The cusp of 31st October and 1st November marks Samhain – “summer’s end”, from sam meaning “summer” and fuin meaning “end” – believed by some scholars to mark the ending and beginning of the year in the Celtic calendar.
Halloween has always been a favourite time of year for me – both due to the happy memories I have of childhood Halloweens spent “guising” around the local neighbourhood in fancy dress (I always loved anything to do with witches, goblins, and magic); and for the strong regenerative associations it has in my own Celtic (Scottish) background.
Nowadays, I see it and the days that follow as a perfect time to take stock of what’s been and what awaits me, and to give thought to what I’m going to be focusing on in the months ahead in order to chart a satisfying course through the winter.
Samhain celebrations have survived in several guises as a festival dedicated to celebrating and giving thanks for the final harvest of the year, and acknowledging the dead who have gone before. It is still the custom in some areas to set a place for the dead at the Samhain feast, and to tell tales of the ancestors on that night.
[Consider how your own ancestors – known and unknown – have contributed to the unique individual you are. What qualities of those who came before you would you like to draw on and invoke now and in the future? Consider reaching beyond your immediate family for inspiration, to draw strength from the archetypes which are at play in all of us.]
The Gaels believed that the border between this world and the otherworld became thin on Samhain, and the custom of wearing costumes and masks – in reverence of the unseen forces of the otherworld – continues to this day. In Scotland in the 16th century, the dead were impersonated by “guisers” – young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white. Candle lanterns, carved from turnips, were a significant part of the festivities. Guising – dressing up and offering entertainment of various sorts in return for gifts – has continued for children in Scotland right up to the present day. At the time of substantial Irish and Scottish immigration to North America, Halloween had a strong tradition of guising and pranks, leading to the current associations with “trick or treating”.
[What roles – guises – are you ready to slough off at the end of the old year? Which will you pick up and wear as the new year begins? Give some thought to the roles you need to play in order to get to where you want to be, and also to those roles which no longer serve you. How will you gently and respectfully let them go? What are the new roles that will most benefit you and those you care about? Where can you find support to help you exist comfortably within these new roles?]
Traditionally at Samhain, divination was practised, and this is a common tradition that has survived in many rural areas. The most common uses were to determine the identity of a person’s future spouse, the location of their future home, and how many children they might have. Seasonal foods such as apples and nuts were often employed in these rituals – for example, an apple was peeled, the peel tossed over the shoulder, and its shape examined to see if it formed the first letter of the future spouse’s name.
[You don’t have to be able to predict your future in order to be able to build a happy one. Use this time of year to consider deeply what would make you most happy: what were you built to do? What better time to start finding out what you’re really made of, and to start acting on it?]
Perhaps the regenerative power of this dark time of year has become somewhat lost to us; obscured by commercialism and forgotten history, with fear and superstition replacing its positive attributes in our collective consciousness.
Could this be the year you break free from the old, tired assumptions about Halloween, autumn, and the shortening days, choosing instead to see them as opportunities to reach within yourself for all the rejuvenation, motivation and inspiration you’ll ever need to make your own magic?
Good luck – and Happy New Year!
© Brian Cormack Carr, 2009