Tuesday, 30 October 2007


Although we Pagans and Witches celebrate many festivals throughout the year, Hallowe'en (which most of us call by its old Celtic name of Samhain) is the one that most people know about. Although of course, their concept of witches and what they get up to on Hallowe'en is pretty far removed from ours!
Whilst I enjoy seeing all the Hallowe'en trappings in the shops, carving pumpkin lanterns and handing out sweets to trick-or-treating children, all of that has about as much relevance to the true meaning of Samhain as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer has to the true meaning of Christmas.
For me, Samhain is about acknowledging our entry into the 'dark' part of the year (don't be spooked, I mean literal darkness, i.e. shorter daylight hours!), a time for introspection and rest.
It is also the festival at which I remember and honour my ancestors and my Beloved Dead - in my tradition we tend to use the term 'ancestors' to mean those who have gone before us, and 'Beloved Dead' to mean those ancestors and loved ones we actually knew from this lifetime who have passed away into death.
Each Samhain I create an altar to my ancestors and Beloved Dead. As well as being decorated in autumn colours, with fallen leaves, probably a carved pumpkin or two and plenty of candles, the altar will have photos of my Beloved Dead; sadly, there are usually more of these each year, but I suppose that's part of life and growing older. I also put out trinkets and mementos I have of them: Grandpa's cuff link box, Granddad's bronze Buddha statuette, Gan's ring, Thomas the cat's collar and name tag. And some years I put out little offerings of their favourite foods for my Beloved Dead - ice cream for my Nanna, a cup of tea for cousin Enid, tuna for my cat Julie. Doing this is part of remembering them, who they were, what they enjoyed in life, the times we shared together. Sometimes there are no treats or mementos - for our son Peter, who was stillborn, I have only an ultrasound photo. Yet the love is still there and he is remembered each year with the others.
The altar becomes a focal point for my ritual, which is usually fairly simple and involves creating sacred space, honouring my ancestors and then inviting in any of my Beloved Dead who would like to be there. Pagans usually say 'the veil between the worlds [of life and death] is thin at Samhain' and so this is thought to be a good time to contact the spirits of the departed. I sit and talk to my loved ones, tell them what is going on, how I miss them, what memories I carry of our times together. This is usually an emotional time, but I find it really helps with the grief process.
I like remembering and honouring my ancestors and Beloved Dead at this time of year. We are, after all, stitches in a tapestry which stretches backwards and forwards through time. It is good to acknowledge our place in the warp and weft, the threads we are part of and those we interlink with, if only for a brief time. Glimpses of the grand over all pattern are simultaneously humbling and inspiring.
And I'll also carve pumpkins, buy sweets for the trick-or-treaters, tell ghost stories by the fire, wear fancy dress for your Hallowe'en party and buy cute little witch ornaments. Because I love Hallowe'en and all its funny-spooky trappings too.
That's who I am and some of the things I enjoy in this life. And if I'm lucky, one day I'll be someone's Beloved Dead, remembered with a place on their altar and an invitation to visit for chocolate and time together at Samhain.


Leanne said...

What a great Post! people's concepts of witches in particular and paganism in general are so misinformed. But I enjoy Samhain, and I observe it pretty much as you do Sue,with introspection, and remembrance for those who have gone, especially my much loved Dad.

despite really not liking all the plastic rubbish filling the shops, and the silly portrayal of pagans, I like Samhain

Leanne x

Lisa G said...

Thanks for posting that. I like all the silly trappings of halloween too and so do my kids. For me Samhain is not just a time to honour our ancestors but also a time to come to terms with the past and move on.

Unknown said...

I feel the same about Samhain and Halloween. I usually get a bit of both as I will have a party for Halloween and a ritual for Samhain. I loved your comment about Halloween being to Samhain what Rudolf is to Christmas. That's gonna stick in my mind for a long while. :)

I'm making a centrepiece today that will be part of my ritual tonight and that can be used to decorate for the party, thereby linking the old traditions with the new. It feels right to me.

Cottage Smallholder said...

Great post, with loads of food for thought.

I have passed on a Halloween Award to you, to celebrate the day.

kathyann said...

Really enjoyed your post,I want to find out more about paganism,I feel drawn to this way of life .I too will be remembering all my friends and famiy who have passed.one of my girls is going to a halloween party tonight and we will have the sweets ready for the stream of kids coming to the door ,well you just have to go with it ,don't you !!!! Kathyann (meg's mum's muffins)

Joanna said...

I'm a newcomer to your site, thanks to cottage smallholder ... this is a great post, and I really like the idea of the beloved dead, and marking all those who have gone before in a meaningful way. As a result, I've spent time today thinking about people I have loved - still love - who have departed and who have meant much to me ... I shall do it always, and no longer think of Hallowe'en as a nuisance, but Samhain as something to look forward to. Thank you


Unknown said...

This was a beautiful post. Thank you for educating me!

Miss Robyn said...

I love this post.. and although we are celebrating Beltane.. I always do a little altar for my ancetors at this time of year, because some of them came from your part of the world. I didn't know about the Beloved dead.. thankyou for that information.
Our Samhain is when you celebrate Beltane and we don't have the 'trappings' as such.. like trick or treating...

ginny said...

A beautiful, moving and enlightening post.
I'm so glad i found it.
Thank you

Breezy said...

It's my favourite time of year. I too remember my beloved dead and reflect on the year gone by and the plans I want to incubate for the coming one. Nice post