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Discover the True Meaning of Samhain / Hallowe’en

Samhain (pronounced SOW-en) is perhaps the most important but least understood
of the ancient Celtic festivals. The word Samhain means “summer’s end,” and marks the end of harvest and the start of the darkest time of the year. A time when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is at its thinnest.

As I mention in my book Sacred Ceremony, the night of Oct 31st – Nov 1st is:

“The night when the dead return to visit us, to feast, and communicate with us. The seeds from the dying plants fall to the Earth, and there they wait until the proper mixture of heat and light once again stirs the life within.”

For many, this time of year is better known as the secular holiday of Hallowe’en, and also the Christian holiday of All Saints Day (November 1) and All Soul’s Day (November 2). All are rooted in ancient Pagan or Celtic festivals.

While Hallowe’en nowadays retains some of the elements of the original festivities, its meaning and expression has been very much distorted. Children enjoy dressing up and touring the streets knocking on doors and asking “trick or treat?”. Many won’t realise the sacred nature of the holiday, or indeed the reason why they dress up as witches, ghouls or ghosts.

It’s important to remember that – without wanting to spoil the party – this time of year has a serious meaning. The occasion which is sometimes referred to as All Hallows Eve, derives its name from the Middle English word that means “holy”. Halloween is actually a contraction of “hallowed evening”, and when something is hallowed, it’s sanctified and consecrated.

“[The Christian Church] made November 1 All Saints Day and November 2 All Souls Day. On All Souls Day, the barriers between this world and the Otherworld are removed, and the dead are able to rise from their own graves. In our culture, death is dealt with poorly, as something to be denied and to be feared, so instead of honoring our ancestors and deceased loved ones on this holiday, it’s taken on an entirely different kind of spin. Trick or treat had an entirely different meaning. Originally, you would leave food for the ancestors and the faeries. If you didn’t, then they’d play tricks on you, perhaps for the entire year.”

So, far from being scary, the ancestors that are now portrayed as ghouls, ghosts, and goblins, are actually here to help us. Treats were left to welcome them and help them enjoy memories of their time on Earth.

How You Can Mark Samhain/All Hallow’s Eve

An elegant ceremony you can perform at this time echoes the celebrations in Mexico and other Latin American countries, called El Dia de las Muertes, or Day of the Dead. It’s celebrated on November 2 and was the subject of the children’s Disney Pixar animated movie of 2017 Coco.

It’s a time to honor your deceased loved ones with rose petals spread across an altar plus a candle or candles, a glass of water, some flowers, and photos of loved ones. You can also offer morsels of the types of food your deceased loved ones enjoyed. Lighting the candle and saying a prayer of gratitude and invitation is likely to leave you feeling emotional, giving you a chance to yield to any unfinished grief or sorrow.

Your ancestors will appreciate you dedicating some of your time to their memory. And sharing the true meaning of this time of year with your children, if you have them, can really help them develop a true appreciation of why they carry jack o’lanterns and knock at doors asking for candy.


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