Wednesday, October 24, 2012


With one week left before my beloved Halloween, it's time to post about the religious side of my favorite holiday. It's not all fun and games for the Happy Hippie Witch because in addition to the night of October 31st being dedicated to frolic there is also a very serious side to this night, the aspect of it that was celebrated by the people of Europe centuries ago, the aspect of it that lent to the mainstream holiday most of its symbolism that we see today. Halloween in its religious form is a night to honor those who have passed on to the other side. It is a night to celebrate and remember those you have loved who are no longer physically with you. It is believed by many cultures and religions that on this night the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest and because of this, the night is dedicated to the dead. (That explains the skeletons and ghosts all over the place in our decorations for Halloween, doesn't it?) This night is also the Wiccan new year and the third and final harvest celebration.
My usual routine on this night is to decorate my altar with pictures of my loved ones who are no longer here, to take stock of the spiritual progress I have made (including accomplishments and things I want to work on or focus on in the next twelve months), and I usually burn all of my altar candles down completely on this night and start fresh the following day in honor of the New Year aspect. However, like Beltane, many celebrate this holiday from dusk on October 31st to dusk November 1st and I think I am going to try something new this year and go with that. In addition to this, I have also recently come across a week long honoring celebration from October 24th-October 31st that was posted on facebook and taken from Margie McCarther's book Wiccacraft for Families. I think I am going to try it as well because I liked the idea of it as soon as I read it. I've been doing the same thing for the past fourteen years. I think it's time to spice it up. (For any interested readers out there, I am going to post info on Samhain from the website and the list of who to honor on what date is included there.) is some details concerning this interesting night of the year taken from the above listed site:

Samhain: October 31/November 1 for Northern Hemisphere; May 1 for Southern Hemisphere
Samhain Lore Researched and Compiled
by StormWing, Copyright © 1996 - 2007
Samhain (pronounced SOW-in, SAH-vin, or SAM-hayne) is one of the Greater Wiccan Sabbats and is generally celebrated on October 31st, although some Traditions prefer the date of November 1st. The various names for this Sabbat are Samhain (Celtic), Shadowfest (Strega), Martinmas or Old Hallowmas (Scottish/Celtic), as well as Halloween, Hallowmas, All Hallows Eve, Halloween, Day of the Dead, Feast of Spirits, Third Harvest, Samonios, All Saints Eve, Celtic New Year, Samhuinn, Celtic Winter, Samana, Festival of Pamona, Vigil of Saman, Vigil of Todos, and Santos. Though this Holiday is celebrated on October 31st, All Hallows Eve falls on November 7th, and Martinmas on November 11th.
The symbolism of this Sabbat is that of The Third (and final) Harvest, it marks the end of Summer, the beginning of Winter. It is a time marked by death when the Dead are honored - a time to celebrate and "study" the Dark Mysteries. "Samhain" means "End of Summer". Its historical origin is The Feast of the Dead in Celtic lands. It is believed that on this night, the veil Between the Worlds is at its thinnest point, making this an excellent time to communicate with the Other Side.
Symbols for representing this Sabbat may include Jack-O-Lanterns, Balefires, Masks, The Besom (Magickal Broom), The Cauldron, and the Waning Moon. Altar decorations might include small jack-o-lanterns, foods from the harvest, and photographs of your loved ones who have departed from this world.
Appropriate Deities for Samhain include ALL Crone Goddesses, and the Dying God or the "Dead" God. Samhain Goddesses include Hecate, Hel, Inanna, Macha, Mari, Psyche, Ishtar, Lilith, The Morrigu/Morrigan, Rhiannon, and Cerridwen. Key actions to keep in mind during this time in the Wheel of the Year include return, change, reflection, endings and beginnings, and honoring the Dead. Other meanings behind this Sabbat celebration include the Wisdom of the Crone, the Death of the God, and the Celebration of Reincarnation.
Samhain is considered by many Pagans, Wiccans, and Witches (especially those of Celtic heritage) to be the date of the Witches New Year, representing one full turn of the Wheel of the Year. This is the time of year for getting rid of weaknesses. A common Ritual practice calls for each Wiccan to write down his/her weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment and toss it into the Cauldron fire. Other activities might include Divination, Past-Life Recall, Spirit Contact, Meditation, Astral Projection ("Flying"), and the drying of Winter herbs. It is considered "taboo" by some to travel after dark, or to eat grapes or berries.
Spellwork for protection and neutralizing harm are particularly warranted at this time of year, because Samhain is considered to be a good time to boost your confidence and security.
Many Witches use their own personal Besom, or Magickal Broom as a part of their rituals. Some Besoms are structurally different in shape from the flat ones sold today, being round on the end and having a smaller sweeping surface. They can, however, be fashioned flat or however you personally desire. These Magickal Brooms are commonly used for cleansing and purifying Sacred Space, but can be used for many other things... such as using one in place of a Wand, Athame, or finger to project your personal energy when casting your Circle.
Here is a simple way to create your own, quoted from one of Edain McCoys wonderful books:
"Making a Besom"
If you would like a Besom of your own, they are fairly easy to find in craft stores, country markets, or folk art fairs. You can also invest your energies into making one, a good idea if you wish to use it in place of a Wand or other ritual tool.
To make a Besom you will need a four-foot dowel one inch in diameter, a ball of twine, scissors, and straw or other long strands of pliable herbs.
Take the straw, or another herb you have chosen for the bristles, and allow them to soak overnight in warm, lightly salted water. The water softens the straws to make them pliable, and the salt soaks out former energies.
When you are ready to make your Besom, remove the straws from the water and allow them to dry a bit, but not so much that they lose the suppleness you will need to turn them into your Besom.
Find a work area where you can lay out the length of your dowel, and begin lining the straws alongside the dowel. Starting about three inches from the bottom, lay the straws, moving backward, along the length of the dowel. Begin binding these to the dowel with the twine. You will need to tie them very securely. You can add as many layers of straw as you wish, depending on how full you would like your Besom to be.
When the straw is secured, bend the top straws down over the twine ties. When they are all gently pulled over, tie off the straws again a few inches below the original tie. Leave the Besom overnight to allow the straw to dry.
The dowel part of the Besom can be stained, painted, or decorated with Pagan symbols, your Craft name, or any other embellishments you choose. Dedicate your finished Besom in your Circle as you would any other ritual tool.
(The above "Making a Besom" is quoted directly from Edain McCoys book “The Sabbats: A New Approach to Living the Old Ways”, page 36, Llewellyn Publications, 1994.)
The most common colors associated with Samhain are Orange and Black. However, Red, Brown, and Golden Yellow are also appropriate colors for this Sabbat. Altar candles should be black, orange, white, silver and/or gold. Stones to use during the Samhain Celebration are Obsidian, Onyx, and Carnelian. Animals associated with Samhain include bats, cats, and dogs. Mythical beasts associated with Samhain are the following: Phooka, Goblin, Medusa, Beansidhe, Fylgiar, Peryton, Erlkonig, and Harpies. Plants and herbs associated with Samhain are Mugwort, Allspice, Sage, Gourds, Catnip, and Apple Trees.
The traditional Pagan foods of Samhain include beets, turnips, squash, apples, corn, nuts, gingerbread, cider, pomegranates, mulled wines and pumpkin dishes. These are all appropriate as well as meat (especially pork) dishes (if you are not a vegetarian - if so, tofu seems ritually correct).
Some Wiccans leave a plate of food outside the home for the souls of the dead. Placement of a candle in a window and burying apples in the hard-packed Earth is believed to guide them on their journey to the lands of Eternal Summer.
According to Margie McArthur, in her book “WiccaCraft for Families”, the following dates are celebrated by many for the entire week preceding October 31st, called "All-Hallows Week":
October 24th - Festival Prelude and Night of Seers - decorate and remember those who have seen the future.
October 25th - Night of Heroes and Martyrs - honoring members of families who died in war and peace, those who have died for their faith.
October 26th - Night of Artists - for remembering those who speak of the Old Ways through the arts.
October 27th - Night of Nurturers - those who keep the home fires burning, caring for those in need of care.
October 28th - Night of Remembrance of Family Pets, recalled and cherished.
October 29th - Night of Remembrance of Forgotten Ancestors, heritage, and origins.
October 30th - Night of the Recent Dead - trip to cemetery.
October 31st - Family Fire Festival

If you are interested in learning more, books like Halloween by Silver Ravenwolf, Seasons of Witchery by Ellen Dugan, and Sabbats: A Witch's Approach to Living the Old Ways by Edain McCoy are great options for building your own Samhain traditions. Book of Shadows by Silver Ravenwolf also has a great Samhain ritual in it. This is the one I've used as part ofmy celebrationsince 2003. I see this as perhaps the most personal holy day of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year so my only advice if you are new to the religion or to solitary rituals is to create something that feels right to you. You are honoring your loved ones. Do it your way, whatever that way may be. :) 

A link to a chant for your ancestors that is really simple yet powerful:

I will leave you, my blogger friends, with  Samhain Benediction by David Norris. This can be added to your ritual as an ending and it can be found on the last page of Halloween by Silver Ravenwolf. Have a blessed and wonderful week, all.

Samhain Benediction
-David O. Norris

It is time to bid farewell
As this Samhain passes slowly
Soon the dawning will embrace us
And the sunset portal close
Until the turning of the year
We must part for just a while
Yet I know there is no ending
And the golden thread spins outward
To that place where you are going
Until I travel there to meet you
Or you return upon the autumn
On the sacred night of Spirits
When we shall meet again.
Blessed Be!

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