Thinking About – Samhain

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

The voice sings during the Christmas TV advert I will doubtless see this coming week, but I know for many of my friends this is actually their favourite time. It’s not mine, but I totally get why it is for so many of my Pagan friends.

I love pretty much everything about it apart from the sudden chill that appears in the air. It was there yesterday, as we closed the circle at the Anderida Gorsedd Samhain open ritual beneath the Long Man of Wilmington. The Autumn Equinox is the last time he sees the sun until the Spring Equinox next year. From Samhain the Sun barely touches him. His little piece of hill descends into the shadows, as does the hill upon which we all stand for our circles. And in that shadow I could feel the chill of the Cailleach’s breath. Walk outside into the sunshine, and there was a slight warmth still there, but it’s going, and that, for me, is why I don’t like Samhain so much.

As the circle was cast we were joined by soaring corvids overhead. At Samhain I cast the circle as the rim of the Cauldron of Annwn, upon which we all stand. I invite the mists of the Otherworld to fill the Cauldron before us, and through that mist we speak the names of our loved ones, our friends, family, and our ancestors of tradition, who have passed before. Stepping into the mists and speaking their names aloud, so that they may hear us, and know that they are remembered. We then share a symbolic feast with them, and people sing, offer poetry, and tell tales of the season, before the spirits are thanked, and the circle is closed. It’s a safe space, a place to shed tears if they come, a place to feel the loss but also the connection. I was told once that when our heart fills up, our eyes spill over. Never so true as in the Samhain circle. We have been doing that same ritual for 17 years. It just doesn’t feel right to change anything. It does what it’s meant to do. Us Brits are not often very open when it comes to our emotions, but it’s important to really feel. Samhain gives us all that opportunity.

I’ve been reading some blogs and posts on Facebook recently that historical evidence suggests that Samhain was never a ‘feast of the dead’. I care not one jot. If it wasn’t it should have been. It makes total sense. What we do have is bucketloads folklore that tells us that the Faerie ride out at this time of year – that the Veil is thin. Within the Otherworld, within Annwn, lies the Cauldron of Rebirth. Tales suggest that those placed within the Cauldron are reborn, but without the power of speech. That also makes sense. The spirit of those departed should never speak to the living of what they have seen. So when they are reborn they have no power of speech, just as a newborn baby has no power of speech. Maybe those first cries are the child screaming “OH MY GODS!!! YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHERE I’VE JUST BEEN!!! IT WAS AMAZING!! DAMN!! WHY DOESN’T ANYONE UNDERSTAND ME!!!” All we hear are the cries of a newborn baby… But folklore suggests that the spirit of those who have gone before return to the Cauldron, for rebirth. So casting the circle, and calling upon the mists at Samhain, when the Gates are open, utterly works for me.

When new academic research comes to light it often suggests what we think a festival is, is not entirely what it was. I’ve also often observed that it doesn’t suggest what it actually was, just that our modern way of celebrating it might not be 100% accurate when it comes to antiquity. But I say that things change anyway. My life is different from my Iron Age Druid ancestors, and I think, even if there was an unbroken line of Samhain rituals right the way back, we would have seen those change over the centuries. I’m 100% certain that Christmas, Easter, Ramadan, any of the celebrations of any other religion in our modern society, are not celebrated in exactly the same way they were 100s of years ago. But they work for those who follow those paths today, and that’s what’s important to me.

If Samhain wasn’t the ancient Pagan Festival of the Dead, I’d suggest that it is now, and has been for some 50 years at least. I’ve spent a lot of my growth as a Pagan and a Druid looking over my shoulder to the past. Of course, it’s important to know where you’ve come from – the old stories and poems of the Mabinogi and Taliesin still fill me up, and there are great lessons in there. But I’m less bothered by academic research now when it comes to how we celebrate things like the Wheel of the Year. It’s still interesting, but I’m very happy in my own modern Pagan skin.

9 Comments

  1. Boardman Rebecca October 30, 2017 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    Well written. I can almost hear you speaking this.

    What is your favorite time of year? I am guessing Beltane, when the Horned One comes back and changes the grey to green, and lies with the Lady to start life anew?

  2. Jane Eastwood October 30, 2017 at 5:56 pm - Reply

    I really enjoyed this piece. I don’t think it matters what historical evidence/ tradition/ rituals were performed in the past. I feel that when we engage with a festival on a deeper level within ourselves each year, we bring energy to it, which makes our own ritual stronger and more meaningful. Each time we perform the ritual I feel that it grows and changes as we do. I personally love Samhain but I feel that each season brings its own blessings.

  3. Terri October 30, 2017 at 10:41 pm - Reply

    well said. what matters is not so much how we do these things, but how our hearts feel about how we do them. if the heart feels it is right, then it is and we need not ever doubt what it leads us to do in celebration. this IS my favorite time of year. it always has been. this was the first year in many that i have not been able to take part in my own usual activities. but, by next year my health will be much improved and i will be at it again! this year i will light some candles and just think about those that have gone before me, maybe do some meditation. that will have to suffice for now. i have already had signs from the other side twice last week….perhaps tomorrow night i will have some company while i sit and honor those i love on the other side. blessed samhain to you and yours! )O(

  4. Nick October 31, 2017 at 12:18 am - Reply

    A score of beautiful thoughts in such a short piece. Bless you and all whom you bless. May you have happiness and joy for as long as you need.

  5. Garry Watts October 31, 2017 at 2:08 am - Reply

    I cant envision this celebration not being about the dead and departed. After all the old tales undeniably point to this and without real proof I’m staying with that view. Admittedly that is just one aspect of the celebration along with winter preparations and killing surplace stock. A dangerous time, raids by neighbouring tribes pose a threat as well as hungry wolves and bears, that’s if the cold didn’t kill you. I love the celebration, may be I’m miserable but that silence of a cold winters day and subdued hues of winter make the perfect contemplation time for the coming years projects and to cast off the old.

  6. Brigit October 31, 2017 at 3:03 am - Reply

    Greetings, & a Blessed Samhuinn (Samhain) to all…

    Damh, Thank You for sharing this lovely heartfelt message. I love all the OBOD Ceremonies/Celebrations & Samhuinn is one of my favorites. I have participated in a variety of Traditional & Non-Traditional group & solitary ceremonies over the years (for this time of the Season), & they all honored & connected with those who have gone before.

    It feels & seems perfect for this time of the year, & I do feel the “Veil” being opened to us. Those I communicate with from beyond the “Veil,” seem to feel that it is appropriate for me to call on them at this time also. I Plan to do an OBOD Solo Ceremony this year. I will continue to enjoy my solo or group Ceremonies, as I commune with, & Bless the Unseen ones from beyond.

  7. KeithC October 31, 2017 at 10:22 am - Reply

    Samhain is definitely my favourite – temperamentally I think I’m quite definitely a “Stark” and Winter is coming, At this time, there is always something I can feel, but can never quite put into words. The only way I can put it is a sense of expectation of waiting for something, but I don’t quite know what it is. Some years it is stronger than others, some very weak. Altogether I’ve never quite got to the bottom of it.

  8. Sonia October 31, 2017 at 11:42 am - Reply

    Samhain, like the gods, are what man/woman maketh them down through the ages, or only if it started last year. What I am trying to say is it is the energy, faith, whatever, that makes something powerful, or not as may be.

    Recently I have been delving into the connection with the Persian Magi and their bringing certain ceremonies and beliefs to other countries, including Britain, as the Indo-Europeans moved about the globe thousands of years back. I was surprised to find that some of their beliefs and traditions seem to have seeped into ancient and modern Druidism. As well as the ancient Eyptian culture and tradition. The Magi were thought to be some of the very first priest/magicians. They had strong ethical codes, particularly about looking after Nature, and being loving and kind to animals and to fellow humans.

    The date we hold Samhain may not be ancient, but remembering lost loved ones, both animal and human, and honouring the ancestors certain is ancient.

    Thank-you for your post and pictures Dahm. You always have something thought provoking to say.

  9. Lorelei November 1, 2017 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    Interesting… during a deep ritual at an EarthSpirit Community gathering years ago, in trance I remembered being in the womb. My final thought was, “We cry when we’re born because we know that we’re about to forget everything.”

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