Samhain, the witches’ new year

October 31 — Samhain Eve

Also known as: November Eve, Feast of the Dead, Feast of Apples, Hallows and All Hallows Eve.

Possibly the biggest festival of the Witches’ year, Samhain is a time to remember those who have passed on, celebrate the Summers end, and prepare for Winter months ahead. The Sun God and earth fall into slumber, as the nights lengthen, and winter begins.

The last day of October marked the end of the Celtic Old Year and the beginning of the New. This time was considered by the Celts and many Craft traditions to be a “crack between the worlds.” As time passed between one year and another, it belonged to neither, standing beyond the confines of normal reality. It was believed to be the one night when the veil that separated our world from the next was at its thinnest, allowing the dead to return to the world of the living, where their spirit and memory would be welcomed and celebrated by a feast attended by their kin.

The Feast of The Dead, or Festival of The Dead, was a festival of remembrance, honoring those who had left this world. On this night, the deceased were believed to make their way back from the grave to revisit their old homes. In many areas, on the eve of Samhain, people would leave their houses lit throughout the night to help the dead find their way along the dark path from the tomb. And once these travelers arrived, they were welcomed and refreshed with food and drink. Many prepared a feast, and set a plate at the table to for their dead relatives. On the eve of November 1, or on the morning of the following day, the custom in parts of Europe was to bake “soul cakes” or “soul bread” for those returning souls. In Wales, special food was prepared and left outside, and before everyone went to bed, the hearth was carefully prepared for the arrival of the dead relatives. Tradition also teaches that the aid of spirits and guides from the other world was easily enlisted at this time, so in the increasing moonlight of longer nights, many used this time to hone their psychic and divinatory skills, especially with regard to love and marriage.

The Christian religion has adopted this day as All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day, celebrating the eve as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween. The superstition and misconception linked to this celebration by the early church, led people to take some unusual precautions to protect themselves. They adopted the tradition of dressing in frightening costumes or disguises, and displaying scary looking Jack-O-Lanterns to help protect them from spirits they considered to be evil. In the British Isles, the young people would disguise themselves with hideous masks and walk through the village, lighting their way with lanterns made from carved turnips.

However you choose to celebrate Samhain, be adventurous and investigate some of the older traditions… There is a large amount of interesting and sometimes comical lore surrounding this date. It’s O.K. to dress up as Witches’ or Goblins and have fun with the more nonsense aspects of this holiday. However, it’s good to set aside some time to learn the true meaning behind this date and follow those observances as our ancestors did.

The alternative date of November 6th (‘Martinmas’ or ‘Old Hallows’) is sometimes employed by Covens.

Traditional Foods:
Apples, Pears, Pomegranates, All Grains, Pumpkin-pie, Hazelnuts, Cakes for the dead, Corn, Cranberry muffins and breads, Ale, Cider, Herbal teas (especially Mugwort) and Meat unless vegetarian and then tofu will do.

Herbs:
Calendula, Cosmos, Chrysanthemum, Wormwood, Hazel, Thistle.

Incense:
Mint, Heliotrope, Nutmeg, Sage or Floral’s.

Woods and Herbs Burned:
Apple, Heliotrope, Mint, Nutmeg, Sage.

Sacred Gemstone:
Aquamarine.

For further information on rites and rituals to celebrate this holiday, see the following books:

A guide for the solitary practitioner by Scott Cunningham.
Everyday Wicca by Gerina Dunwich.
To Ride A Silver Broomstick by Silver Ravenwolf.
Celtic Magic by D.J. Conway

Blessed Be!*

A Prayer for the Final Harvest

Corn has been shucked,
grain has been threshed,
herbs have been hung to dry.
Grapes have been pressed,
potatoes have been dug,
beans have been shelled and canned.
It is the harvest season,
and food is ready for winter.
We will eat, and we will live,
and we will be grateful.

Kids Prayer for Samhain

Samhain is here, cold is the earth,
as we celebrate the cycle of death and rebirth.
Tonight we speak to those through the veil,
the lines between worlds are thin and frail.

Ghosts and spirits in the night,
magical beings rising in flight,
owls hooting up in a moonlit tree,
I don’t fear you and you don’t fear me.

As the sun goes down, far to the west,
my ancestors watch over me as I rest.
They keep me safe and without fear,
on the night of Samhain, the Witch’s New Year.

A Prayer to the Ancestors

This is the night when the gateway between
our world and the spirit world is thinnest.
Tonight is a night to call out those who came before.
Tonight I honor my ancestors.
Spirits of my fathers and mothers, I call to you,
and welcome you to join me for this night.
You watch over me always,
protecting and guiding me,
and tonight I thank you.
Your blood runs in my veins,
your spirit is in my heart,
your memories are in my soul.
[If you wish, you may want to recite your genealogy here. This can include both your blood family, and your spiritual one.]

With the gift of remembrance.
I remember all of you.
You are dead but never forgotten,
and you live on within me,
and within those who are yet to come.

Prayer to the Deities of Death

The harvest has ended, and the fields are bare.
The earth has grown cold, and the land is empty.
The gods of the death are lingering over us,
keeping a watchful eye upon the living.
They wait, patiently, for eternity is theirs.

Hail to you, Anubis! O jackal headed one,
guardian of the realm of the dead.
When my time comes, I hope
you may deem me worthy.

Hail to you, Demeter! O mother of darkness,
May your grief be abated
when your daughter returns once more.

Hail to you, Hecate! O keeper of the gate,
between this world and the underworld.
I ask that when I cross over,
you may guide me with wisdom.

Hail to you, Freya! O mistress of Folkvangr,
guardian of those who fall in battle.
Keep the souls of my ancestors with you.

Hail to you, O gods and goddesses,
those of you who guard the underworld
and guide the dead on their final journey.
At this time of cold and dark,
I honor you, and ask that you watch over me,
and protect me when the day arrives
that I take my final journey.

Samhain Chant

A year of beauty. A year of plenty. A year of planting. A year of harvest.
A year of forests. A year of healing. A year of vision. A year of passion.
A year of rebirth. A year of rebirth. This year may we renew the earth.
Let it begin with each step we take. Let it begin with each change we make.
Let it begin with each chain we break. And let it begin every time we awake.

*Copyright © 1997-99 Akasha, Herne and The Celtic Connection wicca.com. All rights reserved.

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