Samhain blessings to you dearest sisters. Samhain is one of our favourite times of the year, it is steeped in magic and mystery and we'd say is one of the most misunderstood of the wheel of the year festivals, we'd even go as far as to say it is a very underappreciated time of the year. This quiet, inward and magical time of the year has been replaced with loud Halloween parties, sugar highs, a lot of single use plastic which perpetuates the image of Witches and Pagans as evil things to be feared. Now, don't get us wrong we are not being spoil sports or party poopers and you know we love to get our Halloween on, but here at Sisters of the Moon we also like to honour the original meanings and sacred practices of the ancient celtic festivals. So much of what were once sacred and transformative rites of passage have been hijacked and commercialized, their true meanings beginning to fade like the ink in an old notebook. Halloween has become a time of the year associated with the spooky, the scary and the gruesome but it's original meaning is really quite beautiful.
Just like Beltane in the Spring, Samhain is a time of year where the veil between worlds thins and we can connect with spirit, with our ancestors and ask for inspiration, guidance and wisdom. At Beltane we connect to the Fae, to the spirits of the Spring and it is a time of playfulness, dance and cheer as we welcome in the light and energy of the Spring and Summer months. At Samhain, we connect to the wisdom of the elders and the magic of the underworld and the dead. It's a time of quiet reflection as we prepare ourselves for the dark, cold winter months. Samhain translated means Summer's End and in the Celtic calendar marks the end of the year. It is the last of the harvest festivals and our ancestors would have been making their final preparations for winter. The last of the livestock was slaughtered, they lit bonfires and gave thanks for all that they had received during the year and used prayer, song and ritual to ask for protection for the winter ahead. They honoured their dead and asked for guidance and blessings from those beyond the veil. Death was viewed as an important and healthy part of the life cycle and was treated with honesty and deep respect.
It's interesting to look at the energies at play at this time of year in modern times. Many schools are on half term as teachers, parents and children prepare themselves for a busy winter term in the lead up to Christmas, full of school plays, christmas fayres and christmas present lists that seem to increase day by day. Businesses are gearing themselves up for their busiest time of the year and we try collectively to rally against our dwindling energy supplies and the onslaught of colds and sniffles, all the while watching our diaries fill up with festive social occasions and to do lists. We know that as soon as October 31st is over, the cheap plastic of Halloween is replaced by the glittery tat of Christmas and the constant reminder that we don't have enough time to get everything done. No wonder we're all in a tizz!
The Magic of Samhain
So, how can connecting to Samhain's true meaning help us? For so many people, just learning that this time of year used to mean that the year was ending, winding down and heading into rest seems to fill them with a sense of peace and comfort. It's not that they are winter time failures and just can't get the balance right each year, it's that we are living out of harmony with the rhythms of the seasons and our own internal rhythms. There's not much that can be done with the standardised calendar that most of us now live by and Christmas has taken on a life of its own, for better or for worse, but we can choose to set boundaries that prevent us from burn out and to engage in practices and rituals that help us to tune back into the ebbs and flows of nature. The most important messages that Samhain offers us is that death and decay give way to new life and new possibilities and are part of the great tapestry of life. Life is by its very nature transient and impermanent. Samhain was a time each year to confront the topic of death as people watched the plants and flowers die and knew that many wouldn't survive the harshness of winter. Nowadays, we don't much like silence or change and we certainly don't like to talk about or think about death. It means when we have to face the inevitable changes and losses of life we are shocked, unprepared and often left feeling alone as we grieve on the outskirts of a society that doesn't know how to be around our sadness. A lovely practice to do at Samhain time is to reflect on your relationship to death, as we asked in our Scorpio blog, do you think about it? Do you talk about it?
"Trees feed as much on decay of the world, passed through the bodies of worms and mushrooms and beetles and the tinier things, as they do on sunlight. They of course eat the sun first of all, and also each breath you exhale, but their roots need the nourishment of the ancient bodies of the moles and salamanders, robins, owls, and foxes that have become part of the dirt. It is a continuum, my boy, life to death to life again, and you, I'm afraid, are part of it." -The Wild Folk by Silvia V. Linstteadt
Calling in the ancestors
Samhain is also a lovely time to connect to your loved ones beyond the veil. This doesn't mean anything scary, it can simply be lighting a candle in front of images or items of loved ones or ancestors and asking them for guidance on your journey through the winter. Feeling the presence and support of our ancestors can be of huge comfort. Halloween has become a time when people like to dress up, often in costumes from other people's culture which more and more people are speaking up about from the point of view of cultural appropriation, Samhain can actually connect us deeply to our own culture. It's a wonderful time of year to find out about our family history and learn about our family tree and roots. There might be parts of that history that are painful and need healing but as we talked about, that's what Scorpio season is all about - doing the work! 'The wound is where the light gets in'.
Samhain poem by Annie Finch
In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.
Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale wave,
as autumn dies to bring winter back,
and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel back another kind of veil
that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.
I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother's mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
I find her, and she brings arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
"Carry me." She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.
Samhain used to mark the beginning of the time of rest as the winter descended and the land around our ancestors grew silent and still. The days were short, food was scarce and the weather was biting. But within that time was a deep sense of nourishment and of growth, growth that was happening beneath the surface. Winter was a time for dreaming, for storytelling and for reflecting on the experiences of the year and the lessons within those experiences. No longer ruled by the seasons and lack of light, in modern winter time we can work as hard as we do in the summer months fuelled by artificial sugar and lighting, and for most people that's what they do. Our bodies contain ancient wisdom and they long to live in harmony with the moon and seasons. We truly believe that we have a deep longing to rest and reflect during winter and this modern epidemic of constant busyness and striving for success is leaving the majority of people burnt out, anxious and resentful not to mention the effect that constant consuming is having on our planet.
Use the days around Samhain to journal about your relationship to rest. Do you value rest? Do you view rest as a weakness? What happens when you ignore your bodies need for rest? How can you tweak your timetable heading into winter to honour your bodies need for rest and nourishment?
Reclaiming the Witch
The image of the Witch is so present at this time of year that we really wanted to dedicate part of our Samhain blog to the archetype and history of the celtic witch as she still remains misunderstood and misrepresented. Many people believe that this disconnection to nature's healing rhythms was severed with the persecution of the Witch. So much wisdom and common sense was lost when we lost the Witches of this world or forced them into hiding. The persecution of women as witches is a deep collective wound that we as sisters need to heal together. It's really important to unpack the word witch, it is often associated with the stereotypical image of a hag with warts who is bitter and throws curses on her enemies. Witches are often the bad guy in stories and in the time of the witch trials were to blame for failing crops, death and illnesses in the villages and even for things like bad dreams. When we delve into history and look beyond the patriarchal manipulation of this caricature we find that a witch would have been the woman in the village who held the knowledge of the seasons and wisdom of the moon, her magic would have been the blending of herb and root to heal ailments, she would have been the midwife, the storyteller and the oracle and she would have held people's love and respect. Witches were feared because they were women that knew they had everything they needed within themselves to be well and to be happy, they could commune with the divine with no need of a medium and could help others to do the same, because of this they were a threat and one that needed to be dealt with. During the witch-hunts of early modern Europe, tens of thousands of people were put on trial, tortured and executed as witches, three quarters of whom were women. The word Witch carries pain, misunderstanding and fear and requires a lot of healing in the collective psyche of both men and women.
Excitingly, we now find ourselves in a time of people reclaiming their wild magic! Men and women throughout the world are reclaiming their wildish natures and re-learning how to honour and live with the cycles of the seasons and the rhythms of the moon. The wild is rising!
How can you continue to wake the witch within you?
Who would you be if you stepped into your power?
Do you feel yourself dimming your light in order to fit into society's patriarchal structure?
How can you regularly connect to the magic of nature? Do you work with the moon? Do you work with plants? Or tarot?
Here are a few of our favourite books for connecting to and reclaiming the Witch:
THE FAMILIARS by STACEY HALLS
THE RULES OF MAGIC by ALICE HOFFMAN
THE WILD FOLK by SYLVIA V LINSTEADT
WITCH by LISA LISTER
WAKING THE WITCH by PAM GROSSMAN
THE WITCH by RONALD HUTTON
Altars are a wonderful way to connect to the festivals of the wheel of the year. For a Samhain altar, collect natural objects that help you connect to death and decay such as dried dead flowers or dead leaves and found animal skulls. Crystals for protection such as obsidian would be a nice addition to help guard against unwanted spirits and plenty of candles to represent the fires that used to be lit at this time of year. Using sacred smoke such as Frankincense resin incense or our personal favourite, Storax, to cleanse your space and help you release all that no longer serves you. You could also place images of ancestors or loved ones on your altar and light candles in front of them and you can do the same with images of Liminal Goddesses that can guide you though this time of transition such as Hekate or Ceridwen.
Once you've created your beautiful Samhain altar and have called in the wisdom and warmth of your ancestors and loved ones, turn to your journal and begin to write down your intentions for the winter. How would you like to be this winter time? How would you like to feel? Where do you need better boundaries? How can you stay connected to the wisdom of nature and the wisdom of winter? What growth can you allow to take place behind the scenes without feeling the need to be seen as productive? What are your favourite parts of winter? What are your least favourite parts and how can you prepare for those?
It's important to remember that Samhain is a transitional time, it's not really a time to start anything new, it's this wonderful space between things, like the blank pages in a new notebook. Can you let yourself be held in this powerful space between? Can you let yourself honour the dark before the light? Can you learn to let things die in order to let new things grow in their place?
We really hope you've enjoyed our blog post, we will be back tomorrow with our tips for keeping your cool during Mercury Retrograde which also starts today. For now, we leave you to enjoy this blessed Samhain eve, we hope you connect to the magic within and around you.