Many Beltane blessing to those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, although it is Spring here it is a cold drizzly day here on the mountain. The Rhododendrons are blooming and everything looks beautiful. Blessed Be!
In the southern hemisphere, the first week of November brings the cross-quarter day that marks the end of spring and the start of the heat and energy of summer, and the festival of love. It’s a time of lovers and spells to attract love, and celebrating the fertility of life, not just physically, but also of our dreams and ambitions. Symbolically this day marks the igniting of the fires of creativity and passion, of the fertility of our desires being made manifest, as the universe bursts with a raw energy and power that we can tap in to simply by breathing it in.
In the northern hemisphere Beltane falls around May Day, and while it has no relevance to us in terms of timing, I have been part of a coven ritual that involved a maypole dance, to represent the union of god and goddess at this point in the Wheel of the Seasonal Year. I’ve also leapt over the Beltane fires, although that was before I met my husband, when I jumped over it with friends as part of a personal ritual of purification and preparation, leaping out of my past, burning away the relationship issues that had kept my heart closed, and towards a future where love was possible (I met my partner two months later).
While I’ve been known to dress up as a vampire or a fairy and go to a Halloween party on October 31, privately or with coven members or witchie friends I’m celebrating the new blossoms and the vitality and fertility of Beltane at this time.
So, while it’s perhaps a little easier for northern hemisphere goddess worshippers to celebrate the cycle of the seasons, given that so many of them are actually woven into “normal” life, when you tune in to the earth and the rhythms of nature it is easy to know when it’s the right time to celebrate any of the old festivals. Because whether you live in the north, where they began, or the south, adding your own personal meaning to the traditional forms of celebration, the sabbats are still relevant to our lives. Even today, when we no longer live in harmony with the earth’s rhythms or agricultural cycles, modern pagans celebrate the Wheel of the Year as an honouring of nature and an acknowledgement of the continuing cycle of life, death and rebirth, both literally and symbolically. Becoming aware of the seasonal shifts and the patterns of nature wherever you live, and celebrating these ancient but still relevant festivals, is a simple way to tap in to the magic of the universe and harness it for your own growth. We may no longer grow our own grain or purify the fields with fire, but these celebrations still have power, particularly in the symbolic form – planting the seeds of our dreams in the metaphorical spring, watching them grow and manifest in the world before we give thanks for our literal harvest, then allowing the things that no longer serve us to die off or be released in our own personal winter, then starting all over again with new dreams as we celebrate our own rebirth.
I’ve spent a few sabbats in the northern hemisphere, leaping the Beltane fires in Glastonbury’s Chalice Well Gardens, sitting inside the Great Pyramid on the morning of the summer solstice, watching the sun set over the Hill of Tara at Lughnasadh, and the energy of each season is intense, real and tangible no matter which hemisphere I am in. Whenever I celebrate these magical turning points of our planet I feel so strongly a part of the earth, at one with nature and the universe. And so, regardless of which half of the world I’m in, I always acknowledge the opposite festival as well, in some small way. Perhaps this isn’t as important for those in the north, but for me it seems right to acknowledge the turning seasons all over the world, the beautiful, gracefully balanced dance of light and dark, heat and cold, day and night, that makes up this world that we are all a part of.
We are all connected to the earth, no matter where we live, and we need to learn how to (and accept that we can) follow the seasons of nature in our own unique way, based on the rising and setting of the sun in our own home town, the cycles of the moon as it crosses our part of the sky, and the very personal language of nature that is so different – and yet so similar –according to our own unique landscape.
Serene Conneeley is a healer, writer and witch who lives in Sydney, Australia. She is a reconnective healing practitioner and has studied magical and medicinal herbalism, reiki and many other healing modalities, as well as politics and journalism. Her first book, Seven Sacred Sites: Magical Journeys That Will Change Your Life, has just been published.
Samhain – Northern Hemisphere
Many Samhain blessings to those in the Northern Hemisphere as you head towards the cold winter months, keep warm and cosy and today have a happy Halloween. Blessed Be!
Samhain Lore and Traditions
October 31 — Samhain Eve
Also known as: November Eve, Feast of the Dead, Feast of Apples, Hallows
and All Hallows Eve.
Possibly the biggest festival of the Witches’ year, Samhain is a time to remember those who have passed on, celebrate the Summers end and prepare for Winter months ahead. The Sun God and earth fall into slumber, as the nights lengthen and winter begins.
Samhain, (pronounced SOW-in, SAH-vin, or SAM-hayne) means “End of Summer”, and is the third and final Harvest. The dark winter half of the year commences on this Sabbat.
Various other names for this Greater Sabbat are Third Harvest, Samana, Day of the Dead, Old Hallowmas (Scottish/Celtic), Vigil of Saman, Shadowfest (Strega), and Samhuinn. Also known as All Hallow’s Eve, (that day actually falls on November 7th), and Martinmas (that is celebrated November 11th), Samhain is now generally considered the Witch’s New Year.
It is generally celebrated on October 31st, but some traditions prefer November 1st.It is one of the two “spirit-nights” each year, the other being Beltane. It is a magical interval when the mundane laws of time and space are temporarily suspended, and the Thin Veil between the worlds is lifted. Communicating with ancestors and departed loved ones is easy at this time, for they journey through this world on their way to the Summerlands.
It is a time to study the Dark Mysteries and honor the Dark Mother and the Dark Father, symbolized by the Crone and her aged Consort. Tradition also teaches that the aid of spirits and guides from the other world was easily enlisted at this time, so in the increasing moonlight of longer nights, many used this time to hone their psychic and divinatory skills, especially with regard to love and marriage.
Originally known as the “Feast of the Dead” this sabbat was celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the “wandering dead”.Today a lot of practitioners still carry out that tradition. Single candles were lit and left in a window to help guide the spirits of ancestors and loved ones home. Extra chairs were set to the table and around the hearth for the unseen guest. Apples were buried along roadsides and paths for spirits who were lost or had no descendants to provide for them. Turnips were hollowed out and carved to look like protective spirits, for this was a night of magic and chaos.
The Wee Folke became very active, pulling pranks on unsuspecting humans. Traveling after dark was was not advised. People dressed in white (like ghosts), wore disguises made of straw, or dressed as the opposite gender in order to fool the Nature spirits.
The Christian religion has adopted this day as All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day, celebrating the eve as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween. The superstition and misconception linked to this celebration by the early church, led people to take some unusual precautions to protect themselves. They adopted the tradition of dressing in frightening costumes or disguises, and displaying scary looking Jack-O-Lanterns to help protect them from spirits they considered to be evil. In the British Isles, the young people would disguise themselves with hideous masks and walk through the village, lighting their way with lanterns made from carved turnips.
This was also the time that the cattle and other livestock were slaughtered for eating in the ensuing winter months. Any crops still in the field on Samhain were considered taboo, and left as offerings to the Nature spirits. Bonfires were built, (originally called bone-fires, for after feasting, the bones were thrown in the fire as offerings for healthy and plentiful livestock in the New Year) and stones were marked with peoples names. Then they were thrown into the fire, to be retrieved in the morning. The condition of the retrieved stone foretold of that person’s fortune in the coming year. Hearth fires were also lit from the village bonfire to ensure unity, and the ashes were spread over the harvested fields to protect and bless the land.
Symbolism of Samhain:
Third Harvest, the Dark Mysteries, Rebirth through Death.
Symbols of Samhain:
Gourds, Apples, Black Cats, Jack-O-Lanterns, Besoms.
Herbs of Samhain:
Mugwort, Allspice, Broom, Catnip, Deadly Nightshade, Mandrake, Oak leaves, Sage and Straw.
Foods of Samhain:
Turnips, Apples, Gourds, Nuts, Mulled Wines, Beef, Pork, Poultry.
Incense of Samhain:
Heliotrope, Mint, Nutmeg.
Colors of Samhain:
Black, Orange, White, Silver, Gold.
Stones of Samhain:
All Black Stones, preferably jet or obsidian.
Apples, Pears, Pomegranates, All Grains, Pumpkin-pie, Hazelnuts, Cakes for the dead, Corn, Cranberry muffins and breads, Ale, Cider, Herbal teas (especially Mugwort) and Meat unless vegetarian and then tofu will do.
Calendula, Cosmos, Chrysanthemum, Wormwood, Hazel, Thistle.
Mint, Heliotrope, Nutmeg, Sage or Floral’s.
Woods and Herbs Burned:
Apple, Heliotrope, Mint, Nutmeg, Sage.
For further information on rites and rituals to celebrate the sabbats, we reccommend:
However you choose to celebrate Samhain, be adventurous and investigate some of the older traditions. There is a large amount of interesting and sometimes comical lore surrounding this date. As an aside, it’s OK. to dress up as Witches’, Goblins and have fun with the more nonsense aspects of this holiday. It is good however to set aside some time to learn the true meaning behind this date and follow those observances as our ancestors did.