Bringing light into the darker months of the year
Table of Contents
What is Samhain?
Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “sow-win”) is an old Celtic festival which celebrates the closing of harvest and the hunkering down into the darkness of winter. Many view this as the Celtic New Year; last year’s cycle has ended, and we now must stretch and water our roots to enable the new to bloom.
Traditionally, it is a time when the veil between worlds is thin, and we honour our ancestors and those who trod these lands before us. If you have lost someone you love in the past year, now can be a soothing time to light a candle in their honour. This concept of the spirit world is a reminder to go within, reflect, rest and reconnect with our true selves. It is a time of introspection and plunging into that deep inner wisdom we may have forgotten to listen to.
The origins of Samhain and all Hallows' eve
The origin of Samhain can be traced back to the ancient Celtic world, approximately 2000 years ago. Recognized as an important Gaelic festival, Samhain was a time marker that symbolized the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the “darker half” of the year. It was one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals alongside Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh. Hosting the festival on the eve of the 1st of November, the Celts believed that the border between this world and the “Otherworld” became blurry at Samhain, and spirits, fairies, and the souls of the dead could freely wander on earth.
In ancient Celtic society, during the period of Samhain, Druidic priests would ignite great bonfires in which animals and crop offerings were sacrificed to appease and honor the Celtic gods and spirits. People wore costumes and created noise in an attempt to repel or confuse harmful spirits. Later, with the advent of Christianity, the festival underwent transformation and assimilation. Over centuries, it got incorporated into Christian liturgical calendar as All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. Despite these adaptations, some traditional Samhain practices continued in various forms. Most notably, “guising” or “souling” survives today in the form of trick-or-treating, and the ancient bonfires are now echoed in modern firework displays. Today, Samhain is celebrated by Pagans and Wiccans worldwide, who tradition it as a spiritual New Year, a time of remembrance for the dead, and a period of divination for the New Year.
The Myths & Folklore of the Samhain
Stingy Jack was a notorious trickster who managed to dupe the Devil himself. He trapped the Devil up a tree with crosses and only agreed to let him down if he promised Jack that he wouldn’t claim his soul when he died. When Jack did eventually pass on, Heaven did not want him due to his deceitful ways. Still bound by his pact, the Devil couldn’t claim him either. Jack was left to wander eternally between worlds, but not before the Devil, out of spite, threw him an ember from Hell. Jack placed this ember inside a turnip lantern to guide his endless wandering.
During Samhain, the thin veil of separation between the living and the deceased allowed the Celts to perceive Jack’s lonely figure, perpetually meandering the Earth. The turnip lantern soon became symbolic of Samhain, representing the souls in limbo. As Irish immigrants brought their traditions to America, they found pumpkins, a fruit native to the continent, easier to carve than turnips. Thus, the modern Jack-o’-lantern was born as a staple of Halloween festivities. To this day, people carve pumpkins into lanterns, unknowingly paying homage to the legendary tale of Stingy Jack every Halloween, making it a perfect example of how ancient Samhain traditions continue to resonate in contemporary Halloween customs.
Samhain is more than just a festival – it’s a captivating chronicle, a window into the time-honored traditions that have left a lasting impact on cultural and literary landscapes. It’s an everlasting narrative that reverberates through the ages, whispering stories of ancient folklore amid the rustle of autumn leaves and the chill of the cold winter air. From the fun-filled Jack-o-lanterns with their toothy grins to the spine-tingling stories of celestial battles.
The essence of Samhain pulses through the celebrations, creating an immersive and unforgettable experience.
Symbolic Plants at Samhain
Sage, or Salvia officinalis, was used in pagan rituals to protect from negative energies, cleanse spaces energetically and ward off evil spirits
Apples are often linked to Samhain, as the apple-picking season is wrapping up in many areas, and the bountiful harvest was seen as a symbol of the gods’ favor
Oak trees (Quercus spp.) also have special meaning during Samhain, providing protection from vengeful spirits and entities due to their balance between worlds, with their extensive roots and far-reaching branches
Chrysanthemums are not only associated with the Day of the Dead, but they also have a profound connection to magic. In various pagan traditions, these flowers are considered powerful gatekeepers to other worlds and realms
How Can I Celebrate Samhain?
Honour our ancestors
Create an altar in remembrance of your ancestors, using photos and flowers. Engage in the ancient practice of spirit feeding—add a glass of wine or a portion of a favorite meal to the altar as a demonstration of care and respect. This strengthens the spiritual connection with your forebears.
Letting go ritual
Conduct a simple release ritual, liberating yourself from anything that’s been holding you back, a suitable preparation for winter’s introspective period.
The ceremony may include a symbolic gesture, such as dropping a leaf in water or lighting a candle while verbalizing your intentions.
Light a fire
Fire is a powerful element for releasing, letting go, and transformation.
Surrendering our burdens to fire allows us to shed the residues from the year — aspects that linger yet aren’t part of our essence.
After this cathartic ritual, we can then bask in the warmth and enchantment of the flames!
Interaction with the natural world
Samhain invites us to bond with nature, engaging with the vibrant array of leaves and foliage which characterizes this season. Through this connection, we can appreciate the beauty of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, all themes central to the Samhain festival.
Take time to explore your surroundings. Seasonal changes render the landscape a vivid spectacle of maroon, orange, and gold. As you walk, appreciate the beauty of the falling leaves and be present in the moment, allowing the natural world to inspire reflections on cycles and changes in your own life.
Leaf arts & crafts
An excellent way to connect with nature during Samhain is to make artwork from autumn leaves. Collect a vast array of leaves from different trees and use them to make collages, garlands, or as inspiration for painting and sketching.
Planting bulbs at this time ensures a blossoming garden come spring. This act of investment in future growth, even as nature itself enters a phase of rest, can be a powerful symbol of renewal and the continual cycle of life.
As we embrace the transformative power of Samhain, we’re reminded that even in the darkest months of the year, we can find ways to bring light and warmth into our lives. Spending time connecting with nature, honoring our ancestors, and releasing burdens that no longer serve us can nurture inner growth.
So, let’s take a moment to appreciate the vibrant hues scattered across the ground during an autumnal walk, or get our hands dirty in the soil as we plant bulbs for spring. After all, Samhain is an opportunity for renewal and reflection, one in which we can learn valuable lessons about ourselves and the cycles of life.
Together, we can celebrate the beauty that lies in the balance of light and dark, the yin and yang accorded to us by nature itself. And in so doing, we discover that the power of ritual, tradition, and connection with the natural world can guide us toward not just a deeper understanding of ourselves, but a more profound respect for the world we inhabit.
Let’s journey through the darker months with the fire of Samhain burning bright in our hearts—a beacon of light illuminating a path to self-exploration, healing, and renewal. Happy Samhain!
As Samhain’s cloak descends, the veil grows thin,
Ancestral whispers echo, guide us within.
In autumn’s death, life’s secrets reside,
From dark’s embrace, rebirth cannot hide.
Through Samhain’s cycle, our true journey begins.
MOVE WITH THE SEASONS
For a simple way to honour the cadence of nature, we have a candle for each of the four seasons, reflecting the natural aromas at each turn of the year. These help us to tune into the changing rhythms of nature and bring the outside in.
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