The Mystery of Samhain

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The Mystery of Samhain

October begins the witching season, when magic is afoot and mystery reigns. In Greek mythology, on the first day of fall, Demeter, goddess of the harvest watches her daughter Persephone descend to the Underworld, where she will rule alongside Hades until her return to Earth with the spring. Her transition marks the lengthening of nights as we turn inward and brace for the colder days of the coming season.

Demeter’s mourning is transformed into a period of celebration that begins at the full moon in October, which falls on October 24 this year, and ends on November 1. The one gift Hades gives us in exchange for taking Earth’s daughter is a brief window of open communication with those who have departed. We can scry and read the leaves or cards with greater ease than at any other time of the year. We speak to our ancestors and loved ones and hear them speak back to us.

There are many legends and myths that teach the same lessons with different stories. While this blog is focused on the Gaelic high holiday Samhain, I opened it with Greek mythology as another example of the rich lore associated with this time of year. Here at Sage Goddess, we observe the Celtic Wheel of the Year and celebrate its festivals along with so many other stories and sacred traditions.

Samhain is one of eight sacred Pagan festivals. The word Samhain means Summer’s End in Gaelic. It falls on October 31, marking the end of harvest season and the beginning of the Celtic new year. On this day, as the Celtic legend goes, the great Sun God dies leaving his widow, the Goddess Crone, to mourn him until Yule (Winter Solstice), when he will be reborn as the light returns to the Earth. Samhain is like a velvet curtain between worlds that is both thin and dark, comforting and protective, mysterious and magical. On October 31, we say goodbye one last and final time to what the year has brought and taken from us.

On November 1, we are cast into literal and figurative darkness. With the Sun God gone, nights grow longer, plants and trees die back, and all around us begins to freeze and harden in the cold chill of late autumn and winter. Even before I ‘knew’ or learned that Samhain was the Celtic new year, I always had this feeling right around November 1 that the planet was rebirthing itself. Something seems new, seems fresh and available on the morning after Samhain. And it is.

After Samhain, the wind blows clean across the fields, and nothing remains of the cycles of the year. It is the final release of all that was meant to be birthed this year. When Samhain passes, the Earth turns barren as Hecate, Greek goddess of magic, night, and ghosts stirs her great cauldron; Transformation and release are her gifts to you. Hecate ushers in the first days of the winter season and then darkness comes, taking over most of our days. It reminds us there must always be a balance between day and night, shadow and light. Hecate is the guardian of that balance, the veil between what is and what was and what will be.

Samhain and related rituals were our wise ancestors’ way of putting language and imagery to the realities of life and death. The cycles of life are powerful, and the month of October is about reconnection with ancestors and the process of our own transformation. The portal to the other side draws us in, and spirits from beyond come through. The illusion of separation seems to fade away. We accept and honor death, celebrating it as part of living. We dance with the dark and embrace the shadow, knowing it doesn’t exist without the light.

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4 thoughts on “The Mystery of Samhain

  1. Two things: First, Samhain is celebrated November 1st. Samhain means November in Gaelic. This misconception that it is celebrated on October 31st is because the Celtic Day is from sundown to sundown. Secondly, BELTANE is the Celtic New Year. Samhain is the IRISH new year.

    All Gaels are Celts, but not all Celts are Gaels. Rhys and Frazier were confused because in the Southern Hemisphere, the two festivals are reversed, with Beltane falling on November 1st, and Samhain on May 1st, and now everyone’s got it backwards.

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