Samhain is the end of the pagan and witches’ year, but it is also the beginning. We begin with an ending because we follow the cycles of nature as one thing always leads on to another. As we become aware of the bare skeletons of the trees we notice that the only green that is left is the holly and the ivy both clinging to the trees’ branches.
The origins of the name Samhain are obscure, but one possible explanation is that it stems from the Gaelic language. The Celtic Coligny Calendar which was discovered in France shows that Samhain was celebrated over three days. Trinouxion Samonii means ‘three nights of the end of Summer’. So from sunset on 31st October pagans celebrate the third and final harvest. The harvest of herbs and meat.
At this time of year the ancient Britons would have slaughtered livestock that they believed would be too weak to survive the harsh Winter and preserved the meat for the months ahead. It was a time of uncertainty for them, of not knowing if they would survive the brutality of the approaching season.
At this time of year the veil between our world and the next is at its thinnest, enabling us to connect with our ancestors more easily. Many believe that the God’s death occurs at Samhain and it is his passing over that disrupts the barrier and makes it far more easier for spirits to cross the earth’s threshold than at any other time, except for Beltane which is directly opposite Samhain on the Wheel of the Year.
After Christianity was accepted in Europe, the Roman Empire wanted to incorporate pagan festivals with Christian ones so as to enable the conversion of pagans to Christianity to be a smooth as possible. So All Saints Day was moved to 1st November and All Souls Day was added to 2nd November to remember the Christian dead. The mass that was held was called All Hallows Mass and the night before was called All Hallows Eve. This eventually became Halloween.
In the Middle Ages it became traditional for the poor to be given Soul Cake if they knocked on your door in return for saying a prayer to the dead and in Ireland beggars would be given food for a feast in honour of St Columbus. Irish immigrants settling in America took these traditions with them and the begging of sweets and cake became a children’s activity. Events were eventually organised to make it safer for children on Halloween and the phrase “trick or treat” was coined for the first time in 1939.
For me Samhain is a time to journey within and to accept that the dark is as much an integral part of me than the light. I reflect on the truth; that without the dark I am not whole and I look to the Goddess who reminds me that death is not permanent.