Samhain

Samhain, (pronounced SOW-in, SAH-vin, or SAM-hayne) means "End of Summer", and is the third and final Harvest. The dark winter half of the year commences on this Sabbat.
 

And though conservative Christians consider Samhain to be the name of the Celtic God of the dead, there is no such deity.  Nor are the spirits that roam freely on this night evil.  Rather, Samhain simply refers to the feast that marks the end of the season of warmth and light and the beginning of the season of darkness--winter--the beginning of the New Year. 

 

As such, Samhain is generally celebrated on October 31st. It is one of the two "spirit-nights" each year, the other being Beltane, a magical interval when the earthly laws of time and space are temporarily suspended, and the Thin Veil between the worlds is lifted.

 

To comprehend this turning of the Eternal Circle of the seasons and why both earthly and Otherworld conventions are suspended,  think about swinging as high as you can, as you did when you were a child and the act thrilled your tummy and made you giggle.  Now remember the feeling as you reached the apex of your flight where, for a moment, you were held between rising and fallingóweightless.
  
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Communicating with ancestors and departed loved ones is easier at this time, for they journey through the air on their way to the Summerlands. It is a time to study the mysteries of the Otherworld and honor the Crone and her wizened consort.

 

Traditionally, the "Feast of the Departed" was celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the "wandering dead". Today many Wiccans still do. Single candles are lit and left in a window to help guide the spirits of ancestors and loved ones home. Extra chairs are set at the table and around the hearth for the unseen guests. Apples are buried along roadsides and paths for spirits who are lost or have no descendants to provide for them. Turnips, gourds or pumpkins are hollowed out and carved to look like protective spirits, for this is the night of magic and chaos. Fairies become very active, pulling pranks on unsuspecting humans. People dress in white (like ghosts), and don disguises made of straw, or dress as the opposite gender in order to fool the spirits.

 

Apple dunking too, relates to this concept of Otherworld ness.   Legend has it that a magical apple tree grows at the center of the Summerlands.  Great heroes have crossed the western sea seeking this land.  Today, we bob apples in water to commemorate this custom.


This was the time that the cattle and other livestock were slaughtered for eating in the winter months to come. Any crops still in the field on Samhain were left as offerings to the Elemental spirits. Bonfires were lit, (originally called bone-fires, for after feasting, the bones were thrown in the fire as offerings for healthy and plentiful livestock in the New Year) names were caved into stones and thrown into the fire. The condition of the stone in the morning foretold that person's fortune for the coming year. Home fires were also lit from the hillside bonfire to ensure unity, and the ashes were spread over the harvested fields to protect and bless the land.


Various other names for this Greater Sabbat are Third Harvest, Samana, Day of the Dead, Old Hallowmas (Scottish/Celtic), Vigil of Saman, Shadowfest (Strega), and Samhuinn. Also known as All Hallow's Eve, (that day actually falls on November 7th), and Martinmas (that is celebrated November 11th), Samhain is now generally considered the Witch's New Year.