The eve of 1st November, when the Celtic Winter begins, is the dark counterpart of May Eve which greets the Summer. More than that 1st November for the Celts was the beginning of the year itself, and the feast of Samhain was their New Year's Eve, the mysterious moment which belonged to neither past nor present, to neither this world nor the other. In Scotland Samhuin (pronounced 'sav-en' with the 'n' like the 'ni' in 'onion')
Samhain is the third and final harvest festival of nuts and berries and a fire festival. All the harvest is in and all is complete. Samhain is the end of the cycle of birth and growth and is the point of death. The seeds of the harvest have fallen deep into the dark earth where they lie unseen, dormant and apparently void of life. As such the God as Sun King is sacrificed back to the land with that seed until the Winter Solstice.The Goddess is now the Crone, and she mourns the God until His rebirth at Yule. The God travels the Underworld learning its wisdom. This is the time of the descent into darkness, a time of pre-conception out of which new life and new ideas will eventually emerge.
Samhain is the time when the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest. This brings an energy which dissolves all Boundaries and lays all bare. It is at this time of year we honour and offer hospitality to our ancestors.
Samhain commences the dark half of the year and is a truly and deeply magickal time of year. Death is always followed by rebirth and while this may mark the end of the old year, it also commences the beginning of a new year. For the Celts the day did not begin at dawn, it began at sunset. The day began with darkness since light is always born out of darkness, they are necessary,inseparable and interdependant. Darkness is fertile with 'all potential'. With the beginning of this dark phase comes the opportunity to rest and reflect on the past and to dream of new beginnings. The seed now nurtured in the earth will germinate in its season. Look for the seeds in yourself!
Things to do
Carved pumpkins are a Halloween classic, but before these squashes came to Britain from America, the Scottish were carving turnips into lanterns. The story of Jack O’Lantern may have grown out of the practice of carving turnips into faces and placing candles inside, or vice-versa. The original idea was probably to frighten evil spirits away from the home. A bone-white turnip with its resemblance to a human skull certainly looks more frightening than the big orange pumpkins we prefer to carve today.
Using a mirror to scry, Tarot to look ahead to the future, tea leaf interpretation. In fact all forms of divination are traditionally practiced on Samhain. Even some that are more unusual. The autumnal tradition of bobbing for apples may have its roots in Celtic fairy lore. In 1902 one British author recorded the peculiar superstition that when an apple-bobber finally caught an apple in their mouth they were to peel it carefully, pass the long strip of peel thrice (sunwise) around their head, and throw it over their shoulder. It was said that the peel would fall to the ground in the shape of the initial letter of the bobber’s true love’s name. Nuts would have been plentiful around October 31, and families could gather together around the hearth to roast them in celebration of the day.The theme of divination pops up here again, for at one time in Scotland a young lass would put two nuts into the fire and watch their behavior to see if her lover would be true or unfaithful, and if they would be married.
Tales of restless spirits have probably been swapped over campfires for as long as there have been humans to tell them, and Samhain is a great time for Scots to open up their ancient castles and “dig up the bones” of long-dead stories. Scottish folklore is abound with ghost stories. Research the stories that are local to you and share them around the fire. A suitably Samahain tradition!
Make a Broom
The broom is used both practically and symbolically. Practically it sweeps away the last of the Autumn leaves and symbolically it is used ritually to sweep out the old and clear away old energy. This clearing creates a space for the new to enter. Traditionally brooms are made from coppiced birch twigs - the birch being associated with purification and renewal.
You can make a broom at this time of year by gathering a large bundle of birch twigs tied together. Drive a broom handle into the middle of the bundle - ideally a handle of hazel or ash.
The Cauldron is closely associated with Samhain. It is feminine, and is the cosmic container for all life and death, of transformation and rebirth. According to the late medieval Tale of Taliesin, included in some modern editions of the Mabinogion, Ceridwen's son, Morfran (also called Afagddu), was hideously ugly, so Ceridwen sought to make him wise in compensation. She made a potion in her magical cauldron to grant the gift of wisdom and poetic inspiration, also called Awen.
The mixture had to be boiled for a year and a day. She set Morda, a blind man, to tend the fire beneath the cauldron, while Gwion Bach, a young boy, stirred the concoction. The first three drops of liquid from this potion gave wisdom; the rest was a fatal poison. Three hot drops spilled onto Gwion's thumb as he stirred, burning him. He instinctively put his thumb in his mouth, and gained the wisdom and knowledge Ceridwen had intended for her son.
Realising that Ceridwen would be angry, Gwion fled. Ceridwen chased him. Using the powers of the potion he turned himself into a hare. She became a greyhound. He became a fish and jumped into a river. She transformed into an otter. He turned into a bird; she became a hawk. Finally, he turned into a single grain of corn. She then became a hen and, being a Goddess (or enchantress, depending on the version of the tale), she found and ate him without trouble. But because of the potion he was not destroyed. When Ceridwen became pregnant, she knew it was Gwion and resolved to kill the child when he was born. However, when he was born, he was so beautiful that she couldn't do it. She threw him in the ocean instead, sewing him inside a leather-skin bag. The child did not die, but was rescued on a Welsh shore – near Aberdyfi according to most versions of the tale – by a prince named Elffin ap Gwyddno; the reborn infant grew to became the legendary bard Taliesin.
Blue Moon Apple Butter
Making Apple Butter at Samhain is one of my favorite ways to honor the season. I use apple cider in the initial cooking instead of water and I substitute part of the sugar in the recipe with condensed apple juice.
5 lbs tart cooking apples
4 cups apple cider
½ can frozen condensed apple juice
¾ cup dark brown sugar (more or less depending on the sweetness of the apples)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground allspice
Wash apples and quarter without peeling or coring. Placed quartered apples in a large, heavy bottom dutch oven with the apple cider. Cover and cook over medium heat until the apples are completely soft.
Put cooked apples through sieve or food mill. Return the applesauce to the pot and add the remaining ingredients. Cook covered over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Uncover and cook on low, stirring frequently to avoid scorching, until thick and smooth (about an hour). Pour into hot, sterilized jars, and seal. If canning, process, either water bath or steam, for 10 minutes. Yield is approximately 4 pints
This is a good non-alcoholic drink to serve at gatherings, even children can enjoy it.
1 large handful of lemon balm Juice of 6 lemons & 2 oranges
2 large handfuls of borage 1 quart strong tea
1 large handful of mint Syrup made of 1 cup sugar boiled with 1/2 cup of water
1 cup oif pineapple/fruit juice 3 quarts ginger ale
Pour 1 1/2 quarts boiling water over the lemon balm and allow to steep for 20 minutes. Starin the liquid onto the borage and mint. Add the fruit juices, tea and syrup. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Strain into a punch bowl. Add ice, some extra mint and ginger ale.
Colours of Samhain
Black for death and endings, orange for the vitality of life within death, purple for wisdom, insight and inspiration.
Ideas for your Altar
Drape your altar in the colours that reflect Samhain. Black for death and endings and orange for the vitality of life within death. Decorate with seasonal nuts and fruits, particulalrly apples. Set your altar with Tarot cards or your chosen divination tool in preparation for Samahain eve.
*If you are burning candles, incense, oils or any other naked flame do remember that in the interests of safety they should be attended at all times!
Samhain 31st October - 1st November
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