Samhain, the Pagan New Year
What is Samhain?
Samhain (prounounced "SOW-en") is the Celtic new year. It actually takes place over a 3-day period (October 30 through November 1), with 10/30 being the last day of the current year, and 11/1 being the first day of the new year. That leaves 10/31 as the "day in-between". It is the belief in many traditions that the day in-between is the day when whatever separates the physical world from the spirit world (which we call the veil between the worlds) is thinnest. So it's a very good time for trying to contact beings on the "other side" (like ancestors, loved ones and the like), and also a good time for scrying (looking into the future) using whatever methods you like (tarot, crystal balls, and so on).
It is also becoming the second most commercialized day in the secular American calendar. Only at Christmastime do I see houses decorated more ornately. American culture may have invented "Trick-or-Treat"-ing during the early part of the 20th century, as a way to keep children out of mischief, but the tradition is now tempered with paranoia from parents, neighbors and school officials. Urban legends were prevalent even when I was a child in New York -- there were always rumors of someone putting razor blades inside apples, or poisoning candy. And I was a child many, many years ago (OK, the 1960's, if you have to be nosy!). So we diligently threw any fresh fruit away, and scrutinized candy wrappers for any sign of tampering.
But that never stopped me from having fun dressing up in costume.
As I walked my Pagan path, I found the serious side to Samhain. I've attended dumb feasts with my departed loved ones. I've been to moving Samhain rituals. And I've had some transformative experiences both alone and in circle with others during this Sabbat. The question of balance arises: How can we have a lightearted day with our children and also a serious ritual revolving around those who have passed beyond? It's certainly possible, because we've done it quite a bit, but it's also something of an emotional roller coaster and it can be a very draining experience. And usually, the serious rituals take place after the kids have been put to bed (who knows if they're sleeping? They're still on that "candy high").
Here at the Garden House, I have been resistant to the commercialization. I refuse to decorate the outside of the house with gravestones or spiderwebs. We have bought some window paint, and I'll agree to put up some seasonal designs on the windows. I think the whole thought of having another box of junk that gets used for 1 week every year is just too much. And I have other things I'd rather spend my money on, anyway.
I don't have a specific project for Samhain right now, but here are some thoughts for things to do. On the "mundane" side of things:
- Help your child make their costume this year. Use found materials, old clothes, professional stage makeup (it's hypoallergenic and stays on really good). The kid in the store-bought Powerpuff Girl mask will really be secretly jealous! (OK, if your child really HAS to be Bubbles, Blossom or Buttercup, think about what that character would look like if they did a live-action movie - and dress your child accordingly)
- Trick or treat for Unicef.
- Give out handmade Cauldron candles instead of candy.
- Hand out "you just met a Real Witch today" slips of paper with the candy you hand out.
- Carve a pumpkin (I really didn't have to tell you THAT, did I?)
On the magickal side of things:
- Make an ancestor altar for your family. You can use photographs, drawings, and artifacts from those in your family tree who are no longer here. In conjunction with that, you can do some genealogical work and involve your children in it. Show your children where the family came from (in America, most of us are from someplace else).
- Hold a dumb feast for your ancestors. "Dumb" means silent in this case. The usual way to hold a dumb feast is to invite your loved ones from the other side to share the meal with you. To do this, you need to prepare some favorite foods of your ancestors. Have a plate for them, maybe with a picture nearby, and make an offering of their favoite foods. You will also eat these foods. Everyone at the feast must remain silent throughout the feast. Try to sense the presence of the ancestors, and be mindful of any messages they may want to tell you.
- Do a reading for the coming year, using whatever method you prefer.
- Tell your ancestors' stories and tales. Today is a good day to remember and honor them.
And finally, just really watch what your child's watching on TV this month; this is the time of year for every witch-bashing film ever made to be re-run on the tube.