Samhuinn (Scots Gaelic - the Irish Gaelic is Samhain, pronounced sow-in or sow-een ), also know as Halloween, is the Celtic festival to celebrate the end of the harvest and the beginning of a new year. This might sound a little strange as we often think of Hogmanay for this, saying goodbye to the old and ringing in the new, but Samhuinn is the feast to welcome in the time of darkness. Our ancestors considered it important to not only acknowledge but also celebrate the blackness before the light, the chaos that precedes order and the death before the rebirth. This is something we have lost touch with in modern culture although as we look toward finding meaning - something more than sweeties, costumes and commercialisation - many more of us are now seeking out the old ways.
A Bewitching Way
There are many Samhuinn traditions that have been translated into our current culture, like pumpkins and witches and besoms, and our modern rituals still have their roots in these traditional ceremonies. Pumpkin carving was not only to celebrate the harvest of autumn foods but to also provide food for the souls who were passing through the veil, on to the next world. Lighting a candle inside a hollowed out gourd and placing it in the window was to guide these souls to the land of the 'eternal summer', the world of spirit.
The re-enactment of witches we see as costumes at Halloween - with pointy hats, dark clothing and cauldrons - is a visual image quite far removed from what witches were and I feel these caricatures are more of a hangover from the witch trials that reflect society's conditioned fear of women of power. During the witch trials in 16th century Scotland, most of those murdered were older women, women who had experience and respected reputations in their communities as folk healers and skilled practitioners. They were not women cackling over cauldrons with dubious intentions but rather women with knowledge of the Earth's gifts and creating elixirs, balms and remedies from these gifts for a variety of ills. In many cultures a witch was considered to be the medicine woman of the community, a woman of healing and of herbal craft, who knew how to converse with - and listen to - the Earth, the plants, animals and spirits.
Singing The Souls Home
While the modern take of Halloween has a hefty dose of distortion of the true nature of Samhuinn, our dressing up, guising, singing and performing are themselves also thinly veiled nods to ancient ceremonies. While in today's Halloween there may be performances and singing from children (although this seems to be fading too), for the Celtic peoples this was an essential part of ceremony, where the heartfelt, loving voices of the gatherers carried the spirits to a place of peace - this was considered 'singing home the dead'.
A few years ago I was taking part in a Samhuinn ceremony and we sang a traditional song intended for this purpose. We created a loving space where we were offering the souls the chance to pass to the Otherworld. As we were singing, a member of my own family, who had died a few months prior, came to me in spirit, glowing with light and with a beaming smile. They cradled my face in their hands, kissed me goodbye and went on their way. It was one of the most beautiful, unforgettable experiences and I was deeply honoured to have been witness to the next stage of their journey.
As we celebrate the Autumn, and look to the darkness of the Winter, before welcoming the return of the Spring light, in this ceremony we acknowledge that death is required for both rebirth and for renewed hope.
Here is one of my ceremonies for Samhuinn. As with all ceremonies, your intention is the power behind it. I've detailed creating a sacred space to either release any habits or behaviours that have become damaging or limiting to you, or to honour those who have passed and to help guide them on their journey, and so I have added recitings for both intentions. If you would like to do both, I recommend separate dedicated ceremonies.
What you'll need:
A piece of cloth around the size of a pillowcase (a clean pillowcase is fine)
Candles - one white, one black
Tealights and holders
Heatproof candle holders/candlesticks
A small bowl, jug or glass of water
Dried herbs, smudge stick or incense
Incensor and charcoal disk (optional - to use if you are using loose herbs)
Small amount of autumn fruits i.e. sliced apple, pumpkin
Your intention and a quiet place where you will be undisturbed
Please ensure your own safety, those of others and your surroundings at all times around open flames, with precautionary measures.
Begin to assemble all your items with your intention in mind - what do you want to release? What would you like your new path to look like? What kind of supportive and healing behaviours and emotions would you like to embrace - love, compassion, tolerance, calm?
Who would you like to honour? Is it loved ones who have passed from the physical realm to the spiritual? Is it your ancestors? Is it the animals and plants who are disrespected through environmental damage?
Whatever your intention, keep this in your heart and mind as you prepare your space.
Place the tealights around the room, in a safe space away from draughts and flammable materials, and light these with your intentions in mind. Let the match burn away instead of blowing it out (ofcourse, if it burns too close to your fingers, then gently extinguish it by licking your forefinger and thumb and pinch the flame out) and place the spent matches in the heatproof saucer.
Place the piece of cloth on the floor or other flat surface with the white and black candles (unlit) in holders and on top of the material, in the centre and side by side. Place the bowl of water to the right of the candles, the herbs/incense to the left and the fruits to the bottom, all the time having your intentions present.
Light the white and black candles with the matches and light a little of the smudge stick, herbs or incense from the flame from the white candle. (If you are using loose herbs, carefully light the charcoal disk, holding with a pair of tweezers, place in the incensor and place a small amount of the herbs on top of the lit disk).
Smudge the room with the smoke from the herbs/smudge stick/incense by taking it to each corner of the room with the intention of cleansing and protecting the space. When you feel this is complete, place the incense in a holder or the smudge in the heatproof saucer.
How you express your intention should be very personal to you, whether this is dedicated words you have written for the ceremony, a song you wish to sing or voicing the words that instinctively come to you. The words below are just a suggestion but if you feel you would like to recite them as they are, please feel free to use them.
In this night of darkness, I celebrate the passing of the year
and I honour and mark the passing of those who have gone before
I wish them healing. Let the light of this ceremony clear a safe passage, guiding them to the place of infinite love.
May my guides and teachers of the light, those whose wisdom I embrace, teach me to understand that in times of deepest darkness emerges the brightest of lights, bringing healing and renewed hope.
For release of limiting habits/behaviours: As the flame of this candle dies, so with it are the behaviours, habits and emotions that limit me and which no longer serve my highest good. I release them to you to be healed and transformed to light.
For honouring those who have passed: As the flame of this candle becomes smoke rising ever upward, I honour those who have passed from their physical constraints with all the pains and sufferings and attachments which do not serve them on the next step of their journey, released and transformed into light. That they may to return fully healed to the source of their soul's creation, the land of infinite love.
Extinguish the black candle using a candle snuffer or wetting your forefinger and thumb and pinching the candle wick. Sit quietly for a few minutes, surrendering to the release or holding the space for those who have passed.
Turn your attention to the white candle.
For release of limiting habits/behaviours: As this flame burns, so shall the light of my soul as I align with the light within. From the darkness emerges the bright sun of my loving spirit, infinite and true, loving and kind, compassionate and strong.
For honouring those who have passed: As this flame burns, may it serve as a glowing, guiding light for those who have passed, a loving torch to light their passage.
Meditate on the flame of the white candle for a few minutes with your intentions in your mind and heart. When ready, extinguish the candle, sealing your intentions.
For release of limiting habits/behaviours: As I celebrate the fruits and waters of this Earth, I am filled with their life force, their joy and their energy.
For release of limiting habits/behaviours: With the fruits and waters of this Earth, I am reminded that we too are of the Earth but also of the stars.
Eat some of the fruits on your altar and drink some of the water, keeping a little of each aside.
Sit quietly for a few minutes and when you feel you are ready,
I give deep thanks for the love and healing which has taken place.
I ask that I am protected, that this space is protected, and as I close this ceremony, I release us from this space.
If you wish you may make a dedication - you may feel it appropriate to dedicate the ceremony to the healing of the Earth, of passed souls, of ancestors or whatever loving dedication you intuitively feel.
Extinguish the tealights safely and feel that the space is closed.
Take the remaining fruits and water and gift them into the Earth - this might be in your garden or at a quiet, peaceful spot in a park where you will be undisturbed and are able bury them a little in the soil with the intention of your appreciation for the gifts of the Earth or with the intention of gifting them to the souls on their way to the Otherworld.
May you and yours have a blessed Samhuinn.
Copyright © Andrea Doran, Flourish and Contributors | For personal use and information only