Samhain : The Witches’ New Year

imageslike.com-large-samhain-samhain-offering

photo by Avia Venefica 2009

The Real Meaning of Halloween

By Starhawk

Ghosts and goblins, witches on broomsticks, pumpkins, candy and spiderwebs…it’s that time of year again. Halloween—probably every child’s favorite holiday, combining the irresistible attractions of dressing up in costume and gorging on candy.

But there’s a deeper spiritual meaning that underlies the holiday for Pagans and real Witches—those who follow earth-based Goddess traditions that predate Christianity. As we in the northern hemisphere move into the time of cold and the dark of winter, we celebrate our New Year, and honor both death and regeneration.

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.

Death and regeneration are always linked in Goddess thealogy. Birth, growth, death and renewal are a cycle that plays over and over again through natural systems and human lives. Embracing this cycle, we don’t need to fear death, but instead can see it as a stage of life and a gateway to some new form of being.

So Samhain is a time to remember and honor those who have died, to celebrate their lives and appreciate their gifts, to tell stories about them to the next generation so their memory will not be lost. In Latino cultures, Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead on November 2, is a time to visit the graves of loved ones, to feast there and honor their memory with altars and prayers. We set up altars in our homes, with pictures and mementos, and in my house, we like to invite friends and family to an ancestor dinner, where we cook traditional foods and share our family stories.

Samhain is also a time for deep spiritual work. At this time of year, we say, “the veil is thin that divides the worlds, the seen from the unseen, the day to day from the mysteries.” In San Francisco*, the Reclaiming tradition of Wicca sponsors a big public ritual, where we celebrate the renewal and creativity that emerges from the dark, with elaborate altars, dance, music, culminating in a spiral danced by more than a thousand people that honors the energies of rebirth and renewal.

Halloween, and our traditions, are much misunderstood. This year, when you hand out candy or shepherd your children through the streets, we invite you to remember the deeper meaning of the holiday: that death is no barrier to love, and every ending brings a new beginning.

Some resources:

A lovely article from the Vancouver Sun (10/30/15) about Samhain featuring our very own Vancouver Reclaiming member, Pat Hogan. http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Vancouver+witches+prepare+honour+dead/11478506/story.html

Let It Begin Now—a CD of music from our Spiral Dance ritual:
http://www.reclaimingquarterly.org/music/music1.html#letbegin

Starhawk. The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. HarperSanFrancisco, 1979, 1989, 1999

Starhawk and M. Macha Nightmare. The Pagan Book of Living and Dying. HarperSanFrancisco, 1997

Starhawk, Anne Hill and Diane Baker. Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Tradition. HarperSanFrancisco, 1998

www.starhawk.org
www.reclaiming.org

Originally published on the On Faith blog,
http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/starhawk/

*Vancouver Reclaiming also hosts a public ritual albeit smaller in scale

                              candle

Photo by Jean-Raphaël Guillaumin, Creative Commons

Declaration of Samhain

This is the season of Halloween
The time when the veil is thin
that divides the worlds,
The seen from the unseen,
The day to day from the mysteries.
Tonight we are about to take a journey
into the darkness of Winter
and through to the promise of spring
For Halloween is our New Year
The New Year of the Witches

And when we say “Witches”
we mean those with a certain wit, even wisdom
follow the Old Religion of the Goddess

And when we speak of the Goddess
who is moon , stone, star
And her consort the Horned God
the sun, the life of animals
we are saying that
We recognize our kinship with all of life
and that tapestry of life is sacred
We are committed to its service

When we say the Goddess is Maiden,
Mother and Crone
We are saying that we see her in all women,
all shapes and colors and ages
and honor women
for strength as well as beauty
for knowledge, experience,
the power that comes from within
For she is the mother of inspiration
as well as children.

When we call on the God as her lover and consort
We say that we honor men
for tenderness and kindness as well as courage
And he wears horns because
we honor the animal self in all of us,
forever untamed and free,
our miracle bodies.
When we invoke the elements of
air, fire, water and  earth,
We say that we know what is necessary to sustain life
And pledge ourselves to care for it and preserve it.

When we mourn our dead,
When we set sail to the island
beyond time,
to dance the spiral,
the ancient symbol of rebirth,
we perform an act of magic,
we turn our culture back towards balance.

When we remember what has passed
And renew ourselves
We do it to reclaim the future,
So join with us now,
feel the spirits gathering…