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Other Names: Samhain (Modern Irish) – means summer’s end and celebrates the final harvest. Allantide (Cornish) – popularly linked to St. Allen or Arlan a Cornish Saint. Pre-chirstian origins are similar to holidays celebrated during this time of year. All-Hallow's Tide ("Alhalwyn-tyd," Germanic) All Souls' Day or All Saint’s Day or Hallowmas (Christian) – to commemorate the souls of the blessed souls who had died that year who were waiting for entry to Heaven. Calan Gaeaf or Hollantide (Welsh) – means the end of winter’s calend/first Halloween or All Hallows Eve (secular American) Kala-Goanv (Breton) – means ‘the first day of winter’ Sauin (Manx) Samhiunn (Scottish Gaelic) Trinouxtion Samonii (Gaulish from the Coligny Calendar)
The end of the Pagan sacred year, The Last Harvest, Summer’s end and the time when the veil between the worlds of human and the spirit are the thinnest.
October 31st - November 5st
The first festival in the dark half of the year; This was the time when the last harvest was wrapping up and livestock was accounted for and some were even slaughtered so that they could make sure they had enough grass and feed through the winter, enough breeding livestock for the next year and enough meat to survive the winter. This time of the year really represented death in many ways. Honoring the animals we kill in order for us to survive, honoring family, friends and ancestors who have passed away, coming to accept the quietness of winter and coming to terms and letting go of death and the hard moments of life that we usually don’t like to think or talk about are all ways that we encounter death during the dark half of the year.
The dead are thought to return or visit during this time of the year, those who would like to honor or have the dead join them may set an extra place setting at their table or speak their names or speak of memories of them during ritual or while remembering them with others around during festivals, feasts, or gatherings.
____________________ The following has been collected by shadow kitten from pagan forums; and she has given me her permission to post it here! _____________________
A list of Samhain customs/traditions:
-Make a big family altar to honor departed loved ones and ancestors (if you already have such an altar, place offerings and light a candle there). Put symbols of the seasons on it, like pumpkins, fall leaves, pomegranates, and corn. Put pictures of your beloved dead on the altar, as well as anything that reminds you of them - an aunt's string of pearls, a grandfather watch. Encourage your child to add to the altar. They can add a drawing, a favorite picture, photo of a beloved pet that has passed away, or just something that evokes the spirit of Samhain like a witch doll or a small scarecrow. If possible, make the altar low, at your child's eye level.
-Remember departed friends and family - Go through your photo album sharing anecdotes about the people in the photos. If you don't know your family history, try to contact older members of your family and ask them to write or record reminiscences about departed family members.
-If your children are of an age to understand, share your feelings about life and death with them. The subject will probably come up naturally as you are collecting the materials for your altar. Your children will feel better knowing what you believe.
-Go for a walk in the woods or another favourite outdoor location. Collect seed pods, feathers, fallen leaves, etc. to construct an altar. Add pictures of departed friends and pets to your altar.
-Decorate your home in the spirit of the season. Use pumpkins, ghosts, witches, black cats, and everything else you can think of. Involve your children as much as possible. This is a good time to explain the origins of Halloween and the real meanings of these images of witches, skeletons, and ghosts.
-As done in ancient times, set a place at your table for your spirit friends and relatives and serve them some of the food and drink you share at your Samhain feast. Add an ‘Ancestor Seat’ to your dinner table and let your children decorate the chair.
-Hold a Mute Supper, where dinner is served and eaten in complete silence in honour of the Spirit. Be sure to give thanks.
-It is a traditional to place plates of food and vessels of beverage outside your home – usually by the front and back doors for wandering ghosts on Samhain. The Irish and Scots did this to "appease" wandering ghosts in the hopes of preventing malicious acts by these spirits.
-Fires are lit to guide spirits of the dead home and to frighten away evil ones. A candle placed in the window guides them to the lands of eternal summer. The Irish and Scots burnt black taper candles in all of their windows for protection against evil or malignant spirits.
-Burying apples in hard-packed earth "feeds" the passed ones on their journey.
-An old Belgian Samhain custom was to prepare special "Cakes of the Dead" (small white cakes or cookies). A cake was eaten for each spirit honored with the belief that the more cakes you ate, the more the dead would bless you!
-Drink apple cider warmed and spiced with cinnamon to honor the dead.
-In many parts of England, it was believed that the ghosts of all persons who were destined to die in the coming year could be seen walking through the graveyards at midnight on Samhain.
-Many of the ghosts that people thought they saw were said to be evil. For protection, jack-o-lanterns with hideous candle-lit faces were carved out of pumpkins and carried as lanterns to scare away the malevolent spirits.
-A burning candle placed inside a hollowed out pumpkin or jack-o-lantern on Samhain works to keep evil spirits and demons at bay.
-Set lighted carved pumpkins around your home to bless it.
-Paint or carve a face on a pumpkin. Share the story of Wicked Jack. Save the pumpkin seeds to roast and plant.
-If you can, go to a pumpkin patch. Later, as you help your child carve the pumpkins, tell them the history of pumpkin carving and Halloween in general.
-Throw a ‘Come as You Were’ Party and have everyone dress up as they were in another life.
-Magically make a resolution to break out of a negative habit pattern and begin a healthier way of being.
-Make a Witch’s Cord. Witch's cords are beautiful and make great decorations. The Samhain witches cord should be an expression of what you wish or hope for the New Year. Take three strands of ribbon or silk cord in three different colors, each about three feet long. Choose colors that symbolize your hopes for the New Year. Fold one end down about five inches and tie together in a knot to make a loop so the cord can be hung. Braid the strands together, reciting your wishes and hopes and tie at least three knots on the tail. You can add anything you want to the cords - feathers, stones, herbs, little toys, tokens in remembrance of a loved one, etc.
-Samhain is a good time to become introspective and "soul-search." It is a good idea to consider what we have done both in actions and deeds over the past year and what we might like to change or accomplish in the New Year.
-Write down on paper all of the negative things about yourself, or in your life, that you'd like to banish, and then burning them in a cauldron.
-Make resolutions and burn in a candle flame. This is not the same as ridding yourself of bad habits, but is more like New Year's resolutions, as for many Samhain is the New Year.
-It is said that lighting a new orange candle at midnight on Samhain and allowing it to burn until sunrise will bring one good luck, however according to an old legend, bad luck will befall those who bake bread on this day or journey after sunset.
-For good luck, burn black and orange candles on Samhain. Black and Orange are the traditional colors of Samhain and Halloween. On this day their magical vibrations are at their peak.
-It is believed that if a person lights a new orange-colored candle at midnight on Samhain and lets it burn until the sun rises, he or she will be the recipient of good luck. However, according to an old legend from Europe, any person who bakes bread or journeys after sunset on Samhain runs the risk of conjuring forth bad luck in great abundance.
-Always burn new candles at Samhain to ensure the best of luck. Likewise, it is not a good idea to burn Samhain candles at any other time of the year. To do so may cause you to experience bad luck and/or strange happenings over which you will have no control.
-The Celts used to extinguish all the fires in their homes on Samhain so that all the Celtic tribes could relight their fires from the Druidic fire that was kept burning in the Middle of Ireland.
-Another old Samhain custom was to light a fire on the household hearth which would burn continuously until the first day of the following spring.
-If a candle should suddenly go out by itself on Samhain, as thought being blown out by wind or by breath, this is said to be a sign that a ghost has come to call.
-Make a spirit candle. This is a white candle anointed with patchouli oil. Say:
With this candle and by its light,
I welcome you spirits this Samhain night.
Place it inside the jack o'lantern. This may be included in the Ritual, or done separately.
-Huge bonfires were also lit on the hilltops at sunset in honor of the old Gods and Goddesses, and to guide the souls of the dead home to their kin.
-Many people still celebrate Samhain by building bonfires on hilltops and high ground, and then dancing around the flames. The fire is known as Hallowe'en bleeze, and custom once included digging a circular trench around the fire to symbolize the sun.
-After the bonfires had burned out the ashes were sprinkled over the fields to protect them during the winter months and, of course, they also improved the soil at the same time.
-Stones were buried in the ashes of the fire. These were marked, as on other occasions, so that they could be identified by their owners. When the fire was moored the stones were examined for omens.
-Sweethearts placed a pair of nuts on the fire. If they burned quietly they would have a happy marriage but if they sparked it would be a fiery one.
-Gazing into the flame of a candle on Samhain will enable you to peer into the future.
-Do divination on the year ahead.
-It is said that if you go to a crossroads at Halloween and listen to the wind, you will learn all the most important things that will befall you during the next twelve months.
-Consult your favorite oracle about the future.
-Dunkin' for Apples: Apple Dunkin' reflects the journey across water to obtain the magic apple.
Place a large tub, preferably wooden, on the floor, and half fill it with water. Tumble in plenty of apples, and have one person stir them around vigorously with a long wooden spoon or rod of hazel, ash or any other sacred tree.
Each player takes their turn kneeling on the floor, trying to capture the apples with their teeth as they go bobbing around. Each gets three tries before the next person has a go. Best to wear old clothes for this one, and have a roaring fire nearby so you can dry off while eating your prize!
If you do manage to capture an apple, you might want to keep it for a divination ritual, such as this one:
-The Apple and the Mirror: Before the stroke of midnight, sit in front of a mirror in a room lit only by one candle or the moon. Go into the silence, and ask a question. Cut an apple into nine pieces. With your back to the mirror, eat eight of the pieces, then throw the ninth over your left shoulder. Turn your head to look over the same shoulder, and you will see and in image or symbol in the mirror that will tell you your answer.
(When you look in the mirror, let your focus go "soft," and allow the patterns made by the moon or candlelight and shadows to suggest forms, symbols and other dreamlike images that speak to your intuition)
-Many people in various parts of the world consider it to be extremely unlucky to look at their reflection in a mirror by candlelight on Samhain.
-Many people also believe that mirrors are the gateways to the other worlds, and cover mirrors with black cloths to keep the gateway closed.
-Read traditional fairytales.
-A farmer sometimes accompanied by his herds would circle the boundaries of each field to ensure prosperity for the oncoming year. This was a throwback to the calendar of the Druids who considered that Samhain was the first day of the New Year.
-Of all the turning points of the Celtic year, the gods drew near to Earth at Samhain, so many sacrifices and gifts were offered up in thanksgiving for the harvest. Personal prayers in the form of objects symbolizing the wishes of supplicants or ailments to be healed were cast into the fire, and at the end of the ceremonies, brands were lit from the great fire of Tara to re-kindle all the home fires of the tribe, as at Beltane. As they received the flame that marked this time of beginnings, people surely felt a sense of the kindling of new dreams, projects and hopes for the year to come.
-It was on Samhain that the Celtic Druids tallied their livestock and mated their ewes for the coming Spring.
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This is fantastic info. I plan on making a Jack o'Lantern with Daniel this year and I love the idea of the Witch's Cords. I really wanted to do something this year to mark Samhain actually as New Year, and I love this idea. I know just where to go to pick out some ribbons.