All Hallow's Eve is almost upon us. A time when the veil between the worlds is thinned and it's easier to slip between them. All Hallow's Eve became Hallowe'en which has become Halloween. In older times it was Samhain (pronounced Sow-en and other various versions of that pronunciation depending on your location). It is the Celtic New Year in the old beliefs. The time when the years draws in upon itself and darkness outweighs the light since the balance of Alban Elved which is the Autumn Equinox. The years slips toward the longest night of Alban Authuran- Mid-winter night- the Winter Solstice.
The custom of wearing costumes comes from the old belief that spirits both dark and light walked in this realm on All Hallow's Eve. The disguise was supposed to protect the wearer from being recognized by spirits who meant the person ill. Also, beginning in the Middle Ages, those children and sometimes adults from less fortunate situations would go door to door asking for food and drink in exchange for songs or a tale. This is the origins of 'mumming' a custom still alive in Cornwall, Ireland and Scotland. In Scotland and Ireland the woman of the house would bake Soul Cakes to give to those who came to her door. Below is an old traditional 'souling song'.
A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
Samhain is a Fire Festival, balanced by the May 1st Fire Festival of Beltane (the Celtic first day of summer). There were four Fire Festivals, Samhain (Oct 31st), Imbolc (February 1) which is also associated with Bride/St. Bridgid and was the Celtic first day of Spring. Lughnasagh which was the beginning of the harvest and the first day of fall. It was believed that no fruit should be taken or eaten after Samhain as it was considered 'faery blasted' and was unfit for human consumption. It was (and is) always ill advised to anger or disrespect the spirits and faeries.
At Samhain it is also a custom to leave food and drink out for the ancestors who wish to visit their families at this time when the thin veils allow them visit.
In Mexico and some indigenous cultures, the date is celebrated as The Day of the Dead which takes place on November 1 and 2. This does actually have parallels with the Celtic timing as Samhain begins at sundown on October 31st and ends at sundown on November 1. They believe, much like the Celts, that the gates of heaven open at midnight on October 31, and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them. On the second day the the festivities are taken to the cemetery. People clean tombs, play cards, listen to the village band and reminisce about their loved ones. Tradition keeps the village close.
No matter how you view the date ~ Hallowe'en, Samhain, Day of the Dead, All Saint's Day ~ it is a time for introspection and mental house cleaning. A time to chuck out that which no longer serves us and to open ourselves to the new possibilities that will present themselves as the scales tip in favour of the Light at Winter Solstice. For a writer, it is a time to examine our hearts and decide what we deem most important that we wish to impart through our work. It may be a profound vision or idea, it may be we only seek to entertain. Whatever we choose, it is what is right for us at this time and not something to be compared to another's success or failure.
I find it comforting to feel connected to my ancestors through celebrations and rituals that have continued through the ages. Of course there has been changes and evolutions of the events, but the core reason remains unchanged over the centuries, even if they are only visible if you choose to uncover them.
Wishing you happiness and joy for the coming months. Christmas is just around the corner. Winter Solstice with the strengthening of the Light.
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Until next month, stay well, stay happy.