“Between the heavens and the earth
The way now opens to bring forth
The Hosts of those who went on before;
Hail! We see them now come through the Open Door.
Now the veils of worlds are thin;
To move out you must move in.
Let the Balefires now be made,
Mine the spark within them laid.
Move beyond the fiery screen,
Between the seen and the unseen;
Shed your anger and your fear,
Live anew in a new year!”
"I will dance
The dance of dying days
And sleeping life.
I will dance
In cold, dead leaves
A bending, whirling human flame.
I will dance
As the Horned God rides
Across the skies.
I will dance
To the music of His hounds
Running, baying in chorus.
I will dance
With the ghosts of those
I will dance
Between the sleep of life
And the dream of death.
I will dance
On Samhain's dusky eye,
I will dance."
"Tonight as the barrier between the two realms grows thin,
Spirits walk amongst us, once again.
They be family, friends and foes,
Pets and wildlife, fishes and crows.
But be we still mindful of the Wee Folke at play,
Elves, fey, brownies, and sidhe.
Some to trick, some to treat,
Some to purposely misguide our feet.
Stay we on the paths we know
As planting sacred apples we go.
This Feast I shall leave on my doorstep all night.
In my window one candle shall burn bright,
To help my loved ones find their way
As they travel this eve, and this night, until day.
Bless my offering, both Lady and Lord
Of breads and fruits, greens and gourd."
As we approach Samhain (October 31 - November 1) our awareness naturally moves in the same circles as our ancient ancestors as we all prepare for a shift in the seasons.
In the Northern hemisphere, this seasonal shift manifests itself in autumnal themes, and Samhain is the cross-quarter holiday marking the midpoint between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice.
The ancient Celts simplified this seasonal transition by establishing two halves to their calendar: Light and Dark. Samhain marked the seam between light and dark in both agricultural and philosophical terms.
Most of you already know this, but a little known fact is the connection between Pleiades and Samhain. The Celts were masterful astronomers and astrologists. From their geographic position, the Celts could see the open star cluster, Pleiades quite easily with the naked eye.
Pleiades is cluster of nine stars, but only seven are seen with unaided vision. Pleiades is heliacal, which means this group of stars appears to rise and set in the heavens. This particular group of stars is extremely noteworthy because the rising and setting of Pleiades heralded the birth of light and dark in the Celtic view of time.
Rising in May, Pleiades marked the official start of summer (light) and thus Beltane was celebrated at this time.
Conversely, Pleiades' descent in the skies at this time launches the journey into the darker half of the year. So, when these shimmery beauties shone their brightest, at midnight on October 31st, the feast of Samhain was consummated and the new year was made official (Samhain observes the beginning of the year in the Celtic calendar).
What's more, our ancestors knew the potential for transformation was ripe at this pivotal point in astronomical time. Ergo, many of the rituals and traditions observed at this time were all geared to tapping into the power inherent in this time.
Samhain is a gateway into incredible metamorphosis and the position of Pleiades during this time is optimal for creating astronomical change in our lives.
In fact, the Pleiades stars can serve as a guiding light as we move through the darkness of Samhain.
Samhain is a time of descent into dark realms which are represented by the upcoming winter months. The Celts used this time to gird their loins because they knew potential hardships loomed in their future. Today, many of us admire the Celts because they were fiercely courageous and faithful to their own spiritual tenets. In truth, they were stalwart because they had to be. It took real fortitude to survive a harsh winter, and death was certainly a reality on many levels.
Realizing this, the Druids understood (and utilized) the potential guidance offered from all sources. One form of guidance can be found in the seven virtues represented in the seven stars of Pleiades.
In the same way, we can cast our higher awareness into the stellar realms and follow the Lights of Guidance as our Druid ancestors did.
When the potential darkness of decay or even death threatens to close in on us this time of year, I invite you to look to the heavens as our ancestors did for guidance, assurance and illumination.
This Samhain, at midnight, honor the old ways by lighting seven candles; one for each ancient virtue represented in the stars of Pleiades.
Upon lighting each candle, affirm these seven starlit virtues:
• Truth: Maintain honesty in all things, especially with yourself.
• Purity: Remain clean and wholesome and therefore pleasing in the eyes of the ancients.
• Faith: Be resolute in knowing all ways are blessed to those who have faith.
• Patience: Surrender to the perfect timing of the Universe.
• Kindness: Compassion, generosity and goodness are the guardians of the soul.
• Temperance: Sustain wisdom and discernment through self-control and moderation.
• Determination: All is lost if the will is weak. Illumination is granted to the persistent.
This Halloween season, if the darker connotations of Samhain like death and dark power threatens to overtake your joy - simply look up to the heavens, and recall those glittery lights of virtue sparkling back to you.
Likewise, as we in the northern hemisphere embark on the dark months of winter, it's assuring to know these starry illuminations can serve as soul-guides upon our path, lighting our way to greater wisdom and life experiences.
I hope you have enjoyed these observations about the connection between sacred Samhain and Pleiades, the starry calendar compass between the light and dark halves of the year.
Red leaves are carried in the salt west wind
And turn to brown on dry soil.
The sun is bright still, but not warm
On the last rich gold of scattered fall.
The great wheel turns, another year
Old, bright gold with death.
Bare branches now, the Old Lord's limbs,
Chill wind the Old Lord's breath.
Like dancing leaves on sleeping branches
The dark tide of memory is stirred.
The deepest thought-flame now is kindled,
Consuming, the fire in ancient words.
Samhain, the thin veil opens, fingers
Reaching through the blackness deep.
Through the grey cloud wisps, old voices
Shapes, shifting, slowly creep.
Mab's red-eyed dogs, howling, wander
Through the fields as soil grows hard
Searching for uncounted jewels
The Fairy Queen's forgotten shards
The last red morsels, undevoured
Returned to Her who granted birth
Mab's womb, given up its children,
Shrivels, cold with the hardened earth.
In meadows that the scythe has tasted
Now the Samhain fires are high
The circle dance is weaving, spinning
On graceful foot, on darkened thigh,
The spiral dance is downward twisted,
The Horned One's chant, the Welcome Home--
"Home" is on the north wind whispered,
The Swordless Death Lord takes his throne.
And to Mab, the Horned One's sister,
Whose loins have yielded up their spark,
"Follow" now the north wind whispers,
Mab, Death Queen, the Timeless Dark.
And in the barren, fruitless meadow,
Dancing 'round the Samhain fire,
Her face a flower, her eyes a-tremble,
A young maid spins the ancient spire.
Chanting home the swordless Horned One,
Like a doe, she leaps the flame.
In cold Autumn's death, a new beginning,
In Mab's cold womb, life starts again.
As we approach the cross-quarter holiday of Samhain, it’s a great opportunity to dive into ancient myth and stories. Why? Because ancient parables connect us with our ancestry and offer magnificent lessons we can apply to our modern way of life – thus making our experiences richer and more meaningful.
Now, I realize surface research into Samhain uncovers some potentially disturbing and macabre symbolism involving death and dark powers. But, as with anything worthwhile, we’ve got to explore beyond the surface before striking true gold.
There is priceless philosophical gold surrounding Samhain. One of these golden nuggets is nestled deep in the folds of Bardic wisdom (the realm of sacred Celtic storytelling).
It’s the story of the Seven Swans of Virtue, and it unfolds, thusly:
Once upon a time (I know, how trite…indulge me), there was a behemoth egg and the Universe was curled within it, growing steadily over millions of years. At the moment of its fullest development the Universe quaked inside the egg and cracked open.
The yolk poured out of the egg and formed all matter/mass and this energy ruled the day (light).
The albumen (egg white) spilled out to create all the heavens and this energy ruled the night (dark).
But that’s not all that emerged from the great egg. From the intimacy shared between light and dark whilst incubating within the cosmic eggshell, seven magical swans were born and their names were:
These were known as the Seven Swans of Virtue and although they lived brightly in the heavens, they had the ability to shift between the two realms (Light/Material/Earth and Dark/Immaterial/Skies) at whim.
Now as the ever-progressing wheel of time continued making its revolutions, humankind evolved from the mix of heaven and earth. In the beginning, humans were content to simply swim in the cosmos, satisfied with reveling in limitless bounty.
But after awhile, humans craved more diversity, and so they were offered a choice to experience a new way of life. In this new way of living humans could experience their world through tactile (physical) form while simultaneously having access to heavenly (spiritual) experience too. The contrast between physical and ethereal would be distinct, but access to both realms could still be obtained. This offered humans a greater dimension of experience.
Unfortunately, the choice to live in enhanced contrast backfired for many humans. The physical aspects of life proved to be utterly consuming. The body and all the physical trappings that came with it caused humans to lose focus on their heavenly, celestial connections.
Eventually, the human race forgot their lineage and denied their divine connections to the heavens altogether.
Throughout humankind’s blindness, the Seven Swans of Virtue remained vigilant in their celestial connection to the human soul.
The choice to ascend self-imposed prisons of physicality was always available to mankind. By simply acknowledging their eternal connection to the seven virtues, the heavenly Swans were able to bridge the gap between light and dark and the soul of man would be balanced; renewed.
But it required fortitude and commitment from mankind to sustain the memory of their divine lineage.
Sadly, most humans at this point were simply maddened by the compulsive wants and cravings perpetuated by physical illusions. These compulsions continued to feed a deep imbalance within humankind and led to manifestations of lust, greed, lack, sloth, envy, gluttony, hate (the antithetical flip-side of the Seven Virtues).
Observing this difficult transition over the ages, the Seven Swans of Virtue conceded humankind was doomed to live out a endless cycle of illusory strife and struggle. Without some kind of guidance, humankind would be lost in a chaotic abyss of misdirection.
Wanting to honor their choice to experience diversity, the Swans vowed to intercede on behalf on mankind, but with conditions.
So, the Seven Swans of Virtue agreed to shapeshift to earth and make themselves abundantly accessible to humankind, but only twice a year:
* Once on Beltane in honor of the cosmic yolk (light) and
* Once again on Samhain in reverence of the celestial albumen (dark).
These dates were chosen because of they are at their peak of cosmic balance. It was during these times that the channels connecting physical and spiritual are opened at their widest, affording humankind to retrieve their Truth and reestablish their hereditary balance.
And so, upon midnight on Samhain, these majestic beauties begin their descent to earth whereupon they gather up the virtuous of heart who truly wish to know the Truth of their divine births as well as know the true ways of the Universe.
The Seven Swans of Virtue make themselves more openly known during this time so humankind may be apt to transcend the prison of illusions and re-embrace its cosmic connections.
The Seven Swans of Virtue still descend to Earth today. The Celts knew this, and that’s why the constellation of Pleiades marked the cosmic opening from which the celestial Swans flew to visit the Earth. These two dates (Samhain and Beltane) are the gateways to transformation for humankind.
So, this time of Samhain affords each of us the grandest opportunity for renewal, enlightenment and metamorphosis.
Who is this guy they call Sam Hain?
I see his name in witchy books;
But when I ask my witchy friends;
They just give me the strangest looks.
He seems to be so important;
And everyone knows him but me;
Each year they throw him a party;
It sounds like THE cool place to be!
When I ask my friends what he’s like;
They all practically turn and run;
I need to get to know Sam Hain;
So I can join in all the fun!
I asked friends to introduce me;
I’ll have to introduce myself;
‘Cuz when I asked they looked at me;
As if I’m a demented elf!
So I searched the yellow pages;
I called up information too;
I just can’t find this guy Sam Hain;
I surfed the web ‘til I turned blue!
I’ve heard my witchy friends planning;
And although they’ll think I’m a pain;
I’m going to crash his party;
Then I’ll finally meet Sam Hain!
Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. The Celtic peoples, who were once found all over Europe, divided the year by four major holidays. According to their calendar, the year began on a day corresponding to November 1st on our present calendar. The date marked the beginning of winter. Since they were pastoral people, it was a time when cattle and sheep had to be moved to closer pastures and all livestock had to be secured for the winter months. Crops were harvested and stored. The date marked both an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle.
The festival observed at this time was called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld. People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living. On that day all manner of beings were abroad: ghosts, fairies, and demons--all part of the dark and dread.
Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., before missionaries such as St. Patrick and St. Columcille converted them to Christianity, the Celts practiced an elaborate religion through their priestly caste, the Druids, who were priests, poets, scientists and scholars all at once. As religious leaders, ritual specialists, and bearers of learning, the Druids were not unlike the very missionaries and monks who were to Christianize their people and brand them evil devil worshippers.
As a result of their efforts to wipe out "pagan" holidays, such as Samhain, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in it. In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship.
In terms of spreading Christianity, this was a brilliant concept and it became a basic approach used in Catholic missionary work. Church holy days were purposely set to coincide with native holy days. Christmas, for instance, was assigned the arbitrary date of December 25th because it corresponded with the mid-winter celebration of many peoples. Likewise, St. John's Day was set on the summer solstice.
Samhain, with its emphasis on the supernatural, was decidedly pagan. While missionaries identified their holy days with those observed by the Celts, they branded the earlier religion's supernatural deities as evil, and associated them with the devil. As representatives of the rival religion, Druids were considered evil worshippers of devilish or demonic gods and spirits. The Celtic underworld inevitably became identified with the Christian Hell.
The effects of this policy were to diminish but not totally eradicate the beliefs in the traditional gods. Celtic belief in supernatural creatures persisted, while the church made deliberate attempts to define them as being not merely dangerous, but malicious. Followers of the old religion went into hiding and were branded as witches.
Keep a sprig of rosemary and a sixpence under your pillow on Samhain night, and you'll dream of your future spouse.
In parts of England, it was believed that if a maiden carried a lantern to a well on Samhain night and held the light above the water, she would see the reflection of future husband.
People were often cautioned that if they heard footsteps behind them on the night of Samhain, they shouldn't turn back because it may be a spirit following them.
If you host a dumb supper and no one speaks, the spirits are far more likely to show up.
It was believed that ringing a bell on Samhain kept away evil spirits.
Burying animal bones in front of your house on the night of Samhain will keep evil away, according to some legends of eastern Europe.
Black cats were once seen as bad luck.
One old folktale from Appalachia says that owls flew down on Samhain night to eat the souls of the dead.
If the bats come out early on Samhain night, and fly around, it means good weather is coming.
Some people believe that if you see a spider on Samhain, it harbors the spirit of a dead ancestor, watching you... so don't squash it!
Halloween traditions of trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns were brought to America in the 1840s by Irish escaping the Great Potato Famine. On Halloween, Irish peasants begged the rich for food and played practical jokes on those who refused. To avoid being tricked, the rich handed out cookies, candies, and fruit - a practice that turned into our present day trick-or-treating. Jack-o-lanterns trace back to an old Irish tale about a man named Stingy Jack. Unable to enter Heaven because of his stingy ways and turned away by the Devil, Stingy Jack wandered the world, searching for a resting place. To light his way, Stingy Jack used a burning coal in a hollowed out turnip -- hence the name "jack-o-lantern." The first jack-o-lanterns, in fact, were carved out of turnips. Only when the Irish tradition reached America did turnip carving turn into pumpkin carving. Witch means wise one. It comes from the Saxon word wica. Witches were thought to be wise enough to tell the future. Orange and black became Halloween colors because of orange is associated with harvests and black is associated with death. Halloween is the 8th largest card-sending occasion. There are over 28 million Halloween cards sent each year! There are many variations on the history of Halloween, but it's generally believed that Halloween dates back to 700 B.C. to the Celts, a rural society in northern England, Ireland and Scotland. On November 1, the first day of their new year, the Celts celebrated a festival called Samhain ("sow-in"). Chosen to signify the end of the harvest season and the onset of winter, Samhain was also thought to be a day of the dead. Because it was the end of one year and the start of another, the Celts believed that past and present were closely linked, allowing ancestral spirits to join them. On the eve of Samhain, October 31, the Celts dressed in costume, lit bonfires, and offered food and drink to masked revelers. Many say the costumes and fires were used to drive away the spirits, and the food given to placate the dead. October 31 came to be called Halloween when the Christians proclaimed November 1 as All Hallow Day. Unable to stop the pagan ritual of Samhain, the Christians made it a day to celebrate saints who had no day of their own. The night before, or All Hallow Eve, was later shortened to Halloween. Happy Halloween!