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The tradition of Samhain

Our ancestors, before Christianity arrived on the shores of the British Isle’s, lived life with a close connection to the land, to the seasons, its cycles and the natural order of life. They had a deeper appreciation and acceptance of life and death and lived with more appreciation, reverence and respect for nature and their place within it. They were probably more in tune with nature through the fine art of observation and thanks to ancient knowledge passed down from those who came before them. It was definitely a simpler time in history, with less distractions than today, there was more time for storytelling and because not much was written down, they probably had better memories to help them remember all of the important things to help them get an abundant, thriving crop…their lives depended on it after all.

Modern day Pagan’s follow the “Wheel of the Year”, an annual cycle of seasonal festivals, marking the year’s main solar events (solstices and equinoxes) and the midpoints between them. This Wheel was crafted in the mid 20th century combining the quarter days (solar events) marked by many European peoples, with the four seasonal festivals (cross quarter days) celebrated by Insular Celtic peoples. Although exact timing’s of each celebration may vary across different paths of Paganism, the themes of each one are similar if not the same. Next time you go into the cabin at the garden, have a look at the artwork on the wall of this widely respected method to live in harmony with nature.

From sunset on the 31st October, to sunset on the 1st November Samhain (it is pronounced sow’ain or Sah-win) is a festival to honour the ancestors who have passed to the Otherworld and a time to take stock of the harvest stored for Winter. It is believed that the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest at this time so people would set a place for their departed loved ones at the table, leaving food and drink for their spirits. Many traditions would be to appease the gods or spirits of nature, to ensure a safe winter, and obtain a good harvest in the coming year. They would do this by dressing up in disguise to impersonate them or the dead in order to protect themselves from’s easy to see how Samhain is the precursor to our modern day Halloween. All across the world, so many different belief systems celebrate something similar yet different around this time……All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, Day of the Dead. Somehow, there’s a universal knowing that this is an auspicious time. What is it to you?

Observing the cycle of the Seasons and the Lunar phases has been important to many peoples throughout the world and many gardening practices have been born out of the wisdom carried down through the generations. What can we do at this time to help us connect to the natural flow of time and energy to help us and our gardens grow?

Collect seeds from flowers that are dying off in the Autumn, they will form a new birth as they bring new beginnings in Spring.

Cover open beds with leaf compost, this creates a warm, dark environment with an abundance of nutrients to give the plants new life in Spring.

Light a bonfire - bring light and warmth into your life. Write down what you would like to release and let go of and let the flames cleanse it from your life. Write a list of what you’d like to birth next Spring, protect it and look after it until the New Year.

Carve a pumpkin - ward off malevolant spirits and have some fun creating weird and wonderful faces to make your neighbours, family and friends laugh.

Set up a Samhain altar - include photos of your beloved loved ones who have passed over, include colours and symbols of this festival (apples, pumpkins, cider, mugwort tea, soul cakes, black crystals, acorns, oak leaves) and build a connection with them, remembering their life, their gifts and their love for you.

What do you do at this time year to honour the natural ebb and flow of life and death; balancing the light and darkness?

Written by Jenni Van Wijk - Surfing the Sea of Life

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