Tonight and tomorrow is when most modern Pagans celebrate Samhain. Samhain is the start of winter and of the new year in the old Celtic calendar. This is a time when the ancestors are honored, divinations for the new year are performed, and festivals are held in honor of the gods. It is a time of final harvest before the long winter ahead. It is perhaps the best-known and most widely celebrated of the modern Pagan holidays.
This time of year also sees the celebration of Velu Laiks (“the time of spirits”) by Baltic Pagans, Winter Nights by Asatru in mid-October, Foundation Night in Ekklesía Antínoou on October 30th, Fete Gede by Vodou practitioners, Día de los Muertos for followers of Santeria and several indigenous religions in Mexico and Latin America, Diwali for Hindus (November 5th this year), and astrological “true” Samhain on November 8th for some Witches and Druids. In addition, Pagans in the Southern Hemisphere are currently celebrating Beltane.
It is a time when some communities acknowledge the Mighty Dead.
“The Mighty Dead are said to be those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil. They have pledged to watch, to help and to teach. It is those Mighty Dead who stand behind us, or with us, in circle so frequently.”
Many who have been dear to our communities have crossed the veil this past year, joining the ranks of the Mighty Dead, including Len Rosenberg (Black Lotus), Lady Sintana, Isaac Bonewits, Alexei Kondratiev, Lady Svetlana, and Barbara Stacy.
“I love that story about Susan Anthony that Zsuzsanna Budapest tells in her book. Some journalist asked Susan Anthony, because she didn’t believe in orthodox religion, I suppose, “Where do you think you’re to go when you die?” She said, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay around and help the women’s movement.” So even if I don’t live long enough to see these things, I’ll be around to make a nuisance of myself.” –Doreen Valiente, the Mother of Modern Witchcraft.
You can also find a list of departed pioneers, founders, and elders at the Green Egg Zine.
Below you’ll find an assortment of quotes from the media and fellow Pagans on the holiday.
“Death isn’t merely about human mortality. Samhain means “summer’s end” and the death of the fruitful season is also contemplated. We’ve each had dreams that died, feelings of love that died, prejudices that have died, and habits that have died. Let’s not forget that the passing of a pet or death of a beloved car is also cause to mourn. One of the four great fire festivals, Samhain is also about purification. The festival lies at the turning point of the Celtic year and you do not carry dead things into the new year. You prune your life, you pay respect to things past, and you move forward into the incubatory introspection of winter clean and new.” – Star Foster, Patheos.com
“While local celebrants of Samhain may draw inspiration from a variety of spiritual traditions — including Celtic, neo-pagan, shamanic, witchcraft, Wicca, Druid and Native American — their observances share common themes: honoring the dead, crossing from summer to winter, beginning the Wheel of the Year anew, acknowledging death as a part of the cycle of life, expressing thankfulness for the Earth’s harvest and lifting the “veil” between our world and the spirit world.” - Cathie Laurent Schau, Kalamazoo Gazette
“For the witches of Weymouth it is one of their most important religious festivals, a time when they believe the barriers between the physical and spiritual worlds are at their thinnest. They invite the spirits of north, south, east and west into the circle, and cut apples to share with the spirits of people who have died. The leader of the coven, Diane Narraway, bids farewell to the goddess of light, and kneels before the head of a horned ram, holding her hands out as if to a flame. ”I kneel before… the horned god, Lord of Witchdom, as we welcome him back to reign over the dark months,” she says.” – Robert Pigott, BBC
“Here in Sonoma County both our main altar and our ancestor altar will be decorated with marigolds, and the central candles will be atop a wonderful Mexican ceramic skull, for we are blessed with the near coincidence of Samhain and Day of the Dead. These two celebrations are particularly harmonious for both honor those who have passed on. Both connect with that part of existence we usually most avoid. And Day of the Dead is celebratory towards those who have passed, helping us connect with our ancestors, something far less prevalent in NeoPaganism than in indigenous traditions.” - Gus diZerega, Beliefnet
May you all have a blessed Samhain, blessings to you, and your beloved dead on this season. Let this new cycle be one of great blessings for all of you. Also, in recognition of the holiday,I’ve created a special edition of my podcast chock-full of Halloween and Samhain-themed music! Enjoy!