By now I am sure we all know that Hallowe’en is approaching – yet another time for commercialisation. So far, I have valiantly managed to stop myself from buying a plastic witch mask, ‘scary’ dress or hat and am therefore happy not to be contributing to the plastic mountain. Gosh don’t I sound like a kill joy – and me a celebrant!
What do we know about Hallowe’en?
Here are some widely held thoughts concerning this most sacred of Pagan and Christian festival.
- It’s the night when evil happens and the dead rise from their graves to haunt us. Hollywood leapt on this idea, providing us with such films as Hallowe’en, Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream as well as the more zany and less scary Hocus Pocus, Witches of Eastwick and Beetlejuice.
- It is a night of fun and frolics the highlight of which is the relatively recent tradition of Trick or Treating, dressing up, letting off fireworks and eating fright foods.
- Pumpkins can be carved up to make lanterns for placing in the window – or alternatively plastic ones can be bought.
Here are some facts that probably aren’t known about or recognised. Many of them refer to some of the above.
- The Celts celebrated Samhain (pronounced sow-een) and it represented the final or third harvest of the year – the nuts and berries. It was the time for bringing the cattle in and the sheep down to winter pasture – bringing everything closer to home as the winter cold and dark nights took hold. It is one of the Cross-Quarter fire festivals of the Wheel of the Year and for some groups of Pagans – e.g. Wiccans is New Year’s Eve.
- The Pagan belief is that this is the time of year when the gate or veil between the living and the fae and spirit world is at it’s thinnest. The Christian Church adopted this time as All Soul’s Night (Oct 31st) followed by All Saint’s Day and it is the time for solemnly remembering the souls of the dead followed by an honouring of those who have died for their faith.
- Historically in rural areas people would refrain from going out on All Souls as they were afraid they may meet ghosts or other worldly spirits. They might leave outside their houses some food for the spirits to eat, and if they did need to go out, they may wear a scary mask to fool the spirits. They would also carve out turnips, eating the insides and carving a face in the skin, which they would light and place in the window to ward off evil – remember these were times when there was no street lighting or electric light and when it got dark it was very dark. Using pumpkins came from America.
- People would celebrate the final harvest by playing party games such as apple bobbing and fortune telling or scrying using water or candle flames.
Samhain is also a time for endings and new beginnings. The ritual I shall be performing will include a time of reflection on what has happened in the past year, and a realisation of the things I need to let go, and which are holding me back. As I journey into the dark part of the year, the days up until the Winter Solstice, I will be nurturing and planning new directions for my life, having ceremonially burnt or got rid of those things I no longer need. Warm candlelight and firelight will lighten my memories of those close to me who have died, as well as gentle music and simple seasonal food – perhaps pumpkin soup. Not for me the commercialised new ‘ritual’ or tradition of bright lights, trick or treating or noise – perhaps if I was part of a gentle, kind rural community I may ask others to join me, but for me here and now holing up, privately remembering and honouring and ‘hibernating’ is more than enough. Samhain blessings to you all.