And today is Samhain - the beginning of the spiritual new year with the two-day festival of Samhain. Samhain is the start of winter and of the new year in the old Celtic calendar. This is a time when the ancestors are honored, divinations for the new year are performed, and festivals are held in honor of the gods. It is a time of final harvest before the long winter ahead.
It appears that people celebrate Samhain at different times and in different ways. Some will choose to wait until the nearest weekend to the full moon to hold ceremonies. Others observe it a bit later, around Nov. 6, to mark the midpoint between fall equinox and winter solstice. In the southern hemisphere, Samhain takes place towards the end of April and beginning of May.
Rituals can include bonfires, dancing, feasting and ceremonies honoring ancestors and those who have died in the past year.
What is Samhain?
Samhain, pronounced saah-win or saa-ween, comes from the Gaelic word “Samhuin,” which means summer’s end. It is one of the eight annual Celtic festivals and one of eight "sabbats" that modern pagans celebrate in the course of the year. Paganism is an umbrella term for a movement of different nature-based religions. It is not related to Satanism or any form of devil worship.
“Samhain is the turning of the wheel. It feels almost like shutting off the lights for the evening or closing down the store for the night,” “It is time to go inward and focus on family and self.”
For many, the festival is a time to honor ancestors and those who have died in the past year. Seances are popular rituals since this is the time when the veil between this world and the spiritual one is at its thinnest, pagans believe.
It’s a kind of memorial day for pagan people. The strongest theme is that of remembering, honoring and paying respects to the beloved dead.
There are several rituals that can be practiced during Samhain. Some decide to celebrate in group settings, while others choose to perform rituals in private.
Rituals include bonfires, divinations like tarot card readings, reflecting on the past year, meditative nature walks and commemorating the dead with a cemetery visit, telling ancestors’ stories and preparing a Feast of the Dead. The latter involves placing an empty setting at the dinner table for the deceased. Each person is meant to give an offering from their plate to the one that belongs to the deceased. A variation of this is called a “Samhain Dumb Supper” where the meal is conducted in silence.
What’s the difference between Samhain and Halloween?
In the eighth century, the Catholic Church decided to mark Nov. 1 as All Saints Day to honor saints and martyrs. This was in part influenced by the pagan festivals already taking place during this time of the year. The mass on All Saint’s Day was called Allhallowmas in English. As a result, the night before became known as All Hallows Eve. This eventually became the popular holiday, Halloween.
While they might take place on the same day and mark the end-of-harvest season, Samhain and Halloween have different focuses. Halloween is considered a secular folk holiday celebrated by people of all denominations. Samhain is a religious observance honoring the dead. Rituals are somber and done in private.
While part of Samhain festivities involve a certain level of grief and mourning, there are celebrations or céilidh (a Gaelic term) that take place.
And there you have it ....
So while the witches fly, I will raise a glass to the living and the dead - and celebrate in the comfort of my home with a glass of Chateau 41...
Old Time Religion