I have been doing some thinking and meditation about the meaning and significance of the approaching Pagan holiday Samhain. Samhain is commonly known as Halloween in mainstream society. I am not going to bore you with a lot of facts, lore, and rituals, as you can get from the many books out there on Paganism and Wicca 101.
A little history first though. We know that most of our ancestors lived in small villages and farms. We know they were definitely more in tune with nature and natural cycles than most people are today. We know they marked certain events like the Solstices and Equinoxes with various types of private and community observances and celebrations.
I think there is something important to consider before I share my thoughts about Samhain. In modern society Samhain, or Halloween, is celebrated on October 31st. But, I suspect this was not always the case. A lot of our ancestors were very intelligent, but uneducated and therefore illiterate. Throughout history most had no access to things we take for granted, like clocks and calendars. They knew the passing of time and seasons by observing natures rhythms and cycles such as those of the sun and moon. I believe Samhain would have traditionally been on a day marked the moon such as the first new moon, or more likely, the first full moon after the Fall Equinox.
I think that to our ancestors this was a time to celebrate another year passing. The crops are now harvested, older livestock will be slaughtered to provide food for the fast approaching winter, people were handfasted this past year, children were born, and some past over to the otherworld of the dead. This was a time for families, clans, communities to come together to renew bonds, to remember the year past, to remember and honor those who passed over during this last year, to celebrate the new children born, etc. This was a time to mark the events of the year past. I think that to our ancestors this was not a time of fear or dread of some scary monsters like modern society tries to portray for Halloween. I do think it is a time when the boundary between our mundane everyday world and other worlds is thin and it is easier to communicate with the ancestors. Certainly most of our own ancestors found honoring and communicating with the departed was a very important part of their way of life. This was also a time of reminiscing and reflecting on the past years events, a time to share some good food and wine and party some.
Take a minute to meditate and visualize. Can you see your ancestors gathered in a small village somewhere in Europe, Scandinavia, or perhaps the British Isles ? Morning chores are finished and now you see them traveling by horse drawn cart, or walking to the small village a couple miles from their farm. See the winding dirt road, the bright colors of fall leaves upon the trees, feel the warmth of the sun warming last nights chill fall air, birds migrating, a deer in rut runs across a field as you pass by, you hear the laughter of the children who are excited about going to the village. In the small village you see other peasant families also gather to share in this festive time. Food, wine, stories, news, will be shared through the day. There is music, dancing, games. It is a good time they enjoy in the last warmth of fall. The hard life and the harsh reality of peasant life in those times is forgotten for this day. It is a time to enjoy life. By evening they have returned to their homes, but the day is not quite done yet. Turnips, or gourds are hollowed out and a candle placed in them, much like our "Jack-O-Lanterns" and carved pumkins today. These were not necessarily used only to keep "evil spirits" away, but also to guide the departed and let them know the family still thinks and cares about them.
Now to the present. To me this holiday is a day of intense awareness of the lifecycle all things experience. All things are born, live, and die. Nature and the cycle of the year teaches us much, if we will only look and listen! For me it is a time of contemplation, meditation, remembrance, and well as planning ahead. Let me explain a little of my thinking here. This is a time of year that the harvest will normally be completed and we now are going into the Winter here in the Northern Hemisphere. This is a time to sit back enjoy the rewards of all our efforts throughout the year. We take time to look back, reflect, and contemplate. We see where we have been and how we did given the decisions and actions we took throughout the year. This is a time of year where we are often afforded a slower pace of living which provides us with some time to meditate and allow ourselves to hear that inner voice that can give us awareness, insight, and wisdom about life and many other things. This is most definitely a time of remembrance of all those ancestors who came and went before us. I recently saw an article that archeologists are excavating a 7000 year old site in Des Moines, Iowa. I was thinking about that and the fact we all have ancestors that go back many many thousands of years. We all have hundreds, actually thousands of great great grandparents, etc., etc., etc., for example. Without them we would not exist.
I do take time to contemplate who these people might have been. Like us they were all born, went through childhood, grew up, feel in love, had children of their own, and eventually faced death just as we all will. I wonder who they were, what did they think about, what was their personality like, was their life like easy or hard, what did they experience during their lifetime, what were the joys and sorrows they experienced, did they have hopes and dreams just as we did when we were children and growing up, etc. ? I think it would be so very interesting to time travel and visit their world and time.
I think about how many thousands of generations of my direct ancestors lived and died without the thing we take for granted, such as electricity, automobiles, telephones, computers, cell phones, satellites, jet airplanes, etc.. For thousands of generation my direct ancestors lived without all the things we today call conveniences, although maybe some of these are distractions also. My ancestors lived without the things we really like such as modern dentistry and modern medical care. I do think though that other than the lack of modern dental care and modern medical care, life like my ancestors lived might not have been all that bad in a lot of ways.
On Samhain, I will go to a little spot out behind my house and do a simple little ritual. I might do this alone or with a few close and trusted friends. I will thank and honor all those ancestors who lived before me. Even though I do not totally understand how it all works, I do believe in the spirit world, and I do believe those ancestors are aware of us, the living. I will thank them and share my gratitude for all they did so that is is possible that I exist today. I will ask them for guidance and to be with me throughout the coming new year that starts on Samhain.