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Samhain Introduction and Suggestions



Here’s my introduction to the feast of Samhain for those of you who aren’t already familiar with the Celtic Wheel of the Year, and some suggestions for marking it at home. I’ve got lots of upcoming workshops, including the Samhain Seasonal Yoga, Meditation and Sound bath workshop and Samhain Soundbath on 6th November. I’m delighted to be offering a half-day retreat in the beautiful cabin at the Barracks Lane Community Garden, and a day retreat at Wytham Village Hall in the new year along with my friends Alice and Kayleigh - artists and musicians from ‘The Butterfly Wheel’. If you’d like to book onto the day retreat at special rate of £70 please get in touch with me before 16th November.


Samhain, pronounced ‘sah-wein’, is the final festival in the Celtic Wheel of the Year. It marks the transition from Autumn to Winter, and is a time of remembrance and honouring our ancestors. It is said to be the time when the veil between the spiritual realm and the material world is at its thinnest; a time when we can tap into ancestral wisdom and thank those departed for what they shared with us. Much of the Halloween imagery we are now familiar with has its origins in the Pagan festival of Samhain, but has been distorted to give it a negative twist: departed ancestors and the dead who were turned to for guidance and offered thanks at this time have become scary skeletons and spooky ghosts; Crones (female elders past their child-raising years, who served as carriers of wisdom), whose energy is associated with this time when nature has already borne its fruits and is fading, have become evil witches. What was a time for reflection, mirroring the rest period of plants when the flowers and greenery have died back and seeds are germinating in the ground, has become a commercialised time of consumption, with large quantities of sugary sweets in plastic packaging, disposable decorations and synthetic costumes.


I would love to invite you all to try and bring back some of the original spirit of Samhain into your Halloween festivities. Here are some suggestions for marking Samhain; I’d love to hear any further ideas, or see what you get up to. Perhaps you could gather with family and friends for a seasonal meal and weave together a blend of these suggestions and your own ideas.


Lantern Making

This time of year, as the winter sets in, is full of festivals of light - from Divali to bonfire night and more. You could make Halloween lanterns from pumpkins or squashes, or even turnips, to decorate your home and garden. Alternatively, I like using PVA glue brushed over colourful tissue paper to decorate the outside of jam-jars. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could use willow branches and tissue to sculpt lanterns.

For those of you who are Oxford-based, you might like to join The Children’s Allotment’s annual lantern walk event (or organise your own), or get involved with the city-wide festival of light.


Gingerbread Husbands

One of my favourite English traditions is making gingerbread husbands - these would be eaten by the young unmarried women of the village to ensure that they found a husband in the following year. Whilst this concept itself might be outdated, I like to think of it as inviting in the support and community connections we need rather than simply finding a husband - a delicious way of reflecting on the roles we play within our communities and considering how to ask for help where/when we need it. I usually make a very dark gingerbread with treacle, however you can use all golden syrup for this recipe, or I’ve also included a sweeter and simpler version that my sister uses. Both recipes are up on my website.


Storytelling

As the sun sets earlier and earlier, we can embrace the tradition of telling stories to pass through the long nights. A collection of folklore that my children and I have enjoyed a lot recently is ‘Through the Water Curtain and Other Tales from Around the World’ (Cornelia Funke), which also offers reflection points for each tale. For the winter, and in particular as we approach the Solstice, I recommend ‘The Return of the Light’ (Carolyn Edwards).


Apple bobbing & Halloween games

Floating apples in a bowl of water and challenging participants in the game to pick one out using only their teeth is a fun game for all ages at Halloween/Samhain. Another (slightly messier) game is to hide a sweet treat in a plate of flour, which must be extracted using only your mouth. You can get really creative with what children must to access their treat: fishing it out of cold spaghetti ‘worms’ or wobbly jelly ‘brains’ from inside a carved pumpkin head…Focusing on fun challenges is a nice way to uphold the festive spirit but ease away from the excessive sweets and plastic packaging which dominate our current ways of marking Halloween.

Crown making

Weaving a crown or wreath from the dried and dying vegetation from the hedgerows/ towpath/ your garden is a nice way of connecting to nature’s cycles at this time of year. These could later be burned on a bonfire or placed into a woodturner if you have one, as a way of symbolically letting go of the efforts of your last year and making space for the seeds of new ideas and projects you’d like to germinate over the winter.

Honouring our Ancestors

You could create an altar in your home using photos or items passed to you by your own ancestors, adding candles and pausing each time you pass to reflect upon the lessons you learned from them and ways in which they touched your life, be it close relatives or distant generations. You might like to write some of these down to place on the altar, or gather with family and friends to share these reflections.


Seeking guidance from our ancestors / tapping into our inner wisdom

This time of year has long been associated with divination and using tarot or oracle cards to seek guidance - be this from ancestors of from our own innate wisdom. Using such prompts can be a really valuable way to embrace our innate story telling capacity as a way of ‘sense-making’ and rationalising the twists and turns of our life and the way we have responded / are responding to them. If this is new to you, there is a free introduction to the Womanrunes deck is available online, including a printable set of cards with simple designs…or you could make up your own!


Reflection: what does it mean to you to be a good ancestor?

How does asking this question guide our day-to-day actions and decisions? Asking how our choices now will impact future generations - for better and for worse - can be a really powerful way of navigating the present. You could journal your response, discuss this question with those close to you, or simply sit a while with your thoughts.



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