It is that time of year when you can feel an energy shift as we transition year’s lighter and darker halves. We are embracing shorter days with colder nights, and welcoming in darkness.
October is the time of year that is full of moon magic, liminality, rituals, and celebrations. As more darkness starts to consume our days, we turn inward. Nature is withering away all around us, but at the same time underneath it is resting as well, getting ready to blossom into new life in the Spring. This also makes it a powerful time for us to rest, self-reflect, and set new goals.
This is a transformative time, and many Pagans, Witches, and spiritual beings celebrate the seasonal cycles. Consisting of eight celebrations, it is often referred to as the Wheel of the Year. Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain are four of the festivals that are rooted in Celtic origins. Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumn Equinox, and Winter Solstice are the other four celebrations that represent the Sun’s location.
- Imbolc is celebrated halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
- Beltane is celebrated halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice.
- Lughnasadh is celebrated halfway between the summer solstice and fall equinox.
- Samhain is celebrated halfway between the autumn equinox and winter solstice.
Samhain is the most significant celebration, as Samhain marks the transition between the year’s lighter and darker halves. It ushers in darkness, representing the Celtic New Year. While it can be celebrated from the first Full Moon in October until the first week of November, Samhain is typically celebrated at sundown on October 31st until sundown on November 1st. Samhain is thought to be “summer’s end,” while others believe that it means “fire of peace.”
Samhain celebrations most likely pre-dated the arrival of the Celts in Ireland 2500 years ago, and it has origins in the pastoral calendar. Traditionally, Samhain was a time for preparations against the darker and colder months ahead – crops were harvested and animals were rounded up from the fields either to be sacrificed or lodged for the winter. With this time came many celebrations; feasts abundant with food and alcohol were held to commemorate the harvest.
As Samhain marked the end of a season, the beginning of Winter, and the sacrifices of animals, it became associated with death. This resulted in beliefs that Samhain conjured ghosts, spirits, black magic, and fairies. This period became known as a time of supernatural intensity, where the force of darkness and decay were said to linger, and communing with the dead was not unorthodox.
The concept of liminality, or “the in-between,” was an intrinsic part of ancient Celtic spirituality. It was believed by the ancient Celts to be a time when the veil between the human and spirit realms was lifted, and humans were no longer bound by the rules of the physical world. Perhaps for this reason, Samhain is also thought to have been a time of peace. Trivial human quarrels were dismissed with the spirit realm in such close proximity. Samhain was viewed as a liminal festival, separating summer and winter, and lightness and darkness. It was a time when the normal order of the universe was suspended, and altered states were both possible and expected.
The roots of Samhain have extended to our modern-day culture; it is considered by many to be the precursor to contemporary Halloween celebrations. While there are differences, we can see that the festival and celebrations still carry this element of liminality. The feeling of transformation and the desire to invoke the supernatural through various expressions such as costumes, celebrations, and rituals return each year as the cool breeze of Autumn descends upon us. These sentiments transcend time, connecting modern celebrations with Samhain and evolving that liminal time of transformation that was sacred to the pagans of the Celtic world thousands of years ago.
Worldwide there are many celebrations at the same time as Samhain, derived from ancient festivals and religious rituals. During the 19th century, the famine caused many Irish people to relocate to North America, bringing with them modern-day Halloween traditions, such as carving Jack-o’-Lanterns. Mexico and Spain are famous for Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is celebrated annually from October 31st to November 2nd. The focus of this festival is primarily on ancestors and the afterlife. All Saints’ Day on November 1st is a national holiday in Italy. Better known as Ognissanti, people leave fresh flowers—usually chrysanthemums—on the graves of their departed loved ones. People also pay tribute to the dead by putting a red candle in the window and setting a place at the table for those spirits they hope will visit them. Guatemala also celebrates the Day of the Dead. Every year, the people of the towns of Santiago Sacatepéquez and Sumpango honor the dead with a kite festival. They build giant, brightly- colored kites from local natural materials and fly them above the cemeteries. This ancient Mayan custom goes back thousands of years. The most prestigious Halloween event in Japan is the Kawasaki Halloween Parade, featuring around 4,000 costumed revealers. Participants must apply at least two months in advance to join the festivities. In China, the Halloween festival is known as Teng Chieh. Food and water are placed in front of photographs of family members who have departed while bonfires and lanterns are lit in order to illuminate the paths of the spirits as they travel the Earth that night.
While there are many variations of Samhain and different cultural traditions around the globe, there are some spiritual intentions that remain the same with these celebrations. It is a transformative time that emphasizes ancestors, heritage, death, sorrow, loss, afterlife, rebirth, insights, premonitions, shadow work, thinning of the veil, and relaxation. Reflect on this period in between times, and remember those that have gone before you.
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