October is my favorite month of the year, as it frequently begins with the first crisp bite of Autumn apples and reverently ends with Samhain, the Wiccan New Year – otherwise known as Halloween.
The Samhain season celebrates the thinning of the veil between the worlds of humans and spirits. As a result, Samhain is often referred to as “The Night of the Witches.” It is such an important Sabbat to Wiccans and most Neo-Pagans that I will be presenting a separate post devoted solely to it. This post is an overview of the month, as well as a bit of a Samhain primer.
To the Celts, October was linked to the elder tree, or ruis. In the old Celtic calendar, October was the last month in the year, which is why Samhain is still known as New Year’s to Wiccans and Neo-Pagans.
Thus, the elder tree is symbolic with beginnings and endings entwined, or death and rebirth as played out on the Wheel of Year. For Wiccans, the elder is sacred to the Goddess in her Crone aspect, which begins to take prominence at this time of year.
As noted U.K. witch Marie Bruce points out in The Witches Almanac 2010, elderberry wine is an appropriate drink for ritual and to offer as libation at the waning and dark of the moon – the Dark Goddess’ time of prominence. Even the Wiccan Rede underscores this sacred relationship:
Elder be ye Lady’s tree,
Burn it not or cursed ye’ll be!
Magickally speaking, October is the month for releasing negative emotions and habits, communing with the Dark Goddess and accepting Her wisdom, and communicating with loved ones who have passed over – though this definitely does NOT mean summoning spirits and “psychic” games. Wiccans and Neo-Pagans have a great deal of respect for the dead, and genuinely honor them during Samhain.
Oct. 7, 1:45 p.m. – New Moon
New Moons signify rebirth, beginnings, a clean slate, the start of a new cycle. This new moon highlights Sagittarian qualities (idealistic, optimistic, good-humored, opportunistic, intelligent), and Ninth House themes (including personal growth, spirituality, travel, higher education).
This is a time of optimism and dreams; the moon seeks knowledge. New Moons are times of new beginnings, and this New Moon offers the potential of a brand new understanding of what gives our life meaning.
To move in the direction of Sagittarius truth always requires a leap of faith and confidence in what we know. In pursuing this path, there's the danger of becoming insular and overzealous, of refusing to listen at all to other points of view. The utter conviction that serves Sagittarius so well in many situations can sometimes cause problems if we assume our own truth is universal.
Navigating the Sagittarius experience requires that we keep feeding our brains with other ideas and perspectives, to keep ourselves flexible and lively. But for the sake of innovation, it's equally important to know when to escape to our own imaginations and retrieve what we find there. This expansion of our sense of what is possible and what is correct is what the Sagittarian New Moon inspires.
Oct. 22, 8:37 p.m. – Full Moon
Blood Moon, Harvest Moon
To the Cherokee, October is the Harvest Moon, as this is when people gather and preserve most of their food. To the Choctaw, this is the Blackberry Moon. In warmer regions, late-cropping berries open now and are often dried or preserved for winter use. The Dakota Sioux call this the Moon When Quilting and Beading Is Done. These creative pursuits take many hours, so people favor them when less outdoor work can be done but enough daylight still remains to see fine details.
October closes the harvest season as the last grains and other crops come in. Food storage occupies people's attention. Although modern supermarkets are an option, many benefits come from growing and preserving at least some of your own foor. Likewise, magickal artifacts crafted by the user tend to hold more power than purchased ones. This is also a good time to craft sacred and magickal decorations to prepare for winter celebrations.
Rituals often feature the harvest – honoring the fruits of our labors, giving thanks for what we receive and requesting a bountiful yield. Magickally, gather friends for craft workshops to make items for ceremonial use.
~ Elizabeth Barrette in Llewellyn's 2010 Witches' Datebook
Oct. 31, Samhain (Halloween) – Waning Moon
Samhain, pronounced “Sow-een or Sow-in” is the most magical and important night of the year for Neo-Pagans, Wiccans and Celts throughout the world. Exactly opposite Beltane on the Wheel of the Year, Samhain is Beltane’s dark twin and the Witches New Year.
The name Samhain is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end." A harvest festival with ancient roots in Celtic polytheism, it was linked to festivals held around the same time in other Celtic cultures, and continued to be celebrated in late medieval times.
It has elements of a festival of the dead. The Gaels believed that the border between this world and the otherworld became thin on Samhain; because some animals and plants were dying, it thus allowed the dead to reach back through the veil that separated them from the living. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. People and their livestock would often walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual, and the bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames.
Samhain rituals begin at sundown on Oct.31, the hours when the veil between the worlds of humans and spirits is at its thinnest and the dead return to visit their kin. The modern world recognizes this as the secular holiday Halloween.
The veil begins to thin about Oct. 15, with the veil is at its very thinnest upon the eve of Oct. 31. The holiday season goes to about through Nov. 10 or so. During this time, divination is at its highest point. Use a divination crystal pendulum, or other fun magickal tools, to divine answers for yourself or loved ones anytime during the Samhain Season, and during your Hallows Eve ritual.
Samhain is a time of great joy and union with a higher world
At this time the spirits of the dead and those who have not yet been born join those of us living in the material world. Ancient Celts provided food and entertainment for these spirits, inviting them to walk among them in this festival in their honor.
Thus, Samhain is the celebration of death. It is the time to connect with our ancestors who have passed on and invite them once again, into our lives. A time to embrace our heritage reminding ourselves of the connection we have with those who have gone before us into the great beyond. To celebrate their lives and the memories we hold dear. We have not forgotten you.
As we invite our ancestors to pass thru the veil into our world this Samhain Eve, you don’t want them to get hungry along the way! Apples and pomegranates serve as a gracious food offering and will aid in your spirits’ safe travel as they pass through the veil between the worldly realms.
Samhain is celebrated on a material as well as a spiritual level
Materially, it represents a time of gathering resources for the long winter months that are coming. For those who had a bad season through the fall, Samhain is a time to prepare for the perils that winter may bring.
Spiritually, Samhain is a time for reflection and meditation on death, and the honor of your ancestors who have passed to another plane. It is an opportunity to be at one with your past, present and future. The Great Feast of the Dead is celebrated on Samhain Eve to offer tribute to those who lived before you, and those who will come after you.
Samhain predates the Roman feast of the Dead, Lemuria, and All Hallow's Eve – the eve of the Christian holiday to honor the saints, All Saint's Day. All of these festivals, though called by different names, are celebration of the awe, communication with, and respect of the dead.
Samhain is often named the "Last Harvest" or "Summer's End." The Earth nods a sad farewell to the God, and Wiccans and many Neo-Pagans often re-enact his death and emergence of the Dark Goddess during the Samhain Rite.
The God and earth fall into slumber, as the nights lengthen, and winter begins. Wiccans believe the God will once again be reborn of the Goddess, and the cycle will continue. This is the time of reflection, the time to honor the Ancients who have gone on before us, and so the time of “Seeing" (divination). As we contemplate the Wheel of the Year, we come to recognize our own part in the eternal cycle of Life.
The Goddess, who has three aspects (Triple Goddess) as Maiden, Mother, and Crone or Grandmother, is honored now in Her Crone aspect, the Wisewoman, our guide in the declining years of our lives. She who demands that we take time each year for introspection and self-evaluation, She who demands we make better of ourselves in the coming year.
The Horned God, too, who was depicted as a robust man with antlers and honored in His aspect of God of the forests, fields, flocks and herds, is now honored by Wiccans and Neo-Pagans as the Lord of Death and Rebirth.
Here are some Celtic Samhain Traditions that use apples!
Apple Resolutions: It's traditional before Sahmain to take an apple, carve it in half, pour your illness or bad habits into it, (or you can write all your bad habits, or what you want to change on parchment paper and insert it inside the apple), put it back together (use wooden toothpicks), and then bury it in the ground. This is obviously a direct ancestor of our modern day New Year’s Resolution tradition.
Bobbing for Apples: Bobbing for apples is a common Halloween activity that has evolved from the idea of capturing the spirit of the dormant Goddess, who will grieve for her consort, the God, until Yule. To capture fruit sacred to her (the apple) was to ensure her continued presence and good will, even though she was believed virtually "incommunicado" for the next six weeks.
Here is an example of an ancestor invocation:
By Jennifer Ellison
We hear your whispered voices
speaking words of wisdom
into our unconscious minds.
Your whispers awaken our dreams,
You who are our ancestors
who once walked upon the earth
and were part of our shared life eternal,
we praise you with all that is sacred in our lives.
You who planted the seed of knowledge,
you who sought inner peace,
you who claimed your love for the Gods and Goddesses of old,
we give you honor and praise your name.
without you I would not be here.
without you I would not be here.
People that have come before and gone ahead,
without you I would not be here.
I give you honor and praise your name.
We ask you for guidance,
for you have the power of knowledge.
You have been born in us,
part of our being.
We draw upon your strength so that we may move ever forward.
we follow as all children will.
You are our family and with all the love in my being,
I give you honor and call your names.
I praise you with the earth in my palm.
I praise you with the fire in my heart.
I praise you with my breath as I give offerings to your greatness.
I praise you with the blood and water of life within my body.
I call forth for you with honor for all eternity.
Samhain Spell to Remember Ancestors
One black candle
Oil for anointing your candle
Finely chopped fresh rosemary
A bowl of water
An offering for your ancestors (bread, honey, etc)
Begin by casting the Sacred Circle.
Anoint your black candle with your chosen oil. Roll the candle in the chopped rosemary (for honoring ancestors), so that it sticks to the candle. Set it upright in the holder, where it will burn. Try not to move it too much, or the rosemary may fall off.
Light the candle, concentrating on the ancestor that you wish to remember. Bring the bowl of water close in front of you and the candle. Position the bowl so that you can see the candle's flame flickering in the water. Gaze into the bowl, letting the reflection of the candle flame take you deep into a meditative state.
"Candle burning, burning bright,
My eyes now see with new insight
I speak to you, who passed before
I walk willingly up to the door
Come to me so I may give
Remembrance to you so you may live."
Continue gazing into the water, letting your mind flow from one thought to the next as it will. You may see shapes, objects, people, or other things in the water. Let the images come, and store them away in your mind. When you feel ready, thank your ancestors for coming to you. Leave them the offering you have prepared for them.
Close the circle. Leave the offering overnight. You may dispose of it the next day by burying it. You should let the candle burn all the way down, however if this is not possible, then you may light it several days in a row for the same purpose, finishing up your workings by Nov. 1. If you have any candle left by this date, then bury the remains with the offering you left.
Note: Many Wiccans and Neo-Pagans write out the names of each loved one on the other side of the veil on slips of paper. They read the names aloud reverently, then burn them in a Samhain cauldron to release their love and honor into the smoke that rises into the Sacred cosmos.
Don't forget to take advantage of the unique opportunities of this magickal month -- embrace your family with all of the usual festive activities, but also by taking solitary walks to commune with the Goddess and reflect on the year past, and the one that is about to begin.
Check your local area for apple and fall festivals, and Oktoberfest activities. Be sure to leave plenty of time in busy schedules to traverse the region on foot, and even in vehicles to marvel at the wonder that is fall foliage.
Cap the month off with hot cider, and carving Jack-O-Lanterns!
— Danu’s Daughter