Samhain (pronounced SOW-in or SAM-hayne) is one of the four “Greater Sabbats,” a fire festival and the cross-quarter day between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice. At this sacred time, we celebrate all that has manifested in the fields and in our lives, we prepare for the winter months to come, and we remember and honor those who have passed on.
Samhain means “end of summer,” and it is our third and final harvest. In ancient times, it was considered the “meat” harvest and so we invoke the Horned God, the stag whose antlers are fully developed. He is the God of the hunt, and he represents the animals and plants that give their lives so we may be fed. The Horned God reminds us that our lives are sacred gifts given to us by other living beings.
At this time of year, when the nights grow longer than the days, the Sun God and Earth fall into slumber and we enter the time of the Underworld, of winter, the darkest time of the year. This is a magical time, when the energy is drawing down and inward so it can be recast in the Crone’s cauldron - the transformative place of death and rebirth that all of nature experiences. Death is a natural part of life. Things must die to order for change, growth, and new things to be born. As the year is dying, it brings the stillness of the long nights which are necessary for our souls; for if can surrender to the barrenness of winter, we can be rejuvenated next spring. Therefore, Samhain is also our New Year’s Day, for death and birth are two sides of the same thing.
At this time, we can draw strength from Persephone, a Goddess of both life and death. At Mabon and the Autumn Equinox, we mark the time when she annually descends into the Underworld. At Samhain, Persephone embraces her power, ascends to her throne, and is crowned Queen of the Dead. We too, can grow in power when we allow ourselves to move into the rhythms of winter, taking more time for reflection, contemplation, and rest. We enter the Dreamtime, welcoming dreams, visions, and messages to guide the next turn of the Wheel. The time between Samhain and the Winter Solstice is the waiting time, like when a baby is in the womb but not yet ready to be born. We don’t know what the new year will bring, but we will soon begin to dream and imagine.
At Samhain, we also call upon Hecate, the Crone of the triple Goddess. She is the aspect of the Goddess that teaches us wisdom and helps us to let go and transform. She comes to strip the leaves from the trees and quicken the decay of the flesh of the year, so that it may feed the new life to come. At this time, we can follow the wisdom of the trees and embrace the gift of release. We can let go of the past, and release all that no longer or never served us – our resentments, our guilt, our regrets, our attachments, our karmic and genetic patterns. We can hand these unwanted aspects to Hecate and allow her to transform them in her cauldron. We can experience a radical release and shift anything that has been stuck in our life. Letting go is a natural and necessary part of life. And, when we let go, we make space for love to enter. And as we let the old year die, we make room for the new year to be born.
During Samhain, the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is the thinnest. In this time outside of time, this place between the worlds, we honor and visit with our ancestors. We commune with our beloved dead. We open our hearts and we open our circle, to welcome those we love and have lost. Interestingly, the words ghost and guest come from the same root. And so, we invite them to be with us, to speak with us, to share their wisdom and advice, and to celebrate the love and Spirit that survives even as the forms of life change.
Samhain is considered the most sacred of sabbats by many and in its sanctity, comes a part that’s difficult to celebrate: remembrance. When we remember, we feel. When we feel, we often grieve. Sometimes its grief for someone who has died, other times it’s grief for what once was, or for what never was. These are all natural parts of the season, just as much as the joy and mystique. Grief in its proper place- informs us of what we’ve lost, so that we know what in life to cherish.
And so, at the time of Samhain, we cherish and give thanks for all we have and all that has manifested during the past year. We reflect on the dreams first inspired during last December’s Winter Solstice, the fertile ground we prepared at Imbolc, the seeds we planted at Ostara, the first seedlings we nurtured at Beltane, the fields we tended during Litha, all that began to ripen at Lughnasad, and our Mabon harvest. We give thanks for all that came to be during the year and all that wasn’t meant to be.
You may wish to call upon the Goddess Oya, if you are looking for inner transformation. A Yoruban Goddess who controls the rain, winds, and storms. She is a powerful crone who has a strong desire to help women through their struggles to transform and is also associated with the regenerative power of death and rebirth. You may feel the desire to have Oya blow her winds of change around your life to bring about something greater.
Another powerful Goddess available to us is Lilith. She can help us get in touch with our inner voice, our pure sovereign self. She is not afraid to be wild, sexual, or speak her truth. Often misrepresented by the masculine paradigm, she was never evil or bad. She encourages us to embrace our sexuality, our sensuality, and to stand up and fight for our power. So if you are looking to embrace your power and voice, you may wish to invite Lilith to be with you.
Colors: Black, purple, gold, orange
Altar components: photographs of people or pets you love or honor who have passes, objects belonging to them, a pomegranate (the symbol of Persephone), offerings of food and drink for the spirits.
Ode To Hecate Redux (For Ann)
by Daria MacGregor
O Hecate Un-graspable One
Gold dust woman She of the crossroads
Now you see Her Now you don't
For You are the mist (after all, what is mist but crystal in decay)
You are the spirit infilling infusing encompassing swirling
As the oracle card is pulled
The touch of the key as it enters the lock
The soft snick of the turn
That lets you in
The tendrils of smoke rising from the torches
The leaping of the flame as it's lit
The whisper to speak
The breath before you do which clarifies your truth
The dissolving of a soul as it leaves the veil of the body
Returning to Her body and soul
Disappearing beyond our ken
Yet never gone
For She is here
She swirls around and through
before and behind above and below
She is all magic all mystery all dreams
She is the darkest moment
And She is the dawn
She rebirths Herself every moment and us, Her children, with Her
She is the bridge the cross-point
where the circle ends and begins again
Grasp Her? Might as well try to grasp love
or clouds or the taste of wine upon your tongue
or a lover's kiss impressed upon your lips
Stop a child from growing
A lotus unfolding Stop time and stars
To grasp Her would be to stop Life
So let Her speak and flow
Misty dark gold dust lady of the doorway
She will sweep all of us along
in Her cloak of stars
The darker the night
The brighter She shines