Of Summer’s End…
Halloween, Samhain, Samuin, Calends of Winter, the Heroic Journey, the Feast of the Dead, Hollantide, Allantide, the third Harvest. Here in the time of the death, when the Lady and Dread Lord are seated in the Great Halls of the Dead as equals. Where matter and spirit are intertwined and the veil is thin. Where ancestors call upon the living and the living reach out to the ancestors. Life and Death make visible the fine blade upon which we all dance. Yet we fear not knowing that the seed of promise lays within the Lady’s womb….silent and alive. One of the Great Sabbats, one of the Fire Festivals.
To understand Samhain is to journey back into a time removed from our own. Where our lives depended upon the hunt, fairweather, good crops and bountiful harvest and animal husbandry. It is easy now to remove ourselves from the inevitability of death and distance ourselves from the awareness that somehow death is beyond us. Death remains an unknown companion silently keeping step, casting shadows every minute, every moment. Major fairs, festivals and preparations were made for the winter stores and the division of the pastoral importance in this time was notable as meat was referred to as ‘winter food’ and dairy produce ‘summer food’. Grain surplus was rapidly turned to mead, ale, beer and brose. Important events were thought to have been held at an auspicious time such as Samhain. Bettina Arnold notes that “According to the Irish sources, the Assembly of Tara, the seat of the High King of Ireland, the most important of the oneachs, or fairs, was held on Samhain” (Halloween Customs of the Celtic World)
Although it is seen and observed in the Wheel of the Year with regards to Wiccan practices it is not specific to Wicca and has its roots in Celtic and Germanic spiritual practices. Although the current threads remain, no doubt it bears little resemblance to its native origins. Indeed there evidence that indicates Druid involvement and direction over Beltane and Samhain festivals in some locales. Ronald Hutton ascribes this to the advance of romanticism and neopagan eclectic practices ( Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles). Equally, it could be said and successfully argued that our lives are vastly divergent from those ancestors of old and we have become distanced from ourselves as humans and from the spiritual world. Instead our beliefs rest heavily in the modernisation and technological ‘switched on’ era and generation. A light is but a switch away, food is but a short trip to the supermarket and so forth.
In Samhain however, we journey with our Gods to consciousness. We find within and without the Anima and Animus. The One Light. The Spark which lights the Path. We learn this in watching the God struggle in his exploration of his own unconsciousness. In realising our mortality we understand the joyfulness of life. In embracing the dark we reach out for the light and in doing so evolve towards the divine. Crowley describes the process thus “ he can (the God) move to a wider stage and begin to embrace the and participate in the wider collective unconscious” That is, we have and are, moving throughout the process from a part towards the greater whole and therefore Divinity. Whilst we mention the God, the journey for the Goddess is much as the God. She too must seek out her Animus, her male self in the path to oneness and supreme Divinity (The Old religion in the New Millenium-Wicca)
Samhain in varying forms is seen widely across many European countries with some similarities observed throughout them. An example of this is the “dumb supper” (ed note: for the purposes of political correctness this will not be altered as it is not the intention of this article to enter a debate regarding the appropriateness of the term-call it the silent feast if it please you). A feature of setting out an extra place for the departed or spirit guest and a meal eaten in silence. In Italy a chair is often set out by a bonfire for a spirit to sit and enjoy the fire in their honour. Water is considered the conduit of the unconscious and to the ancient Greeks was considered the epitomal symbol for metamorphosis and philosophical recycling. The ancient eygptians considered the Nile the canal for birth and existence. Water, shares some of the same attributes of fire and can be considered the symbol of transformation, subconsciousness, fertilisation, reflection, introspection, intuition and renewal. Sustenance, motion and life. So too did the ancient Celts look to the water as a sacred vessel to carry spirit and gifts back and forth from the underworld to the living. Hence scrying using water and early records of the veneration of pools, lakes and wells. Anthropology is now starting to discover some compelling evidence which links certain festivals such as Samhain with lakeside activities believed to link the two worlds together (Anne Ross-Pagan Celtic Britain) The bonfire, the symbolism of sacrifice, transformation, heat, life, renewal and regeneration of course features heavily with some scholars suggesting herds were driven between these fires as perhaps sacrificial offerings.
Common activities occur with the observance of Turnip Lanterns (Neep Lanterns-Scotland) used throughout the British Isles and also known to have been utilised in countries throughout the continent. Turnips and swedes (rutabagas ) are carved into faces which allow for a ember or tealight to sit within them, these essentially are designed to ward off any unwelcome ‘guests’/and or according to Christina Hole “Instead of the simple holes for eyes and nose of the usual Hallowtide ‘face,’ quite intricate flower-, ship-, or animal-patterns are cut on the outer skin of the mangold.”. ( A Dictionary of British Folk Customs ) In later times post immigration the United States, pumpkins became more widely used. Turnip Lanterns are thought to have been derived from an old tale of a miser drunk “Stingy Jack” who attempted to bargain with the Devil and ultimately lost, doomed to roam the earth with only a lantern. Scarecrows disguises and masks were worn as decoys to the spirits. Yet the fire, water, lantern and’tattie-bogle’ (scarecrow-Scotland) are relics of a time which acknowledged the existence of the otherworld. The Scarecrow is described as he who cannot walk yet knows everything of the worlds.
Our Samhain ineviatably features grain and root vegetables as part of the post ritual feast. Here to follow is my pumpkin, neep and tattie soup:
One kilo of chopped pumpkin (I prefer Kent or Jap but go for butternut or Qld Blue if you fancy)
I diced onion
I chopped clove of garlic
2 stalks of celery chopped
I Neep peeled and chopped
2 good sized spuds peeled and chopped
Vegetable stock to cover
Fresh grated nutmeg
Small amount of cream/sour cream or milk
Place all veg in a large pot and just cover with enough stock and allow to cook through. When cooked blend ingredients with a hand blender or food processor or simply mash if you like. Season to taste and add grated nutmeg and a small amount of cream sour cream milk to the soup. Serve with crusty grain bread I prefer home made bread but thats me.
Elsewhere on the blog is a recipe for Brose, that most unctuous fermented oat brew delicious cold or warm.
If you begin by thinking seasonally, that is what is naturally available now your Samhain menu is endless. Divinitory games can be played such as bobbing for apples but remember use commonsense if children are about and dont forget the towels! And lastly but not least leave some food for the Fey lest you be tricked and fooled.
So from sunset to sunrise, whatever you do on Samhain and however you chose to celebrate, remember your journey to consciousness is shared by many and your walk along the path shadowed by the ones gone before. “We shall meet, and remember and love them again”
Bettina Arnold (Halloween Customs of the Celtic World)
Vivianne Crowley (The Old religion in the New Millenium-Wicca)
Anne Ross (Pagan Celtic Britain)
Christina Hole (A Dictionary of British Folk Customs )
Ronald Hutton ( Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles)