The Shadow Time
Sometimes I compare life to Halloween; we dress up, take on various roles, and get to collect the rewards for our efforts, and you don’t know exactly what will come out of each door. Some things are funny, some stuff can be scary and challenging, and each house you visit contributes something to the loot! The third harvest brings us to the Underworld and our shadow self, though we don’t really need to be scared of our own reflection.
The word “Samhain” has Celtic origins and is associated with “End of summer”, it’s one of the 4 fire festivals/major Sabbats; the others are Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh. Imbolc is planting time/the beginning of summer, Beltane is mid-summer/fertility, Lughnasadh the first harvest and Samhain the end of harvest and summer, marking the beginning of winter and the dark time of year. Basically it was summer and light or winter and dark, very practical for managing the growing seasons, herds and related tasks, and the day began at nightfall, rather than sunrise. Every journey began in darkness and moved towards the light, for example birth is the passage from the darkness of your mother’s womb to the bright world. At death the spirit went to the dark Underworld and travelled to the Crone’s cauldron of rebirth. Anthropology has discovered that agriculturally based peoples buried their dead or left them in caves, and even today soil is still associated with Earth Mother and caves with her womb.
Samhain is known as the 3rd and Last Harvest, it’s also known as the Blood Harvest though it isn’t a sinister connection. Our ancestors didn’t have fridges or freezers, drying and salting was the way to preserve meat for use through winter and early summer. October’s full moon, the Blood Moon marked the day to start hunting large game and to begin the cull of the herds; this necessary work lasted approximately 2 weeks. I can only imagine the relief a farmer must have felt when Samhain arrived; it meant all the actual butchering was done, even though there would still be some brining and salting to do. Years ago I visited Ireland in October, and some crofter’s carried on the traditon of keeping blood from the butchered animals and offering it to the earth on Samhain night. It’s done as way to remember the life that was taken and for the animals spirit to be appeased and move on, the bones were buried in the field the next morning. It may seem gruesome, yet I understand and these folks practised what is now termed “organic” sustainable farming, they knew the animals and had a relationship with each one, a different life from factory farms for certain.
Samhain can be referred to as The Day of the Dead, Old Hallowmas, Samana, All Hallow’s Eve, Shadowfest and The Witches New Year. In an astrological sense we die at Mabon, when the God and most green things are passing away, at Samhain we enter the Underworld and get to know our shadow side and the hidden mysteries of life as we enter the Crone’s realm. The wheel of the year has ended, we have harvested the efforts of the growing season, it’s time to go within and think about the results. What is working, what isn’t? Why? Are some relationships whether with people or situations recurring, do you like the way things are playing out? Is there some person or situation that you need to release, or perhaps a person that needs to be forgiven for their actions? Maybe you hold yourself up to impossible expectations and standards; do you need to find the compassion for yourself? Just what are you taking with you into the next year? These are questions the crone/wise woman asks. When you gaze into her cauldron you will see a reflection of yourself, you are the wise woman or wise man of your being, the hidden knowledge of life, love, being human are within your essence, that is the mystery.
Samhain is a time to remember all the people who have passed through your life who left a lasting impression, it’s like a small part of their wisdom is with you always. Thank them in person, or energetically. The veil between the worlds is thin and if you are open to it, your ancestors or departed loved ones may choose to visit, set an extra place at the table and serve your invisible guests as you would a physical person. Offer the food to the bonfire at dark, or leave it outside for other wandering visitors, physical or not. You might want to make ancestor sticks or create an altar to honour your loved ones who have transitioned, decorate it with pictures and/or items that remind you of the person.
You might wish to make an offering to the Crone, your ancestors, departed loved ones, or for all the giveaway of life that sustains your existence. Apples, pomegranates, gourds, mulled or red wine, red foods, nuts, especially nutmeg, small mirrors and black stones are all appropriate. Light a candle to welcome the new year, or keep one lit outside to guide the unseen walkers, you might see beings and creatures that you don’t usually, it’s one of their big night’s to party. Shadow isn’t a part of life that we need to fear, it’s the silent, hidden truths, the dark side of the moon, the balance of light.
Our ancestors carved turnips to scare away evil spirits and today we like to dress up to scare each other! Skulls might remind us of our mortality, or you can see them as Happy Heads, a pet name for crystal skulls! Think about your harvest, the blessings in your life, how you continue the energy of your ancestors by being alive here and now, and take a moment to be thankful for all the ways your life is supported by other planetary life forms, magical and mundane.