Samhain (“SOW-wen”) is celebrated from sunset on 31 October to sunset on 1 November, halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. “Samhain” is derived from Samain, an Irish Gaelic word meaning “summer’s end”. This Major Sabbat marks the beginning of the Celtic Winter or the darker half of the year and the end of the harvest season. Samhain is the last of the three Harvest Festivals. This is a time for acknowledging the Ancestors and the beginning of the year, awaiting birth in the realm of shadow.
In Gaelic legends, the Cailleach begins her reign on Samhain as she leaves the mountains and walks the land to “wash her plaid (land)”. When she is done, the plaid is white and the land is covered with snow. To the Celts, Samhain was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter. Samhain was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits of the dead could enter into our world more easily. Food and drink were left for them as offerings. There was feasts at which the dead and the ancestors were invited to attend and also to take a place at the table reserved for them. Mumming and guising were part of the festival, and involved costumed people going door-to-door, often reciting rhymes or songs in exchange for food. Divination rituals were also an important part of the festival and often involved nuts and apples. In Scotland and Ireland, the first farmer to finish the grain harvest was to make a corn dolly, representing the Cailleach. The figure was then incorporated into the field of a neighbor who had not yet finished bringing in their grain.
Samhain is the time in which I can connect the most with my matron goddess, The Morrígan. I love to participate in costumed festivities the day of Halloween on October 31, and to observe the solemnity of Samhain on November 1 with a ritual. I decorate my home with many adornments, and I display pumpkins everywhere. I’ve never done it before, but some Neopagans hold a Dumb Supper, a completely silent dinner with an extra meal and empty seat setting specifically for the ancestors at the table.
Word Count: 375 words.
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