Samhain, Ancestors, and the End of Summer
As Halloween is just around the corner, many people have begun to contemplate costumes and candy. We are aware that the holiday largely celebrated in North America has its roots elsewhere, but we may get stuck on how a harvest festival came to inspire what we celebrate today. Read on to discover the origins of Halloween and why they're still relevant.
Samhain (pronounced SOW-hin), is a harvest festival that takes place October 31st to November 1st. Historically celebrated by the Gaels and Celts, it has been included in more recent times as a Neopagan holiday and one of eight Wiccan sabbats. As it has roots in marking the last harvest of the year, Samhain is a time to recognize the transition from the longer days of summer to the longer nights of winter. The growing season has come to an end, and the task of reaping what was sown in the Spring is upon us. Contrary to Summer, Autumn is a time for introspection and preparation for the dark season; we begin to consider what we will take with us and what we will leave behind. Because it is coincides with the dying of crops, Samhain is also seen as a New Year festival.
Halloween also coincides with the Celtic Festival of the Dead, a tradition found within many cultures. Because it is believed the veil between the spirit world and ours is thinnest on this night, respects are paid to those who have passed on and ensuring that they are taken care of, as they do the same for the living. Costumes of ghosts and ghouls were once dawned in hopes of frightening away unfriendly spirits; this is where the horrific aspects of Halloween began.
Celebrating and Honouring
Samhain is a time to honour ancestors and loved ones who have passed on. Whether they were blood relatives or friends, this is a great opportunity to give thanks and acknowledge the teachings they imparted to us, and the impact they had on who we are and where we're going. We can give thanks for them simply by remembering with family and friends over a hearty meal, or by partaking in the following:
- Construct an altar or dedicated space for ancestors. Place photos of those who have passed and offerings of their favourite items (food, tobacco, flowers, etc.) upon it
- Place offerings of food on the altar or a doorstep, or include extra chairs around the table at meals. Ancient Celts would make plates of food for those who had passed as a way to acknowledge their presence and include them in daily life. Traditional foods of Samhain include turnips, apples, gourds, nuts, mulled wines, beef, pork and poultry.
As Samhain marks the end of the year, divination was often performed to predict the coming year. By making use of what would otherwise be wasted, ancient peoples would look for clues that foretold next year’s crop outcome, love interests, and health.
- As with all instances of divination, go with the form you feel most connected to: tarot, runes, dowsing, scrying/gazing and I Ching are just a few methods
- Nuts and pumpkin seeds are symbols of Samhain; try experimenting with using them to cast lots as you would with runes
The changing of seasons is a powerful time to reflect on and pursue the Work we are called to do. Samhain is a time to embrace and explore the 'darker' aspects of self and surroundings, while honouring the past as where we came from. As always, we love to hear your personal thoughts on what this time of year means to you and how you intend to celebrate!