Heritage of Samhain

by Lark

This is the night of Samhain, Summer's End, the close of the Celtic year and the fading of the light of the sun. This is the dark of the moon, the night of Hekate, while her crescent is not yet visible in the evening sky. We meet in a borderland between seasons and moons, between night and day. The ways between the worlds stand open tonight. The faery folk ride on the winds. Children born at this season have second sight. Spirits of the beloved dead return to those who call them. All the powers speak to those who listen.

Eat an apple by candlelight while combing your hair and looking into a mirror. You will see your future lover standing at your shoulder. Throw a shoe over the roof of your house. The way it points when it lands shows the direction you will take in the coming year. Go to a boundary stream, close your eyes, and lift three dreaming stones from the water, using your thumb and middle finger. Place them under your pillow for dreams of substance, virtue and strength.

Among the Celts, Samhain was a three-day festival marking the return of the herds from summer grazing and the slaughter of animals for winter meat. People danced both sunwise and widdershins around Samhain Eve fires of whin or gorse or rowan. Families placed coals from the bonfire in their hearth fires, which were not allowed to go out that night. A place was set for the spirits of the ancestors, and a candle burned in the window to guide them home.

Iroquois and Hopi feasts of the ancestors also take place at this season. In Mexico, the Days of the Dead celebrate the souls of the ancestors as well as the Aztec Corn Goddess Tonantzin, whom Christians worship as the Virgin of Guadalupe. Pre-Reformation Christians rang church bells all night long on Hallowe'en to speed the souls of the dead through purgatory.

Banshees wail in the hills at Samhain. Many Irish families had their own bean sidhes, faery women or ancestresses, who warned their descendants of coming deaths. The popular image of a Halloween witch is a Scottish bean sidhe, Nicnevin or Nigh Nemhain, "daughter of frenzy," an aspect of the triple Morrigan. She rides the night skies on a broomstick at Samhain. The Dagda, Horned One and Good Father, met the Morrigan, Triple Mother and Warrior Goddess, at a river ford for a ferocious bout of supernatural love-making at Samhain.

In Ireland, all the gods of this world were worshipped on Samhain, from sunrise to sunset. The Christian festival of All Saints or All Hallows adopted this tradition. At the Assembly of Tara, the presiding Goddess was Tlachtga, the bean drui or druid woman, who turned the wheel of the year. Dancers imitated swans beside a lake. Departed gods and blessed spirits lived on forever as swans. It may not be a complete coincidence that crane dances on the dancing floor Daedalus built for Ariadne also honored the bright gods of Minoan Crete.

In the North, Disirblot or Winter's Day on October 14 marked the beginning of the Winter Nights of Freyja. Sacrifices were made to the Disir, spirits of personal fate, and to Freyja to invoke protection through the dark season. On November 1, rites for Hela, the Underworld Goddess, raised the dead. The next day, Odin rode his eight-legged horse through the mortal world. A Norse kenning calls four men carrying a coffin an eight-legged horse. Hodening or Wodening horses led merry parades through English and Scandinavian towns.

The Roman Winter's Day was October 15, the end of the season of war. Horse races and the sacrifice of an October Horse honored Mars. Juno Pomona ruled the month of November, the season of apples and fruit. A banquet of Jove was laid out before images of Jupiter, Juno, Minerva and Feronia, Goddess of fire and forest creatures, in November.

Greek women gathered for the Thesmophoria at the full moon of October. The festival of Demeter the Lawgiver celebrated Kore's descent and rise from the Underworld. Men were allowed to pay for the ritual but not to participate. Women met to preserve pork for the winter at underground storage bins. They sat on the ground, told ribald stories, and drank herbal teas to synchronize their menses. They mixed their menstrual blood with seed grain for the autumn sowing.

In Egypt, the October full moon was the time of the Isia, the Seeking and Finding of Osiris. For three days, Isis searched for the fourteen parts of Osiris, whom Set had murdered, dismembered and scattered throughout Egypt. Priests of Osiris fashioned a crescent-shaped figure from water, soil, spices and incense and clothed and adorned it as Osiris. Isis, in her vulture form, fanned the clay Osiris with her wings and breathed her life into his nostrils. She impregnated herself on his penis and gave birth to Horus the falcon, the reincarnated Osiris.

Minos of Crete ruled in Knossos, the city of the Labyrinth. His son the Minotaur waited at the center of the maze. His brother Rhadamanthus judged the dead for Hades and Persephone. Minos gave his name to an era of peace and prosperity in the ancient world. He is the just king whose culture gave equal honor to women and men. He is a brazen bull and an avatar of Dis. He is Pwyll in Annwn and the Sun at Midnight. He pursues the moon. He is the bull-horned Osiris and the horned infant Dionysos. He is Plutus, lord of the wealth hidden beneath the earth. He is a bullfighter and a cartoon dog and a planet with the power to influence generations. He captures a bull in a net of twine and marries the sea with a ring. He meets souls in the Underworld.

Hekate meets souls at any crossroads. She is the Angelos of a hundred names. Her triple faces are the phases of the moon. In the light of the new moon, turn the silver in your pockets for increase. Kiss your hand to the moon at her full. At moon dark, leave a supper of eggs, fish, onions and garlic where three roads meet. These are the rituals of Hekate. She is Bendis of Thrace, Goddess of Amazons, mother of magic. She is a midwife and a weird sister and a black bitch puppy. Dogs bark when she approaches. She carries a torch and holds the key of wisdom. She lights the way for Demeter to search for Kore. She is black and white and red all over. She is "Diana in the leaves greene, Luna that so bright doth sheen, Persephone in Hell."* She is Trivia. She has power over heaven, earth and sea, and her hidden children are the reborn witches.

*John Skelton, "Garland of Laurell"

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