Wednesday Whatever – Samhain

October 7, 2009 at 10:01 am (Ancestors, Associations, Birds, Dark Goddess, Death, Divination, Halloween, History, Lore, Magic, pagan, Samhain, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

From A Druids Herbal by Ellen Evert Hopman

I had my days with kings,
drinking mead and wine:
To-day I drink whey-water
Among the shriveled old hags.

from Dillon, Early Irish Literature

The Samhain festival falls at the end of the harvest and marks the conclusion of the agricultural cycle. At Samhain, the dark winter half of the year commences. It is the Celtic new year, the time when the walls between worlds are thin, and communication is easy with those who have "passed over" – the wandering dead. It is a magical interval when the laws of time and space are suspended. Humans engage in strange and unpredictable behaviors that mirror the activities of the spirit world.

Samhain is the time to bring honor and hospitality to dead ancestors. Prayers and food offerings are left on door steps and altars. Even if they are untouched by morning, the essence of the food is said to be transferred to the spirits. Samhain is a time to slaughter cattle and in general to complete the unfinished business of summer. Any produce left in the fields after Samhain is taboo, as it now belongs to the nature spirits.

The new year begins at sunset on October 31. It marks a time of settling and reckoning of accounts, a time to finish with and discard influences and concepts that have outlived their usefulness. It is especially a time to reconnect with tribal and personal ancestors and guiding spirits. Samhain is one of the two "spirit nights" of the year (Beltaine being the other) – a time of chaos when fairies are most active. It is a night when Witches are about, omens are seen, divinations are made, and household fires are kindled anew.

At Samhain, the Sidhe-mounds open and the Sidhe are abroad in the countryside. The souls of the dead return and are made visible. It is a good time to clean the house and hearth in preparation for the visits of dead ancestors. Doors should be left unbolted and extra chairs put out. To celebrate the darkness of the unborn year, traditional people dressed in white or donned straw disguises. Boys and girls exchanged clothing, and efforts were made to fool the wandering spirits. In the spirit of mischief and chaos that reigned generally, household items were sometimes stolen and tossed into ponds or ditches. Livestock could be led into other people’s fields, and doors pelted with cabbages. Chimneys might be blocked with turf, and smoke blown in through keyholes.

Tales of the supernatural were told from sunset until dawn, when the first cockcrow sent the spirits and the "little people" back to their dwellings. Marked stones were cast into the fires, and their condition upon retrieval in the morning showed the person’s fortune for the coming year. Household fires were relit from sacred bonfires started by friction, and people jumped through the flames for luck. The ashes were scattered in the fields, and blazing torches were carried around the boundaries to bless and protect the land. Potatoes and apples were roasted and eaten as joyful dances were made around the sacred flames.

In areas where seaweed was gathered, folk would come together at Samhain to offer a cup of ale or a bowl of porridge to the god of the sea, asking for a bountiful harvest of seaweed to eat and fertilize the soil. The ritual was especially powerful if done in a storm, ensuring a bountiful harvest of sea vegetation of the shore. Potatoes were added to the traditional diet after the discovery of South America by Europeans.

Deep-red the bracken, its shape all gone-
The wild goose has raised his wonted cry.
Cold has caught the wings of birds;
Season of ice-these are my tidings

from Dillon, Early Irish Literature

The deities associated with the Samhain festival are the Morrigan and the Dagda. The Dagda is known as the "Good God" and the "Red One of Great Knowledge" – In Raud Ro-fhessa. He is also Eochaid Ollathair the Great Father, patron of sciences. Divine warrior and archetypal chieftain, the Dagda is the personification of fertility, generosity, lawgiving, and protection. He possesses a magical staff with which he can kill the living or resurrect the dead. He is owner of a huge cauldron from which healing, regeneration, and food are always available for the tribe. The Dagda mated with the Morrigan as she straddled the River Unius in Connacht.

The Morrigan, or Great queen, is a triple Goddess of the Celtic tradition. Her three faces are Badb (crow), Macha (also crow), and Nemain (frenzy). Known also as the Battle Crow, she appears in the shape of a crow or a raven, or as a woman accompanied by one of these birds. Crows and ravens were once a common sight in battlefields as they arrived in flocks to pick the bones of dead warriors. The Morrigan is one who influences the course of battles and who prophesies their outcome. She sometimes appears at the riverside washing the weapons and equipment of those who are about to die. At times she becomes a terrible hag dressed in red, or a surpassingly beautiful woman. If her amorous advances are rejected she becomes enraged, and she can shape shift into an eel, a gray wolf, or a heifer – whichever form is most deadly to the offending suitor.

The Morrigan is markedly sexual. She is also a mother, she bore a son, Meiche, who had three hearts inhabited by three snakes capable of killing all the animals in Ireland. Diancecht, a god of healing, killed Meiche and burned the snakes, thus saving the land from disaster. Badb, Macha, and Nemain, the three facets of the Morrigan, protected the Tuatha de Danaan with a cover of rain as they landed on Irish soil. The Morrigan is maiden, mother and crone. She is the Cailleach (hag) who delights in bloody battles and the drowning of enemy soldiers beneath the white capped waves.  She may at times appear in bright apparel edged with gold. She is also waxing, full, and waning moon, visible in the form of a raven to those about to die.

Macha is the white foam on the ocean waves, the mane of the mother Morrigan’s head. Daughter of the sea, she is honored with offerings at Samhain. Samhain is, in essence, the time of preconception, the time of descent into black chaos from which new ideas and new life will ultimately spring.

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1 Comment

  1. Cassie said,

    Some interesting things in your blog… I’ll have to come back and read more.

    ***Come back anytime – ALL the time!!! I love visitors 🙂

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