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Samhain

Samhain (pronounced "Sow-wen") falls on 31st October. The Celts and the Anglo-Saxons (who named this sabbat Hallowe'en) considered it to be an important festival marking the beginning of the year. The year was strongly divided into two halves - Summer and Winter. The beginning of Winter was marked by Samhain. This led to a time of hardship and cold, hunger and indoor activity. It is the time in which the Earth sleeps and growth slows. It can also be seen as Nature's period of gestation before its rebirth in the Springtime.

We can recognize our own response to the Earth's energies at this time - we too become more introverted, we want to hide away from the cold and rain. This is a period of reflection, of drawing in and looking deep within ourselves at who we are.

Samhain was, and still is, also a festival of the dead. Great bonfires were lit and flaming torches were carried into the fields to impregnate the Earth with the seed of the dying Sun, so that after a long gestation, the new growth would burst forth again in the Spring. Animals, such as cattle, would be driven through the flames and people leapt over the fires, giving themselves the life-force and fertility from the flames.

The people of old England had a belief system very different from the predominantly Christian teachings of today. Their belief in a Lowerworld, Hel, was demonized by Christian missionaries as a bad realm, Hell, but in reality there was little comparison between the two concepts.

The Celts believed that this spirit world was very close to the everyday world of the living and that particular places or times provided connections to the spirit realm - both enticing and threatening. Rivers, crossroads, ridges of high hills and even land boundaries were all considered to be doorways to the Lowerworld. The Otherworld was also thought to be very near during any shift of consciousness - light shift at dawn and dusk, the change between the waxing and waning Moon, the Summer and Winter festivals and the beginning and ending points of thunderstorms. At all of these places and points in time, the Otherworld must be guarded against - unless one was seeking an intentional journey into those realms.

Samhain (Hallowe'en) was considered to be a night when the doorway between the worlds was open to all who sought it and it was a time of celebration of the unity between the spirit world and our own physical plane.

Storm at Woolbury Ring, Hampshire
Twisted Beech tree at the woods

The Wild Hunt

On Samhain night our Ancestors are said to leave their graves, accompanied by horses and hounds. They travel across the sky in a wild hunting pack led by the head of their barrow or ancestral tribe.

Traditionally, offerings are left at longbarrows for our Ancestors on Samhain night - usually red apples as these are ancient symbols of the Underworld. People carved out turnips and placed candles within them on beacon hills as guiding lanterns for the hunt to follow.

Samhain apples for the Wild Hunt

 

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Page last updated: 22 September, 2011

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