Samhain means summer’s end and celebrates the first day of winter on November 1st. Samhain is one of the cross quarter days, falling midway between the autumn equinox and winter solstice. Nature’s cycle is drawing to a close. The month of November is a twilight zone when there is a blurring of the boundaries of time and space. Celebrations at the threshold of winter appear to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery.
We are entering a cycle of completion. This is the time to tie up loose ends, to bring our own year to a close and put everything to rest. In reviewing our year, we can consider the familiar aspects of our life – habits, routines, relationships – that cannot be sustained any longer through a dark winter. We can use the magic of this time to say goodbye to old ways and step forward with new found understanding gained from the experiences of the year. At Samhain we can experience the transformation that happens when we let go.
Halloween on the eve of Samhain is hugely popular as it is the one time of year people officially get to play with the dark side and strike fear into the hearts of others and themselves. Order is overturned in favour of creativity and chaos. In amongst all the masked fun and games, Halloween themes today still turn as ever on the themes of the time, remembering the Deities, Ancestors, and Nature Spirits.
All round the world this is the time to remember and honour those who have died. Samhain is a ‘time out of time’ and unites the past, present and future. The wise Mother Earth can help us at this time – at Samhain she appears as the Crone. She is the dark moon, the wintertime, old age and knower of mysteries. There is a maturity to this time, a sense of seriousness as we face the approaching darkness of winter. It is called the Festival of Peace. The earth will freeze over and fall silent. We enter the quiet of winter when the seeds of the new lie deep within.
Fire ceremonies were traditionally enacted at Samhain. On the eve of Samhain, every home allowed their hearth fire to burn out. All fires and lights in the neighbourhood were extinguished, so that not so much as a spark remained alight. Then a new fire was made, a special fire, called the Needfire or living fire. It was lit from the friction of rubbing two sticks together. Once the sparks were lit, seemingly from nowhere, the living fire was used to light a great bonfire built on the nearby hilltop. After the celebrations around the fire, everyone in the community brought back embers to relight their own hearth fires.
As we light the fire at home, how can we best connect with our community remembering the need fire together? And as the sun grows pale and distant, how can we find our inner sun, a lantern to light the way. The outer sunlight dwindles and the power of fire moves inward, the inner fire in our heart that lights up and warms our world.
The sun withdraws behind a curtain of mist. We do have reminders of summer’s warmth on bright November days but we will also be experiencing the first sharp frosts, warning of the bitter cold winter months that lie ahead. Sunrise and sunset are especially beautiful in November, the winter sun at dawn and dusk creating vast red sunscapes on the horizon.
Samhain is a threshold, not just from summer into winter, but from one year into the next. The cycles of time turn in four stages. Out of winter is born spring, summer and autumn. The three are born from the one. Winter is that one-ness, the deep merging with the earth, allowing an inward stillness out of which can grow a newness of being to take us through the three stages of being that are born in the night of winter.
What new knowledge have we gained?
What do we need to say goodbye to?
Are there people, places, things, habits, activities we need to now let go?
On an inner level what do we need to leave behind?
Who do we want to remember at Samhain?
This year is especially significant as we are living through a time of deep change. We enter the next six week cycle that brings us to the Winter Solstice. The question to ask is
‘How Can I Be at Peace at the Solstice?’
This question can help guide us through the weeks ahead as to where to focus our attention.
Samhain is such an important time as we celebrate a most significant turning point, moving our focus away from outward activity and towards being and resting, entering this night time of the year. Most people need various bedtime rituals that help their transition from waking into sleep. Children certainly benefit from various bed time rituals as it’s difficult to jump into bed and go straight to sleep, so there is always some kind gentle transition from one stage to the other. It is in understanding this threshold between these two states of being that can help find some of the true meaning of this Samhain festival.
What part can we each play in creating the new transformed world?
The Festival of Peace is especially poignant this year with all the difficulty, pain and loss so many of us have experienced. And we have seen so much love, respect and honour for our elders, have felt their suffering in isolation – it is hard to witness and find ways to help.
This can feel overwhelming. Change starts within ourselves and if we can meet this Samhain time using ritual and ceremony to strengthen our commitment to change, it will strengthen how we then turn our wishes into actions for ourselves and within our community.
Samhain is a time for introspection.
Construct an altar or dedicated space for ancestors. Place photos of those who have passed and add offerings of their favourite flowers, a music cd they liked, an image… Light a candle at each window to welcome the wise ones in and a Jack o’Lantern to see off the darker forces we don’t want to welcome.
Build a fire and throw onto the fire those things you want to let go of. Light candles from the fire, or if you have no garden or hearth fire, simply light your candles to create a simple letting go ceremony. Give thanks for all the year has brought – this year we all have much to reflect on. Set your intentions for how you want your world to be.
Louise Flower Coe