The shops are selling Hallowe’en things, such as masks, witches costumes, trick or treat things. Today, buying food for my dogs at a Pet supplies shop I was served at the till by a man with a spider web drawn on his face…
First of all, how is this word pronounced? It’s pronounced Sowen or Soween or Saw-in. The first part of the name is pronounced in the same way that we might say (or shout) “Ow!’ when we hurt ourselves, or as in the first part of ‘Owl’. Equally, we can pronounce the ‘Sow’ or ‘So’ part of the name in the same way we’d say ‘So’.
Generally, the 31st October is known as Hallowe’en: All Hallows Eve, the day before the Christian Festival of All Saints Day (a hallowed person being a holy person), which is closely followed on 2 November by All Souls Day (a ‘catch-all’ Day for everyone else who’s died but hasn’t made it to sainthood). Hallowe’en is the night when children go out in their neighbourhood to play ‘Trick or Treat’, and people get up to all sorts of spooky celebrations and activities, for fun, as well as out of curiosity. But look closely and you’ll see that, woven into and around these Christian Holy Days, is the outline of the far earlier Festival of Samhain.
This major Festival marks the end of Summer and the start of the Winter, cold and dark. Our Ancestors would have gathered in the harvest, salted meat and put it into storage, brought in fruits and nuts to use: food to feed the community until the soil softened, and the light returned to warm the air and the ground so that new seed could be sown, animals let out to pasture once again, blossom to appear on the trees. Samhain is a cross-quarter day as it’s situated between the Autumn Equinox (September 21st) and the Winter Solstice (December 21st). While the actual Festival is November 1st, it begins on the evening of October 31st, and is often spread over 3 days until November 2nd. November 1st marks the Wiccan New Year, which emphasises the importance of this wonderful and powerful Sacred Day.
Samhain is the Festival of the Dead
We believe that, at this time, the veil between this world and the next is very thin. This thinness helps us to remember (call to mind and heart) the people we love who’ve made their journey into light, and to offer our thanks for all that they’ve shown and taught us, and for the love we’ve known together, and for the love which holds us together, like a golden thread. It’s usual to set a place, and food on a plate, at your evening meal to honour the Dead of your family. Samhain Festival Foods include Pork, root vegetables (Carrots, Turnips, Swede); Apples (a food of immortality; Apples were buried at Samhain as food for souls waiting to be reborn),
Pumpkins, Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Chestnuts, bread, mulled wine, cider. You might want to put photos of your loved ones in the room where you eat, and as you eat, talk about them, call them to mind.
Our Ancestors play a role in this Festival too. Ancestors can be thought of as the Ancient Ones from whom we’re descended, whose lives (if we know about them) can be inspiring to us today as well as acting as warnings to make sure that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our Ancestral line goes back through millennia, the more we know about our Ancestral line (it’s strengths and weaknesses) the more we can both appreciate it, gain strength and comfort from it, and also ask for its healing, for no Ancestral line is without its points of weakness, darkness, suffering, the patterns of which sometimes repeat themselves in our own times, in our own families. At this Feast we can think about our Ancestral line (as much or as little we know about it), giving thanks for its strengths and wisdom, while asking that the faults of our Ancestors are not played out in our own lives.
Samhain is regarded as the best occasion to practise divination (using a Crystal Ball, a mirror, a bowl of water…) asking for a view of the time to come. In former times young women would eat an apple in front of a mirror, throw the peel over their shoulder, and look in the mirror to see the face of the man they’d marry. You can also use a pendulum to ask important questions (using a simple ‘Yes’, ‘No’ question type) to help you see into the time to come.
A time to learn
This wonderful Festival allows and encourages us to look both backwards over the time past, and to look into the time to come. It encourages us to be deeply reflective, to consider what we’ve learnt (harvested) over the last year, and to let go of bad habits, behaviours, patterns of thought that may have hurt others as well as ourselves.
As Samhain is a Festival when fires are lit (to keep us warm; to light our way, as well as representing the power of the flame to cleanse, to reshape) so we can use the power of Fire to cleanse our intentions and to let go of bad habits. One of the ways in which we can do this is to write down, or draw out, the negative patterns in our lives, and, having put a candle in a saucer or shallow bowl, to burn the paper carrying the writing or the images while keeping a deep focus on your intention actively to let go of the negative habit/patterns you set down on the paper. Equally, this simple yet powerful activity can be used for letting go of old relationships, especially ones which have caused us anguish. As this New Year Feast suggests, it’s a wonderful time to consider the changes in our life both those which have happened to us, and those which we’ve brought about, or wish to do. It’s about endings, and beginnings, chaos and re-shaping. This deeply intentional action reflects, in simple form, the use of the Cauldron to transform all manner of things. Remember too that as the King dies and returns to the underworld for a season, so the Crone (The Wise Woman) is ascendant now. So, let’s reflect upon the Crone Goddesses: Ceridwen, Hecate, Hel, Rhiannon (to name just a few of them); to absorb their stories and the many meanings within them, and how their stories and their power can inform and guide us.
Samhain is a festival in which strong colours abound: orange or autumn colours (gold, deep red, brown); black to honour the Lord and the old year, and white to honour the Lady and the new year. If you like to use incense too then Sandalwood, sweetgrass and wormwood are most associated with this Feast.
A parting thought
Just a last thought, one of the deep strengths of the ancient ways is the relationship not only to people in our tribe, our community, but also to the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water in their varied manifestations and to all living creatures. As we honour our Ancestors, remember our Dead, consider the place of change and transition in our lives, and seek what the future holds, let’s not forget these powerful relationships and how our relationships to and with the four elements and to all living creatures lives may deepen and honour them.
A blessed Samhain to each and all of you!
About the Author
I’m a Shamanic Practitioner based in Exeter, but it wasn’t always like this. Over the last few years I’ve moved out of and away from my Christian faith to find a profoundly glorious home in Shamanism. I love the relatedness to our physical environment and all living creatures which this way of life embodies, while finding it to be immensely stimulating and challenging, especially when so much of our natural world is under greater threat than ever before.
I was at my best when living at and working from the margins of the Church, where things were far less clear-cut and where a mystical approach to the Divine was perfectly ok. In this context my practise of the ministry of healing took root, to grow, deepen and broaden in the following years. Yet, as I’ve moved away from Christianity so my understanding of illness, suffering and healing has continued to expand and informs my healing work in Shamanism. Now, looking back, I can see a golden thread (for healing) that runs through all the work I’ve undertaken in the Church and which continues still. I find this wondrous and it’s a source of joy and gratitude in me.
I’m a Bereavement Counsellor and a Life Coach too: one enriches the other. I’m based in Exeter, and work with Clients face-to-face, over the ‘phone and via Skype/FaceTime.
You can read more on my website: www.https://susanhollinscounselling.co.uk
Phone: 07918 671476