Merry Samhain Greetings! Ooooh boy, here we are – it’s October, and Halloween is coming at last! Samhain is perhaps the most widely recognized of the pagan festivals, celebrated by pagan and Christian alike as the holiday of Halloween. In Mexico the period is a joyful celebration known as Los Dias de las Muertos, “The Days of the Dead”; in Catholic countries the festival of All Saints and All Souls is a solemn remembrance of the deceased. Typical Halloween activities such as wearing costumes, “trick or treating” and carving pumpkins are likely remnants of pagan rites from long ago. Early communities certainly made offerings to the dead and to the fairies, which they believed would expect gifts on that night. This later developed into the tradition of “guising” which entailed gangs of youths visiting each household in turn to beg for food, money or firewood for the bonfire. With the emigration of many Irish and Scots to America, the tradition evolved again into its present incarnation. The custom of lighting torches and lanterns is probably the oldest of all. Flaming torches would have provided strong sympathetic magic for those trying to drive away unwelcome fairies or spirits. The addition of frightening carved faces would have made the lanterns all the more effective.
Samhain is considered the best time for divination because it falls at a great turning point of the year: the boundary between the worlds is more diffuse and access to other realms is easier. In Wicca, Samhain is the time when witches believe the veil separating the worlds is at its most transparent and when we honor and remember our dead. Wiccans do not actively try to summon or call back the dead in the same manner as spiritualists holding seances, but rather make the ancestors welcome – should they care to come! It is a lovely custom to create an altar to our beloved dead. This can be a tabletop or mantle display of pictures along with trinkets or objects that the deceased held dear – for example, a picture of a beloved pet next to one or two favorite toys or a worn collar. This is an opportunity to reaffirm the special bond and place in one’s heart the person or pet continues to hold. A time to celebrate life, rather than mourn its passing … secure in the knowledge we are always connected.