This is my daughter’s favourite holiday. She loves dressing up and has been known to wear different costumes to different events on the same day. I lack her gifts at making costumes.
Indeed, my celebration of Samhuinn is not so party-centric as most peoples’ but I enjoy it in my own way just as much. It is a pity that children nowadays do not have the same trick or treating opportunities that I had as a young child. Some ladies would make trays of toffee apples to give out and that was the best and most sought-after treat going. Other ladies made us popcorn balls, rice-crispy cakes and cookies. We collected pillowcases full of candy swag.
That did not generate enough commerce so the press started publishing stories of poisoned candies being handed out. The truth was, some children were poisoned at Halloween but it was always deliberate poisoning by their relatives. There is a lovely saying in the Balkans that the neighbours may throw stones at you but only your own family kills you.
Stories were circulated of toffee apples with razor blades inserted in them so that treat went away forever. People began to buy commercially-produced candy which was far more expensive and not nearly as nice. Trick or treating seems to have gone the way of the dodo here on Denman and I think that is a shame. I hope people with children will consider making some of the old Halloween favourites for their children and young friends.
For Druids, and most other religious people, Samhuinn is a serious time to pray to the ancestors as the veil between the worlds is thin at this time. In fact, time stops completely for a few days and the spirits can visit the Earth to see friends and family. Some people like to leave out the favourite food for the spirits they hope to attract and a comb, bowl of water and mirror so the spirits can freshen up after their long journey back to Earth. It is helpful to make a small altar with candles and photos of the beloved lost ones you hope to attract to your house. Seeing their photo reminds them of happy times and lets them know they have found receptive family members.
Death is seen by Druids as a transformation, rather than an ending. Evergreen branches, particularly cedar, the tree of life, are the chief symbol of this festival. To be born in the afterlife, you have to die here. To come to the Earth, you have to die in the afterlife. Nothing lasts forever, not even death.
The land dies every year at this time, only to be reborn in the glorious exuberance of spring greens and spring flowers. The fields go brown as the grass bleaches out and all nature slows down with only the hardiest animals and birds left but we all know that spring will return, carried under the wings of the returning birds. Life is just the same. We die and go away for a while and then we return.
With that in mind, we may all want to consider how we can leave the Living Earth better for our stay here as we will be coming back to a world that is more despoiled and polluted every year. People think they don’t have to worry about what the world will be like in three hundred years but I think that is exactly what they should be worried about.
So, this year, I hope some of you will consider praying and meditating out of doors, after you have made your young friends a tray of toffee apples of course. Speak aloud to your ancestors and departed friends and ask them for their counsel, their favour and their benevolence. This year has turned quite tricky due to world politics taking a violent turn and I feel we need all the help we can get.
Build a little bonfire and tell stories about departed family members and friends. This is also a great time to tell ghost stories but they should only be about real ghosts and supernatural experiences that have happened to the teller. Ghosts are not scary, at least not the ones I have met. They are still the same people they were when we knew and loved them on the Earth. Take some time to honour them. They need our help as we need theirs.
The veil between the worlds becomes thin, and the ancestors come close to us. Their voices whisper in the autumn winds. As we stand among the falling leaves and the grey and golden light, let us remember the past and its lessons, and gather a harvest of wisdom to bear us through the winter to the new spring to come.