Samhain, The End of Harvest and Witches New Year

By Isabella @TheWandCarver

Instagram: @thewandcarver

At one time in Gaelic history, this was exactly what it meant – the end of harvest season. Nowadays, thanks to supply and demand “harvest season” has been mutated a bit. If you can get away with planting and harvesting during less opportune times, you do. Mind, it still does not keep every country from buying another country’s fruit and veg.  It is very telling in some of the produce we have in supermarkets…even some green grocers have taken to having produce brought in from Spain and the like.  What happened to being in or out of season?? I’m sure the Ancient Ones sigh often.  I would apologise for my bit of a diatribe there but I’m only an old crone who remembers a time when, if you wanted a strawberry but they were out of season, you jolly well did without.  Unless, of course, like my Mum, you had some frozen ones put up from the May or June pickings.  Still not quite the same.  Still, I can guarantee my Mum’s frozen stash of strawberries were sweeter and tastier than any rubbish you pick up in the supermarket when it is out of season.

samhain bonfire

Samhain bonfire ~ Google images

I’m sure some of you are still worryingly eyeing the “Gaelic history” bit. Yes, Samhain is an original Gaelic celebration spelled Sammhuin in Scots Gaelic, not Celtic as you may have imagined. The Gaelic Goddess Cailleach has been long  known to herald in the beginning of winter.  Of course, nowadays it is celebrated by most all Pagan people.  It is technically celebrated on 1 November, although the true beginning is 31 October as All Hallows Eve, the night, of course, when the veil between worlds is the thinnest and the best time to contact those long gone.  Celebrations include burning bonfires, mummer’s plays, guising – costuming and visiting homes for treats, feasting, and connecting with one’s ancestors. It is a time to not only celebrate the end of harvest time but also the beginning of winter based on the Celtic Calendar which I have written about in two separate blogs.  The Irish and Welsh, insular Celts, were next to have begun celebrating Oíche Shamhna [Ireland] or Calan Gaeaf [Wales].  If you happen to live down under, at this time you will be celebrating Beltane.

Have you ever wondered why we call two weeks a fortnight? The word was fashioned upon the longer nights of winter in a manner of speaking.  There was once a word called ‘se’nnight’ which means one week, but it has now become obsolete.

samhain The Crossing, by ErinM31

“The Crossing!”  by ErinM31

As you can tell, I get off track easily!  It’s because I love Samhain so much, I want to include everything pertaining to and some things not entirely pertaining to.  I love the longer nights because I have an affinity for darkness [and rainy days]. I do like sunshine, don’t worry, and my propensity to love darkness does not mean I’m an evil, daemonic witch.  Far from it.  Samhain is the beginning for me in a sense.  It is when I ride the hedge, or, my annual meeting with the ancestors. All the fun ways to celebrate are great and I do participate when I can, however, this is my special night…where I commune with those whom have gone before me and have made me what I am. It is when I can see their faces and learn from them.  Mind, sometimes there is not much to be said, but to see them and just be with them is enough. It is my time for looking into the past and into the future, for protection, both psychic and physical, for overcoming fears, especially of ageing and mortality, and insights into the future and how to manage the present.  It is my time to give them the thanks they are due for their part in creating me. Of course, they did not know this is what the total of their endeavours would bring, but I have no doubt my gratitude must make them feel better about it 😊 It is the beginning for me because it seems to set me up for the coming year in a better frame of mind and often with new knowledge.

On 31 October, I shall be wearing my necromancer’s witch bottle which helps with reaching and communicating my ancestors, my draenan ddu [Blackthorn] mommet for protection, candles lit, and psychic incense burning, and a hopefully respectful moggy beside me.  This will be her first hedge ride.  Fingers crossed.

samhain ancestral

Image by Jess Carlson

All of this gets me wondering…how many of you celebrate All Hallows Eve and the beginning of winter as a solitary, like me? What are your favourite ways of spending the evening and the following day? Many of you probably have a stunning altar set up in memory of your ancestors.  I have found that it seems most solitary witches seem to set up an ancestral altar alongside their working altar and the working altar gets a passing nod to end of harvest with a few related things and colours.  And, the pagan families I know and have known set up the family altar more in the end of harvest sense with beautiful small pumpkins, gourds, apples and the like but only a few pictures or artefacts of most recently passed family as a nod to ancestry. Mind, I realise this is not always the case with all solitary and family pagans. One year when the children were young, we nested a gorgeous wicker cornucopia in the centre filled with beautiful fruits and vegetables we later used in our Samhain supper.  It was almost a shame to use it but the stew and the tarts we made were worth it 😊.

What if you are a solitary witch with no desire to visit beyond the veil but would like to honour your ancestors? Perfectly alright! Every witch has his or her methods.  If you are unsure what to do or how to set up an ancestral altar, it is easy.  You will need to determine how may photos you would want to include.  You can frame them or simply place your photo album open on the altar space.  Place white candles on the altar.  I normally place a one on each corner of my altar.   Be sure not to have the altar near anything flammable such as window curtains.  Do you have any artefacts, personal items belonging to some of your ancestors? You can use anything you find meaningful.  For my father, I really don’t have anything small of his, but I place a red poppy badge by his picture because he fought in WWII. I also place a filter less cigarette by his photo as he smoked those.  The picture I use is of him with his first hunting dog whom he loved. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything small and meaningful of my mum’s, but I have her picture.  No  photos of her parents but I do have a small studio portrait of my father’s parents which I include.  My parents were along in years when I was born, making their parents very much along in years as well so finding small pics of them is nearly impossible.  I simply add other bits of memorabilia from places I believe they visited to fill in.  And they were both staunch Royalists so of course, Queen Elizabeth has her small place on my altar.

I think you get the idea – anything goes if it means something.  Offerings are nice to include…can be anything you would know they enjoyed – food, wine, cigarettes [hence the ciggy I put near my dad].

Divining is a very popular way to contact the ones whom have passed on amongst many witches for Samhain, particularly solitaries.  Many may use a pendulum to dowse for yes or no answers from the Old Ones.  Some do a tarot reading to get answers to questions they have wanted to ask.  And, for some, the Ouija board is a popular way to go. Just mind you are properly protected and grounded.  And yes, you can use a Ouija board alone but again, be very careful you know what you’re doing. I have gotten valid and good insights divining this way.

You may celebrate Samhain and honour your ancestors in any way you find comfortable to you. All that ever really matters is that how you do it means something to you.  How I celebrate may help you if you are new to this and need a few ideas, however, they are only ideas and I don’t mean to tell you what you should do, for there is no ideal “should”.  No right or wrong, just your way.  I always invite comments at the closing of my blogs and I really do look forward to hearing how you celebrate or set up your altar!  I hope everyone has a safe and happy All Hallows Eve and a Happy Samhain.

Thank you for reading and many warm blessings to all who wander this way.  Please feel free to leave a comment, I always answer them, and share by the various social media buttons if you feel this article may be of use to others.  Blessed be! x

samhain blessings

art by Spiritrong

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