Discover the ancient Celtic roots of Samhain and its modern-day significance. Dive into nature's wisdom and ways to celebrate this sacred time.
Dear one, can you smell it? The musky-sweetness of decaying leaves? The cold kiss of death fast approaching as darkness consumes light?
At the end of October the doorway to the dark half of the Celtic year swings open. The dying sun is swallowed up by the lengthening nights. For me, the onset of Autumn always feels so transitory, as though I have one foot in Summer and the other in Winter. Here in the NC Piedmont, it's often a dance between these two extremes. The mornings are cold and I have to layer up to go outside but by afternoon I'm wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
I love the feeling of laying in the grass as the sun's intensity penetrates through the cold gusty wind, warming my whole entire being. I love standing in the midst of the forest in complete stillness as the trees dance and sway, shaking their leaves loose, and watching them swirl and tumble to the ground all around me. The trails are covered in bright and fading shades of fall: crimson, saffron, copper, cinnamon, and gold.
What was, no longer is... and the stark, swift changes taking place in nature remind us of our own ethereal nature; how we are constantly being shaped and changed by time's passage. This holy time of the year invites us to descend into our own inner depths and honor our ancestral self, which encompasses our ancestors, earth-rooted lineages, and the parts of ourselves that have led us to where we are.
"We rejoice in the dance of transitions, the dance of change, the dance of life.
And we also loosen the grip of what once was needed but it is no more.
We let go of the patterns that no longer serve our growth.
We release all that was taught to us that has prevented the expression of our joy.
We look to cut the chains of misunderstanding and isolation.
We come together as one, from all different origins, to thank our ancestors for the knowledge that prevails through time, and to let go of the old ways that didn't work."
- Rachel Watersong
Wheel of the Year
& Nature's Arc of Change
The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of eight seasonal turning points marked by festivals which include four solar festivals and four fire festivals (Celtic):
Agricultural fire festivals / Cross-Quarer Days:
Samhain (Late Autumn / Early Winter)
Imbolc (Late Winter / Early Spring)
Bealtaine (Late Spring / Early Summer)
Lunasa (Late Summer / Early Autumn)
Solar festivals / Quarter Days:
The illustration below is an adaptation of the Wheel of the Year, which was developed in the 1800's as part of the Neo-Pagan movement. This closely reflects the celebration cycle that was practiced by Celts thousands of years ago, even if these celebrations were known by others names now long lost.
Sadly much of the details of what took place in ancient Celtic culture has been lost, but what still remains is available to us from the source culture's of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Something that we are learning as people of the diaspora who are reclaiming our cultural heritage is that it's critically important to be learning from and in direct relationship with the source culture, otherwise we are perpetuating cultural appropriation within our own cultural lineage which perpetuates colonial violence.
Orienting to Cyclical Time
Under industrial growth society, we follow the concept of linear time, however in the past, when we lived in close relationship to nature, time was perceived as cyclical. The Wheel of the Year is a calendar focused on this cyclical journey of the seasons.
If you are in the beginning stages of disentangling yourself from the death-grip of industrial growth society, shifting from linear time to cyclical time can seem quite foreign and unfamiliar at first. We become so used to perceiving time as a never-ending accumulation of one event after the other... a building of sorts, or perhaps you might visualize it as a straight line with a starting point and an ending (life/death). Be gentle with yourself as you begin to open your mind and body to your natural biorhythmic movement. Disorientation, dislocation and disassociation are all manifestations of the trauma of separation from nature.
Beginning to make the shift toward nature's cycles will take time. The best thing you can do to support this shift is to spend more time immersed in nature. Whatever you're doing in your life now, simply add 10-15 min of intentional time in nature to your day. This time should be slow and mindful, or in stillness as you take in your surroundings while staying connected to your inner landscape.
What is Samhain?
Samhain (pronounced sow-win), is an ancient Celtic fire festival honoring the Dead and is usually celebrated on Oct. 31st-Nov. 1st. At the end of October the doorway to the dark have of the Celtic year swings open. About 2,000 years ago in Celtic Ireland, Samhain marked the division of the year between the lighter half (sam/summer) and the darker half (gam/winter).
Samhain is a cross-quarter day in the Nature's Arc of Change and the mid-point between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice. Samhain comes from two words meaning "summer's end" in Gaelic. In the seventh century is was Christianized as All Saints' Day, also known as Hallowmas or Hollantide, which commemorates the souls of the holy dead.
Daylight is swallowed up by the growing darkness of night and the vital force of Nature descends into the root systems of Earth, releasing vibrant outer adornments. Trees shed leaves, grasses brown, flowers wilt and wither. Samhain is the season of frost and firelight.
At Samhain the division between this world and the otherworld is thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. In the life cycle, it corresponds to the moment of death when we offer our final breath to the altar of life. Just as the Celtic day began at night, Samhain may have actually marked the Celtic New Year, for our ancestors knew that from dark silence come whisperings of new beginnings and the stirring of the seed underground.
It's the time of year where we move from the visible to the invisible. Where the end of life meets the beginning in the gestational womb. The time for deep dreaming and communing with the ancestors is upon us. We honor our ancestors to remember who we are, where we come from, and the legacy we are to leave behind. It is a time of seeking guidance and wisdom from the realm of the unseen. We are asked to make ourselves at home in the dark, befriend the unknown, and make love to the Great Mystery.
The winds of change are upon us now as we turn toward the dark time and prepare our body-heart-minds for the dying of the fertile Mother. Samhain's long association with the Dead reflects Nature's rhythms. In many places, Samhain coincides with the end of the growing season. Most plants die back at the onset of hard frosts, and therefore, death is literally in the air.
This reflects the ancient notion that at Samhain, the veil is thinnest between the world of the living and realm of the Dead, and this facilitates contact and communication with the spirit of our ancestors. If a loved one has transitioned within the past year, Samhain rituals can be a wonderful opportunity to mourn their loss, bring a sense of closure, and develop a new relationship with your beloved in the Otherworld through spiritual communion.
What was, no longer is. The stark, swift changes taking place in nature remind us of our own ethereality; how we are constantly being shaped and changed by time's passage. Nature’s descent into the sacred dark reveals the inner passage we all must make in the changing of the seasons, and reminds us of the inevitable final initiation of living: death itself. It's a reflective time in Nature's Arc of Change that invites you to get quiet so that you can descend into your own inner depths. Going inward, the task is to bring forth the light of transformation.
Honor your ancestral self (which includes your earthen roots, wisest ancestors, and the previous versions of self that led you to where you are now) by communing with your ancestors. Practice resting deeply in not knowing. Make home in the process of decomposing. Open your inner eye toward the invisible realms, invite the darkness to strengthen intuitive ways of knowing, and cast your current form into the cosmic cauldron to be reborn.
What in my life is coming to an end? What losses have I endured? What am I grieving?
What has my ancestral self taught me over the past year?
What am I afraid to look at within myself? What in the darkness must I embrace?
What dreams am I holding in my heart as I move into the dark time?
Celebrate Samhain with Friends & Family
1. Enjoy a potluck feast
Have everyone bring a dish featuring recipes passed down from grandparents or dishes from their ancestral lineage
2. Have a bonfire
Sing songs and/or tell stories that have been passed down in your family or myths related to your ancestral lineage
3. Host a Samhain Ritual
Co-create an ancestors altar where everyone brings photos and talismans that have been passed down. Each person can talk about what they brought and light a candle to remember their beloved Dead.
4. Go for a silent, slow mindful walk in nature
Carry in your hearts the memory of your ancestors of earth and blood.
Celebrate Samhain on Your Own
1. Create an Ancestors Altar
Designate a table, shelf or corner of your home to honor your ancestors. Lay down a beautiful cloth, display pictures of your beloved dead and talismans that carry meaning, place candles and incense. In the morning, light incense and offer a prayer of remembrance to your beloved Dead. In the evening, light candles, sit at your altar and open your body-heart-mind to receiving messages, images or guidance.
2. Dream Journaling
Dreams can provide a quick path to connecting with our direct ancestors. Ancestral dreams come when we lay out a strong intention for them, but they also can come when we need them. It is a powerful time to ask your ancestors to speak through your dreams. Designate a small journal to your dreaming. Place it beside your bed so that you can write them down immediately after waking up. As you go to sleep at night, ask to receive and remember your dreams.
3. Cultivating Stillness
Stillness is nature’s chief solution for restoring life that has been assaulted by generational tidal waves of collective pain. Stillness plays an unmatched role in assisting a shattered soul to metabolize extreme events, events that sever the web of relationships. When you find your mind is caught up in tidal waves of thought, the pathway back to stillness can be traced by refocusing the spinning thoughts on the simple rhythm of the breath. The passive nature of bodily processes counterbalances the rapid fire of the mind.
Through the spiral dance of the seasons, nature teaches us that the basic pattern of life is one of oscillation and contrast. The rhythm if creation is a pulsating tension between polarities. Samhain is the resting place at the very end of the exhale. Life force energy in the northern hemisphere is now moving toward gestational silence.
On our solar journey through the year, it is here where we welcome and commune with our ancestors, open our inner eye toward the invisible realms, invite the darkness to strengthen intuitive ways of knowing, and cast our current form into the cosmic cauldron to be reborn. It is during this time that we practice resting deeply in not knowing and make home in the process of decomposing. We honor, remember and listen to the voice of our ancestors. We attune to the subtle realms for wisdom, guidance and direction.
Embracing the seasonal energy of Samhain is a powerful way to reclaim your ancestral connection to the Great Mystery. Leaning into the invitations that nature brings will help you to receive the gifts of this sacred season.
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How are you celebrating Samhain?
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How is nature guiding or teaching you
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