Samhain is one of the major festivals of the Wheel of the Year, for many Pagans the most important festival of all. It is the third and final harvest festival of nuts and berries and a fire festival. All the harvest is in, all is complete, it is the end of the cycle of birth and growth, it is the point of death. The seeds of the harvest have fallen deep into the dark earth, they are unseen, dormant, and thus apparently lifeless.
The God, as Sun King is sacrificed back to the land with the seed until the Winter Solstice, and the Goddess, now as Crone, mourns Him until His rebirth at Yule. He travels the Underworld learning its wisdom. This is the time of the descent into darkness, of pre-conception, out of which new life, new ideas, will eventually emerge.
Traditionally the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest now. Boundaries dissolve and all is laid bare. It is time to honour and offer hospitality to, our ancestors.
At Samhain the dark half of the year commences. It is a truly magical time. Death is always followed by rebirth and while this is the end of the old year, it is the beginning of the new year. For the Celts the day did not begin at dawn, it began at sunset, it began with darkness. Light is always born out of darkness, they are inseparable, interdependent, and necessary. Darkness is fertile with 'all potential'. With the beginning of this dark phase comes the opportunity to rest and reflect on the past and to dream of new beginnings. The seed now hidden in the earth will germinate in its season. Look for the seeds in yourself!
Honouring The Ancestors
Honouring your ancestors is a very special thing to do at this time and can be done in many simple ways. Think about all those departed souls from your life, both family and friends, children may wish to remember pets even - place photographs of them on your altar. Offer them your hospitality, welcome their presence into your home. At your Samhain feast, consider laying an extra place for them to join you at the table - cook and eat their favourite dishes, talk about them - re-member them, bring them closer. You and your children can make an offering for departed pets by leaving some dog food outside on Halloween night, many night creatures appreciate this offering. Be careful what you put outside - we used to put out bread and milk but are dismayed to find that this is fatal to hedgehogs - and we love hedgehogs!
Candle Ceremony for The Ancestors
This is a wonderfully simple ritual which can be shared with both friends and family, or worked alone. You can include children in it - it begins in darkness and ends full of light.
It's a great balance to trick or treating!
You will need a supply of small candles, either black or white, or a supply of night lights. You need a heat proof container or tray of sand or earth to put them in. Place one in the centre of the container from which all the others will be lit. Switch off all the lights and sit gently in the darkness. Allow the darkness to enfold you. Ask for the presence of your ancestors to come to you. When you are ready, light the central candle saying "We welcome our departed loved ones into this home and honour your presence amongst us". Allow each person in the circle to spontaneously remember someone who has passed to the Summerlands and remember something about them and light a candle for each person from the central candle: 'I remember Great Aunt Sheila and her generosity of heart....'. Allow this to continue for as long as it takes to complete the re-membering. You will end with a tray full of radiant candles. When all is complete, give thanks, and allow the candles to burn to completion.
Seed Scattering Charm for the Ancestors
This simple charm is designed to honour the Spirit of those who have passed onto the Summerland. The seeds you scatter will grow in memory, a gift of remembrance to the Earth.
You will need:
A packet of seeds of your choice
A small dish
A small white candle in a suitable holder
A pouch or bag for your seeds
The night before your Seed Scattering Charm, pop the seeds into the dish and light the candle. Think about the person or people you wish to honour and remember, and as you do so say 'gone from sight but not from the heart. Merry Meet Merry Part.' Or you can use your own words. Leave the seeds in the dish overnight and let the candle burn down completely - always taking safety precautions. When you are ready place the seeds in your pouch and hold the pouch in your right hand on the way to a place of your choosing. On arrival take the seeds and scatter them, saying 'You are remembered and held in my heart'. Repeat three times.
Where to do this? You can go to a favourite special place of your choice, a place that holds fond memories of the people you are honouring, or even your own garden - the idea of watching the seeds germinating and growing in honour of people you love is very special. The charm works just as well if you plant the seeds in a small pot.
This charm works very well as an offering of thanks to Spirit of Place. The instructions are exactly the same, except that when you prepare the seeds the night before the words are ' I give thanks for your beauty, it warms my heart. Merry Meet Merry Part.'
The Isle of Avalon, Isle of Apples, Isle of the Dead.
In mythology, here the entrance to the Underworld is found, ruled by Morgan, Queen of the Dead. There are many apple games played at Samhain which grew out of the belief in the Apple as a sacred and magical fruit. The Apple is a symbol of life and immortality. In Celtic tradition, apples were buried at Samhain as food for those souls who are waiting to be reborn.
The Apple, cut crosswise, reveals the five pointed star, or pentacle at its core, a symbol of the Goddess.
Symbols of Samhain
Pumpkins are very much an American tradition which has been successfully marketed in the UK and Europe. Everyone loves them, especially of course, children. If you consider that the Celts regarded the human head as the Seat of the Soul, the concept of the carved pumpkin with a candle inside it as the Light shining from the Soul, it becomes just about acceptable........
The Cauldron or Holy Grail is closely associated with Samhain. It is feminine, and is the cosmic container for all life and death, of transformation and rebirth.
The Besom Broom
The besom is used as this time both practically and symbolically. It sweeps away the last of the Autumn leaves, but is also used ritually to sweep out the old, to clean and clear away old energy, creating space for the new. Traditionally besoms are made from birch twigs - the birch is associated with purification and renewal.
You can make a besom at this time of year by gathering a large bundle of birch twigs tied together. Drive a broom handle into the middle of the bundle - ideally hazel or ash.
The Acorn is the seed of the great Oak, representing wisdom, longevity, rebirth - a promise of strength to come. An acorn in your pocket is an amulet of good fortune to come. All nuts from our indigenous trees - walnuts, hazelnuts, conkers and so on - are pure potential and carry the attributes of the mother tree.
Colours of Samhain
Black for death and endings, orange for the vitality of life within death, purple for wisdom, insight and inspiration.
The Samhain Altar
A cauldron. Apples, nuts and berries. Black candles to honour the passage to the Summerland and the Ancestors. Photographs of deceased family and friends.
Buttermilk Bread Charm for Samhain.
You will need:
3 mugs of strong white flour
500 ml of Buttermilk (available from the supermarket)
I teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda
Samhain ribbon in black or purple.
A handful of rye flour
A scattering of oats
twig of rosemary for remembrance
Place the flours in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. Sieve in the blended salt and soda and pour in the buttermilk. Mix well with a wooden spoon until the dough feels springy. If it feels too sloppy just add a little more flour. Turn it onto a board and cover with a fine dusting of flour. Pat it with your hands until you have a round shape. Take a sharp knife and score lightly into eight sections, one for each festival. Our picture shows the bread scored five times to make a pentacle.
Place onto a greased baking tray and pop your buttermilk bread into a moderate oven for about 20-25 minutes. Keep and eye on it. When the bread is ready it will change colour and it will sound hollow when you tap the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack.
When it is cool, place the rosemary on top and tie it with Samhain ribbon.
Take time to concentrate on the bread you have created and turn the loaf three times saying
"From the fields and through the stones, into fire, Samhain Bread, as the Wheel turns may all be fed. Goddess Bless."
Now take your bread and share it with your family and friends and pass on the generous blessings of this festival of completion and beginning. Eat it fresh, as soon as it is made if you can.
Recipe donated by the Counter Enchantress. Adapted by the Boss Lady with permission.
The Counter Enchantress is discovering that you can add almost anything appropriate to this simple bread recipe and it STILL WORKS beautifully. You can decide for yourself what the appropriate additions are for a particular festival, in this case rye flour. oats and rosemary, and just do it. There is much kitchen magic in working with one recipe through the Wheel of the Year just changing it a little as the wheel turns.....
Honour the ancestors, have fun and enjoy...........