The Thinning Veil
Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-en’) is probably the most important, though least understood, of our ancient Celtic festivals. Unlike its modern counterpart, Halloween, it has nothing to do with evil practices or grotesque costumes. It is one of the great quarter-days or fire festivals which fall midway between the solstices and equinoxes. This sacred day was the start of the New Year and a day for honouring the dead. The Celts believed that on this day the ‘veil between the worlds was thin’ so they could more easily ask departed ancestors for help. They drank toasts to beloved departed ones and shared well remembered stories. It was a traditional day for divination. The Wise Women of that day performed rituals to keep anything negative from the past from harming or influencing the future for it was a time of change and looking ahead.
Fires were kindled on sacred hilltops for the protection of the people and the land. The purpose of the fire was to destroy anything harmful or negative from the previous year and not to rid the countryside of witches. Names of things from the old year that one wanted to get rid of, or release, were written on paper and thrown in the fire to burn. This was called the ‘papers of regret’. Samhain was also a time of family reunions. Carved turnip, swede lanterns or candles were hung on fence posts or placed in windows to keep anything harmful away from the house and also to provide light for returning relatives. A special feast was prepared and a place left empty for the unseen visitor. In some pagan traditions this place was set for the Great Mother, the original ancestor of the family or clan.
Today Samhain is a time to remember what has gone before us. I remember with fondness as a child bobbing for apples, dressing up and going around ‘trick or treating’. It was great fun and we did not have to worry about what might happen to us. In today’s world there is much fear about our children being allowed out to go guising, and people are afraid to open their doors to strangers in fear of being attacked. Our feared based society today has taken away the joy of Samhain, it is up to each and every one of us to relight and rekindle our beautiful ceremonies, by celebrating and rejoicing our ancient traditions of our ancestors without fear.
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