Samhain --- The Festival of the Dead

Celebrated on the last day of October in the northen hemisphere and the first day of May in the southern, Samhain stands halfway between the autum equinox Modron and Yule. It is sometimes seen as the beginning of winter, but it is also the Festival of the Dead, when we remember and honor the ancestors. It is a magical time when the veil between the worlds of the dead and the living is thin, and in Wicca we celebrate death as a part of life, and to give positive value to the idea of going into the dark.

Our Celtic ancestors saw Samhain as a key point to the year's turning, a chance to begin anew. The 18th century scholary monk Bede noted that custom named November the "blood month," and he attributed this to the slaughter of beasts in preparation for winter provisions. With the surplus from summer burned on a balefire, our peace made with the dead and preparations made for the winter, our ancestors may well have seen this as a key departure point from the old cycle into the new. This is why pagans today refer to this festival as the Celtic New Year. Although Samhain is literally "first frost," and thus the first of the winter festivals, it also marks preparation for change.

Celebrating the Crone Goddess

The season is associated with ghosts, spirtis, and the dead walking. It is the season of the Hag or Calliach (Scots Gaelic meaning "old woman"), the crone aspect of the Goddess who midwives us, with great compassion, from life to death. She is Rhiannon, Goddess of transition, Ceridwen, goddess of the cauldron of transformation, and Hecate, weaver of wisdom and guardian at the crossroads. The Crone Goddess is celebrated to some extent in the plastic masks and costumes that children wear at Halloween.

Nowadays, witches celebrate by holding  a ritual in which we name, honor, remember and speak with the dead. Beginning with those who have died in the last year, we move on to family and friends and then commemorate all our ancestors. Then, out of grief, we bring back joy and name the newborn babies of the last year, the new friends and opportunities we have met. Samhain serves as a reminder that life contains death, but it also contains the mystery of rebirth and the movement of the cycle ever onward.

The Wicca Bible, by Ann-Marie Gallagher.


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