A Blessed Samhain

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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.

Lighting candles to honor the ancestors.
Photo by Jere/Tyreseus, CC License

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.”

Notable passings within the Pagan community this year include artists Chas Smith and Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, key Goddess movement figure Shekhinah Mountainwater, Tim Sebastion, chief of the Secular Order of Druids, prominent Salem Witch Shawn Poirier, and groundbreaking visionary Robert Anton Wilson.

“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.

Below you’ll find an assortment of quotes from the media and from fellow Pagans on the holiday.

“The word Samhain means summer’s end … It’s not a festival celebrating death, it’s a celebration of our beloved dead who have passed on … The veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest then…”Laurie Smith, Winnipeg Sun

“Most people celebrate Halloween by donning costumes and collecting candy. For the Rev. Theresa McReynolds, a chiropractor from Atlantic City, October is a special, holy time to honor loved ones who have died. At home, McReynolds creates a special altar with pictures and mementoes. She cooks special meals that include their favorite foods. McReynolds, 61, also would take her grandchildren and other relatives to the cemetery and share stories about their ancestors to ‘remind them we came from somewhere and we’re a part of something bigger than where we are now.'”Michelle Lee, The Atlantic City Press

“It’s a funny festival, when you think about it. A strange collision of All Saints’ day (the Catholic Church’s way of celebrating all the anonymous ‘also-rans’) and the pre-Christian, celtic festival Oiche Shamhain (Old Irish for ‘Samhain’ night, ‘Samhain’ being a festival of the dead), With that kind of heritage, Halloween was always bound to be a bit weird. In Ireland, where pagan and Christian culture have always been satisfactory bedfellows, Halloween is a cause for a major celebration. Fireworks are let off, barmbrack (a kind of fruit bread) is eaten, there is singing and dancing and, of course, plenty of drinking.”Ben Snook, Bits of News

“In Northern Europe, Samhain (the Celtic term for Halloween, pronounced sow-in as in ‘sour’) was the time when the cattle were moved from the summer pastures to winter shelter. It was the end of the growing season, the end of harvest, a time of thanksgiving, when the ancestors and the spirits of the beloved dead would return home to share in the feast. Death did not sever one’s connections with the community. People would leave offerings of food and drink for their loved ones, and set out candles to light their way home. Those traditions gave us many of our present day customs. Now we set out jack-o-lanterns and give offerings of candy to children – who are, after all, the ancestors returning in new forms.”Starhawk, On Faith

“The veils are thin this time of year, they say. The veils are thin between the worlds seen and unseen, but they are also thin within us. Something in us opens and reaches out into the dark. Something in us reaches into the darkness held deeply in secret, too. Something in us longs for the warming fire. Our veils are thin, our personality parts fight for dominance, and our psychic centers know that there is more. Our hearts do, too. The unseen reaches for us, and we reach for the unseen. There is no difference between the two.”T. Thorn Coyle

“The next day – or possibly the day after that, depending on your calendar and/or which scholars you believe – is Samhain. This is the day we remember our ancestors of blood and spirit, those who walked before us and made the ways we follow. We will attend their altar, and take down the family photo albums to share once again the lives and memories of our beloved dead with our daughter, so that she can know whence and from whom she comes.”Executive Pagan

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.