After I read Rhobin and Beth’s last two blogs, I began thinking about harvest festivals and, well, here we are. At the start of my latest blog entry.
Samhain – not the publishing house but the Gaelic/Wiccan festival – is less than two weeks away. I know many people pronounce the word as “sam-hane” but the correct pronunciation is closer to “sow-ween.”
Samhain is one of four seasonal festivals, and it is usually celebrated halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, on October 31 or November 1. It’s the harvest festival but an observation that also reminds celebrants winter is not far off.
This holiday shares lots of similarities to other practices that may be familiar to you. For example, cattle were often butchered for the winter. Farmers or herders still do that today in many parts of the world. In older times, people and their livestock would first walk between bonfires as a cleansing ritual and later the livestock bones would be thrown into the flames. Perhaps hanging skeletons does the same thing these days. After all, it’s hard to find a good bonfire in the city.
Another Samhain belief is that the door between this and the “otherworld” was open that night, allowing souls to enter our world and communicate with us. Feasts were held for ancestors – similar to a Day of the Dead – also held during the fall in many cultures. It’s probably no coincidence that organized religion established All Saints’/Souls’ Day (take your pick) on November 1, traditionally a day named All Hallows.
Our ancestors also worked to protect themselves from harmful spirits at Samhain. Spirits could come to bless a home or disturbed spirits could wreck havoc. Some believed fairies stole humans on Samhain – oh, what a great plot idea! Candle lanterns made from turnips, as Rhobin mentioned two days ago, were part of this traditional festival also. Large turnips were hollowed out, carved with faces and set on windowsills to ward off evil spirits.
And let’s not forget costumes. The Gaelic custom of masquerade was designed to confuse harmful spirits or warn them away. Children going door to door in costumes and masks, carrying lanterns and offering entertainment in return for food or coin was traditional in the 1800s. Now it’s called trick or treating and candy is thrown into bags with often no “treat” given in return.
It seems our superstitious past remains in ways we don’t consciously recognize. But honoring our dead is a practice that has fallen along the way, as has giving thanks for the harvest just past and looking forward to the deep quiet of winter. What a shame, to have stepped away from our Mother Earth’s rhythms.
That’s where Beth’s quotes on wisdom helped send me down this avenue of thought. Perhaps it’s time to set aside the superstitions and work to understand the gift of autumn. Slow down and celebrate the days we have left and those of our recent past. Give thanks every evening for the day’s events – even the really nasty ones have one good aspect.
It’s time to use the wisdom gathered over many experiences to become stronger. Perhaps we could sit quietly on Samhain/Halloween and listen to the advice of our deceased parents, grandparents or a favorite aunt or uncle. They’re leaning over our shoulders, just waiting to be heard. Give a listen.