Open the Samhain celebration pages as a pdf Samhain festival pages
As part of the 2015 Earth Pathways Diary festival pages we are including extra information on these festival web pages, to encourage you to explore the energy of the festivals yourself through stories and storytelling. We have been gifted these beautiful stories and chants by Marion McCartney.
This is the summer’s end and the beginning of winter. It is the end and the beginning of the Celtic New Year, affirming rebirth in the midst of death and darkness. At Samhain, the Grain Mother becomes the Crone, the wise woman, the death aspect of her trinity, until she is reborn as her virgin aspect with the rebirth of the Sun at the Winter Solstice. The Sun king is sacrificed back into the land having swelled the seeds which now lie in the dark of the Earth until the Sun’s return. He too becomes a death god and shaman, able to travel the inner realms. Celtic understanding of the year’s cycle saw death and darkness as important and necessary, as a period of rest and regeneration before rebirth.
Samhain (pronounced Sow-ein), like Beltain, is a magical time. The veil between the seen world of matter and the unseen world of spirit becomes thin - a crack in the fabric of space-time. It is a time for communication with the ancestors, a time for divination, omens, portents, and seeking to understand the inner mysteries. It is a time to drift, dream and vision, a time for inner journeys connecting to the wisdom within yourself.
Samhain is named after an Aryan lord of death, Samana or Samavurt who, along with other pre-christian male gods, was given the title the Grim Reaper, the Leveller, the Dark Lord, Leader of Ancestral Ghosts, the Judge of the Dead. Sata, the Great Serpent, was an underground aspect of the Sun found in ancient Egypt, the root of Satan, the Angel of Darkness. Pluto, Hades, Aidoneus, Saman, Sammael, Cronus, Saturn, Hermes, Samanik, were some of the old gods associated with death, and which the church personified as the devil. The church created hell out of the Celtic Underworld, and every sadistic cruel fantasy man could invent, was assigned to it. The Underworld and darkness became a place to fear and the Celtic understanding of its regenerative aspect became lost.
Hell was previously a Norse Queen of the Underworld, Hellenes, and ‘Hel’ was a uterine shrine, a sacred cave of rebirth deep within the Earth. The dark regenerative power of the goddess was honoured throughout the Celtic and ancient world. Rhea-Kronia (the female counterpart to Cronos) devoured time itself, returning to the dark elemental formless chaos before time. Kali or Kali Ma, the Dark Mother of the Hindu Triple Goddess, devoured her own children. Rhiannon, also known as the Mother of Time, also devoured her own children and rode her horse through the regions of the dark. Morgan le Fey, Morgan the Fate, Morrigan, the Queen of Phantoms, a death goddess, reappeared in the Arthurian legends as Morgan. Cerridwen who kept the Cauldron of Rebirth and Regeneration, was known as the Grandmother of Memory and the Keeper of the ancestral gateway. Cailleach, the Black Mother, made the world. Scotland was once Caledonia, the land given by Cailleach or Cale. ‘Scotland’ came from Scotia, a Roman goddess known as the Dark Aphrodite, and known to the Celts as Satha or Scythia. To the Scandinavians, she was known as Skadi, personified as an old woman, hag or Veiled One. Mana and Mara were ancient Roman Goddesses whose ancestral spirits were called Manes, and ruled the Underworld. Maia was the Greek grandmother of Magic, mother of Hermes, the enlightened one, who conducted the souls of the dead to the Underworld. Hecate was one of the oldest goddesses in her crone aspect, found in ancient Greece. She ruled Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld; she ruled magic, omens and prophecy and she was also known as Persephone, ruler of the Underworld of ancient myth. Other goddesses of the Underworld include Minerva, Athene, Sophia and Medusa. The word ‘crone’ may have come from Rhea Cronia, Old Mother Time, but may also be linked to ‘corone’, the carrion crow, which was sacred to the death goddesses. Black was the colour she assumed before her re-emergence as her white virgin aspect at the Winter Solstice. Samhain can be seen as a psychic return to the dark womb, a time for regeneration and rest.
In the Middle Ages, this dark aspect of the goddess became an object of fear. She became Queen of Witches, Queen of Ghosts, black, evil, capable of bad magic and all manner of diabolical doings. Hag originally meant holy woman, wise woman, healer. Old women were originally revered for their wisdom, as midwives and herbalists. But during the witch hunt years, they were tortured and killed in the most sadistic ways by the church. It was obviously important to the church to destroy these women who had previously held such power and respect. We cannot undo all the centuries of persecution and debasement of women that the church brought to our land, but we can turn and acknowledge that it happened, try to understand it and work through our feelings about it. All over the world patriarchal religions have forced the female to retreat into the unconscious, but, true to her cyclic nature, after a period of rest in the dark, women are now re-emerging rejuvenated, made new, strengthened and changed.
The Celtic shaman, the wise man, also belongs here. The shamanic tradition embraced both sexes, as the early druids did not exclude women, but recognised the differences between their energy, power and focus. Celtic shamanic traditions never completely disappeared. Their practices included necromancy (consultation with the ancestral dead); scrying (seeing visions in clear water, mirrors or crystal balls); reading omens in the land, in clouds, in fire, from the appearance of animals or birds; clairvoyance, interpreting dreams and visions, journeys to the Otherworld or inner world to seek a guardian, guide, ally, or power animal; consulting the Runes or Tree Ogham, and other divinatory systems. Shamans and witches (the wise-women) were said to be able to shape-shift, to transform into the spirit shape of a totem animal and to travel the astral planes. This is not so far from visualisations and spirit journeys.
Fear of magic brought about a great deal of superstition and the psychic arts became seen as demonic. Fear of punishment and even death further inhibited their progress, but also true to the cyclic nature of rest in the darkness, many of the old traditions are re-emerging now, rejuvenated by their period in the dark. They are being understood in new ways, reinterpreted in the light of a new age - true expressions of a living tradition.
Darkness was important to the Celts. To them it was as important as the light. Darkness and death had power that they did not fear. Here at Samhain, as the Earth is plunged into its darkest time of the year, they blessed the seeds whose germination in the dark would once again bring life when the Sun returned. They communicated with their ancestors, believing deceased family members could visit their loved ones at this time of the year when the veil between the worlds is thin. Places were laid at the table during the feast so that the recent dead could be with their families and friends. Both the word ghost and the word guest have their roots in the German ‘geist’, originally a spirit of the dead invited to the Samhain feast. Samhain became the christian All Souls Night, All Hallows Eve (Halloween) of 31st October and All Souls Day of 1st November.
It was thought that others could also slip through the gap in space-time: the faerie, the sidhe, hobgoblins, elves and other mischief makers. This is the root of Halloween’s ‘mischief night’. Later the emissaries of the devil were also feared along with evil ghosts and many ‘horrors of hell’, which were let loose on this night and which all good christian folk were led to fear.
Bonfires called ‘samhnagan’ were lit on the hilltops - the tumuli and burial mounds of the communities past. All the other fires in the community were put out and were then rekindled from the samhnagan. Later, each village or household had their own bonfires. (Note the proximity to our bonfire night). The church may have brought the people away from the burial mounds, but Samhain customs continued to thrive. In Wales, omens were read from white stones, which were thrown into the ashes of the fire and then interpreted the next morning by the marks found there. Halloween apple games grew out of the Celtic belief in the apple as a holy fruit, sacred and magical, a means to immortality, death and rebirth. The western paradise of Avalon, known as apple-land, was ruled by Morgan, Queen of the Dead. The fabled Isles of the western oceans, where the Greeks believed the golden apples of the Hesperides were to be found, also bestowed immortality. In Celtic myth, the apples of the goddess, (sometimes called Hels apples, after the Underworld goddess Hellenes) signified a sacred marriage and a journey to the land of death and rebirth. Later, Hels apples became the poisoned apples of christian folklore which the ‘wicked witch’ used to kill her victims. Cutting the apple transversely reveals the hidden five pointed star in the core, the magic pentacle, sign of the dark mysteries of the goddess and protection. Apples continue to be used at Samhain for games and divination.
Womb and tomb were closely linked in the Celtic mind, and this explains why so many tombs of this period and earlier, had tunnel entrances leading to a dark inner chamber. Not only were they places where the important dead were buried, but they are also important centres of Earth energy which can be used to enhance inner journeying. This is the best time of year for this, for all inner exploration, for meditating and for connecting to the spirit realms.
THE UNDERLYING ENERGY OF SAMHAIN
This is the Cross Quarter Festival of autumn’s end and the beginning of winter. Increasing darkness and cold means we must accept that winter is fast approaching and we must adjust to this changing season. Leaves have fallen off the trees, birds have migrated, animals have gone into hibernation, frosts have come. It is a time of death and decay, death of the old, and within this, knowledge of rebirth. It is a time of forced adjustments which, once accepted, reveal a new set of possibilities, a new phase, a new power to life. It is the right time to connect to root energy and for internalising the creative life force. Like its counterpart Beltain, Samhain brings a mystical energy which we can use to explore and understand ourselves better.
This is the dark phase of the year’s cycle when the mystery of transformation occurs. This process involves a descent and a death of something old in preparation for something new to be reborn. The descent into the Underworld or Otherworld can be understood as a journey into the unconscious and the spirit realms within each of us. Here we can find renewal through meditation, trance, rest, sleep, and by sacrificing our outer selves for a while. The seeds of our ideas and future direction in life are incubated in our unconscious during the winter months, ready for rebirth in the spring. We can honour the cycle by being aware that each end and death of the old will bring opportunity for a new start, as each beginning holds within it an end. This endless cycle of change is necessary, bringing renewal of cells, of ourselves, our understanding and our ideas. It means there are always new opportunities to start again, to stay healthy. Many illnesses are rooted in stuck energy patterns, emotional congestion and hanging on to the past.
We have been taught to fear our inner world and to mistrust the information we may receive through our intuition, and our connection to our own inherent inner wisdom. Many of our actions come from our subconscious and we may not always be aware of these subtle patterns and conditioned responses that are such a part of us and which may silently rule our lives. We need to understand our unconscious selves, and to learn to listen to our inner voice. We can use the energy of the dark time of the year to explore these inner parts of ourselves, to face our fear of the dark mysteries, magic and our deep unwanted feelings that we may have buried deep inside ourselves. We need to turn and face our fears with courage and determination and find the potential hidden within them. From this courageous journey will come transformation, a balanced perspective and rebirth in the age-old tradition of Samhain.
Use this time for inner exploration, astral travel, deep meditation, contacting your deepest wisdom. Slip beyond the rational and the logical and go beyond the seen world. Use this time for collecting, sorting, memorising information and learning, so that when the time for action comes, you will have assimilated new knowledge that can be used when needed. Fear is one of our greatest teachers. Turn and look at what you fear and where the roots of this may lie. By being open to your intuition, new insights and realisations may be revealed. Use this time of rest to seek out the old patterns of thought or behaviour that are not serving you well. Once revealed you can choose to think and live in a different way.
Review and assimilate what you have learned in the active phase of the year’s cycle. Out of difficult situations comes power, hope, clarity, rebirth, inner strength, wisdom and maturity. Nurture new visions, dreams, ideas and direction, so that they may incubate in the dark winter months ready for when the active phase begins again.
I am tomorrows ancestor
The future of yesterday
and what I am in the here and now
goes rippling out all ways
Goes rippling out
You are tomorrows ancestor
The future of yesterday
and what you are in the here and now
goes rippling out all ways
Goes rippling out
We are tomorrows ancestor
The future of yesterday
and what we are in the here and now
goes rippling out all ways
Goes rippling out
For Brian's music and songs www.brianboothby.co.uk