Samhain – Witches New Year

Wheel of the Year

The 31st October and the surrounding days are a special time for many cultures, from the Día de Muertos (The Day of the Dead) in Mexico to the Christian All Saints’ Day (also known as All Hallows’ Day) and of course the secular Halloween celebrations. 

The pagan wheel of the year celebrates Samhain from sunset on the 31st October until sunset on the 1st November. One of the first debates you’ll hear about Samhain is how do you pronounce it? Some say Sam-Hain, others Sow-Heen or So-Wen, I personally prefer the Scots term Savin, but as with many Celtic words the Irish and Scottish Gaelic pronunciations, as well as their more anglicised versions differ slightly.

As you may know, the wheel of the year marks and celebrates the agricultural calendar and Samhain begins the dark half of the year, all the prosperity of Lammas and Mabon harvests are done and now we must rest and prepare for the winter.

One of the most sacred things in Pagan religions are the between times, and between things. A witch will bless doors, windows, gateways, crossroads and beaches. Sunsets, Sunrises and of course the cross quarters of the year. These are the between times, where they aren’t quite one thing or another, and they are believed to hold the power of both. 

So Samhain, is at the crossing of the light and dark halves of the year, it is when the veil between worlds is at it’s thinnest, allowing the ancestors to return and walk among us. I touched on this topic in more detail on my piece about guising which you can check out here

Sharing the bounty of the final harvests, if your neighbour has a glut of apples and you have a few extra pears, and perhaps someone else’s crops have failed entirely, you would share and begin stockpiling, pickling and preserving, and slaughtering the farm animals to help to subsist through the winter. Although today, you would be more likely to be stocking up your freezer, with stews, casseroles and some feel good soups than your own hearty produce. Speaking of which you can check out an amazingly tasty and filling winter favourite, Lentil Soup, by our very own Tori B Bearly, by clicking here

Remembering loved ones who have passed, asking for advice, and fortune telling, are all traditions also associated with this time.

One of my favourite traditions is that of the dumb supper – where in silence, and remembrance you prepare and cook a favourite meal of a departed loved one, lay the table with great care, as if for a celebration, get out your best china, like you would if you had an honoured guest arriving. Set a place for your loved one, and serve the dish. Eat in silence, but ask them to join you, the silence won’t last too long though as invariably, the memories and stories of fun times will come to your head, and you can share them as you chat, laugh and remember. Always keep in your mind that your loved ones are near, and as long as you say someone’s name with a smile their soul will live on. 

At the end of the meal, you thank your loved one for attending, and any help they have given – and trust me, the spiritual kick in the pants from your ancestors come just as strongly now, as when they were here, if you let them (and thank you Mamma F, Ma wee Auntie and my Mammy for their guidance and butt kicking). Lastly, as you clear the table, place your leftovers on your altar or outside to feed the wildlife (obviously at a distance, and making sure not to place anything outside that’s likely to rot or attract vermin).

Speaking of Altars however, your altar colours should be dark, think blacks and ruby colours, or the vibrants golds and yellows of the autumnal leaves. Decor should be symbols of death, and the seasonal fruits of the dark half of the year, so include leaves as well as skulls, bones and similar imagery. 

Another tradition common to this time of year as I mentioned above, is fortune telling, such as divination. Funnily enough the first divination I ever did was strangely enough at a Brownie Halloween party in a Catholic primary school in the 1980s. We were told that to find your true love, take an apple and peel it in one piece, then throw the peel over your left shoulder and whatever shape it takes will represent the 1st letter of your true love’s name.

Some other fun and easy divinations are candle magick and scrying mirrors, the easiest form is to light a candle and think of your life, and any questions you might have, then drip wax from the candle into a bowl of clean water, and then you can divine answers to your questions from what you find. There are plenty of places online which can give you insight into what various shapes mean, but I would always suggest thinking about what they mean to you.

My plans for this year have been curtailed somewhat by both COVID-19 and Storm Aiden which has been battering Ayrshire, so my bonfire will have to be a candle on my altar rather than in my garden, and my dumb sumber will be a more solo affair but wherever and whatever your plans are, make sure to stay safe and stay spooky.

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