Sunday, 10 May 2015

My first Samhain.

Samhain altar, which includes photos of grandparents and great-grandparents.

At the end of April I celebrated my first Samhain {pronounced SOW-en}.

Samhain marks the start of winter and is one of four major pre-Christian Celtic festivals {the others are Imbolc - start of spring; Beltane - start of summer; and Lughnasadh / Lunastal - the start of autumn}. Of course, Samhain is supposed to be celebrated at the end of October, as it still is in the northern hemisphere, but there seems little point in celebrating the start of winter in October in New Zealand! So southern hemisphere Pagans switch the Celtic seasonal festivals around by six months.

Our modern festival of Hallowe'en originated with Samhain. One of the beliefs about Samhain was that it is a night when the veil between the living world and the Otherworld was open and if you weren't careful you might be harassed by all sorts of ghouls and ghosts and bad spirits. Fires were lit to drive them away.

Another less sinister custom of Samhain was that it is the night when our ancestors draw close to us. Pagans will often decorate their altars with photos of the beloved who have died. A group of local Pagans I know go to the local cemetery at Samhain to clean gravestones.

Many Pagans have great reverence for their ancestors; so Samhain - while it was originally an agricultural festival - has become a sort of "day of the dead". In New Zealand and Australia Samhain falls very close to Anzac Day, which is really appropriate because Anzac Day is a holiday to remember those who have died in wars.

I marked Samhain by placing photos of both my immediate ancestors and John's immediate ancestors on our home altar. I made a nice meal, lit some candles and set an extra place at our table for the ancestors. After dinner we drank mulled wine and ate Anzac biscuits {a delicious cookie which many Australians and New Zealanders bake at this time of the year}, and I said some prayers.

It was a very simple celebration, but it was meaningful and it felt good.

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