Now in the darkening of the year
the veil between the world wears thin
and those gone on ahead draw near.
In the hours of quiet remembrance
that the waning season brings,
we may feel their whispered presence
like the brush of a gentle wind.
SAMHAIN (The Summer’s End)
Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year, for the Celts divided the year into two seasons: the light and the dark, at Beltane on May 1st and Samhain on October 31st. Some believe that Samhain was the more important festival, marking the beginning of a whole new cycle, just as the Celtic day began at night.
The most magically potent time of this festival is the night of October 31st, known today of course, as Halloween. The date marked both an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle.
In the country year, Samhain marked the first day of winter, when the herders led the cattle and sheep down from their summer hillside pastures to the shelter of stable and byre. The hay that would feed them during the winter must be stored in sturdy thatched ricks, tied down securely against storms. Those destined for the table were slaughtered, after being ritually devoted to the gods.
All the harvest must be gathered in, barley, oats, wheat, turnips, and apples for come November, the faeries would blast every growing plant with their breath, blighting any nuts and berries remaining on the hedgerows. Peat and wood for winter fires were stacked high by the hearth. It was a joyous time of family reunion, when all members of the household worked together baking, salting meat, and making preserves for the winter feasts to come.
The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, 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. As a feast of the dead, it was believed the dead could, if they wished, return to the land of the living for this one night, to celebrate with their family, tribe, or clan.