Is Samhain Still Sacred?

Some time ago, when the rituals of religion were developed around natural occurrences instead of ideology, the festival of Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”) was instituted as one of the four annual festivals to celebrate the changing seasons. In the Gaelic tradition of the northern hemisphere from which Samhain emerged, it was the end of summer, dividing the year into halves with Beltane, May 1, which has come to be known as May Day. Since Irish tradition was passed along orally until the Middle Ages, there is much speculation on the actual roots of this holiday and how it was transmogrified into what is now referred to as Halloween.

samhain61Whether the roots of the holiday are referred to as Gaelic, Celtic, or pagan, the tradition of recognizing this time of year, where the veil to the Otherworld is opened so that the spirits of the dead are free to roam the land, predate the Christian tradition of All Saint’s Day, when dead saints were honored. It is said that these spirits ranged from benevolent to mischievous, angelic to demonic, and that fruits and nuts were set out to appease and bless them as people gathered the harvest of summer and readied themselves for winter. Legend says that it was a time when people stayed close to home, often performing seances to communicate with the spirits of relatives who returned to their homes, and when they did go out, they wore their clothes inside out or went in disguise. The ruse may have been to fool the spirits or it may have been to dress like the spirits in order to get the fruits and nuts, but eventually the tradition emerged to perform tricks for the treats, both as entertainment and as emissaries of the mischievous spirits.

The holiday was also a time of fire, a time of purging, divination, and letting go of the old in order to prepare for the new. Beginning at sundown on October 31, Samhain celebration lasts until sundown on November 1, sometimes lasting for three full days. May we all participate in this day, as with each of our days, with awareness of the traditions that have shaped our world, and the conscious participation in this game of life as we seek to more readily celebrate what we have and release whatever folly may bring us harm.

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