Samhain that we meet
the Goddess in her third aspect, one that causes the most problems for many
of us: the Crone. Our patriarchal society has consistently devalued women,
and, today, as never before, the focus is on youth while our elders are
ignored. Now there is an aspect of the Crone that is unpleasant to
contemplate. The Hindus - at the other end of the Indo European empire -
called her Kali, the Death Goddess. The Celts in Scotland called her the
Cailleach, which simply means "old woman". Images of her can make any night
unpleasant, with her blue-black face, one eye in the middle of her brow and
protruding teeth. Yet the Cailleach is an important part of the cycle of
birth, life, death, and regeneration. Her power animal is the Boar. The
pig was always seen as a sacred animal to the Celts. For this reason, some
Highland Scottish people, the Caldones or Kaledonioi, do not eat pork. And
Samhain is both the time of death and the time to sow the seeds -
interesting linguistic coincidence.

There is another, more agreeable aspect of the Crone that we must not
forget: that of the wise old woman. Our elders carry the wisdom of our

If you hear the high rattling shriek of the Cailleach echoing in the bare
trees at night, fear not the unpleasant aspect and embrace the wisdom… all
is well - HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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