Witches Of The Craft
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Fall, my favorite time of the year. It is so beautiful and breathtaking as we watch Mother Earth change colors and prepare for Winter. You can sit on your front porch and look at all the colors of Fall. Orange, yellow, brown, Fall holds all these colors in its grasp. It is a gift that is freely given to us for all to enjoy. Pick out a tree, watch the leaves gradually start to change colors. Watch a leaf gently float to the ground. Then pick up the rack and gather up all those gently falling leaves, lol!
Not only is Fall a beautiful time of the year. It is leading up to a very special celebration for all of us who call ourselves Witches, it is Samhain. Samhain is also known as the “Witches New Year.” It is a very mysterious and magickal time for us. The Veil between worlds start to thin. We think of loved ones who have passed, we are drawn back to our roots.
I guess I am the curious type, my mind is always wondering and questioning. I was thinking about Samhain the other day. I got to wondering how our ancient ancestors celebrated this Sabbat. I know what we are told today about their celebration of Samhain, but is that all there is too it. What traditions or practices did they do on the days leading up to this special day? Did they have practices that we know nothing whatsoever about? I believe the answer to both of these questions are yes.
To find the truth about Samhain, we are going to have to do a little time traveling. Back to the time of our ancient ancestors to find out the true history, traditions, practices and beliefs that are associated with Samahin. Our stop will be back in the ancient Celtic Tradition, ready to go….
A Little Celtic Background You Need to Know….
The Celtic year was not at first regulated by the solstices and equinoxes, but by some method connected with agriculture or with the seasons. Later, the year was a lunar one, and there is some evidence of attempts at synchronizing solar and lunar time. But time was mainly measured by the moon, while in all calculations night preceded day. Thus oidhche Samhain was the night preceding Samhain (November 1st), not the following night. The usage survives in our “sennight” and “fortnight.” In early times the year had two, possibly three divisions, marking periods in pastoral or agricultural life, but it was afterwards divided into four periods, while the year began with the winter division, opening at Samhain. A twofold, subdivided into a fourfold division is found in Irish texts, and maybe tabulated as follows:—
A. Geimredh (winter half) 1st quarter, Geimredh, beginning with the festival of Samhain, November 1st.
2nd quarter, Earrach, beginning February 1st (sometimes called Oimelc).
B. Samradh (summer half) 3rd quarter, Samradh, beginning with the festival of Beltane, May 1st (called also Cét-soman or Cét-samain, 1st day of Samono-s; cf. Welsh Cyntefyn).
4th quarter, Foghamar, beginning with the festival of Lugnasadh, August 1st (sometimes called Brontroghain).
These divisions began with festivals, and clear traces of three of them occur over the whole Celtic area, but the fourth has now been merged in S. Brigit’s day. Beltane and Samhain marked the beginning of the two great divisions, and were perhaps at first movable festivals, according as the signs of summer or winter appeared earlier or later. With the adoption of the Roman calendar some of the festivals were displaced, e.g. in Gaul, where the Calends of January took the place of Samhain, the ritual being also transferred. Some of the ritual was transferred to saints’ days within the range of the pagan festival days, thus the Samhain ritual is found observed on S. Martin’s day. In other cases, holy days took the place of the old festivals—All Saints’ and All Souls’ that of Samhain. It is believed that the Sabbat days were changed as some attempt to hallow, if not to oust, our older rituals
Moving on to Samhain Itself….
Samhain, beginning the Celtic year, was an important social and religious occasion. The powers of blight were beginning their ascendancy, yet the future triumph of the powers of growth was not forgotten. Probably Samhain had gathered up into itself other feasts occurring earlier or later. Thus it bears traces of being a harvest festival, the ritual of the earlier harvest feast being transferred to the winter feast, as the Celts found themselves in lands where harvest is not gathered before late autumn. The harvest rites may, however, have been associated with threshing rather than in gathering. Samhain also contains in its ritual some of the old pastoral cults, while as a New Year feast its ritual is in great part that of all festivals of beginnings.
Practices & Beliefs About Samhain from the ancient Celts point of View….
New fire was brought into each house at Samhain from the sacred bonfire, itself probably kindled from the need-fire by the friction of pieces of wood. This preserved its purity, the purity necessary to a festival of beginnings. The putting away of the old fires was probably connected with various rites for the expulsion of evils, which usually occur among many peoples at the New Year festival. By that process of dislocation which scattered the Samhain ritual over a wider period and gave some of it to Christmas, the kindling of the Yule log may have been originally connected with this festival.
Divination and forecasting the fate of the inquirer for the coming year also took place. Sometimes these were connected with the bonfire, stones placed in it showing by their appearance the fortune or misfortune awaiting their owners. Others, like those described by Burns in his “Hallowe’en,” were unconnected with the bonfire and were of an erotic nature.
The slaughter of animals for winter consumption which took place at Samhain, or, as now, at Martinmas, though connected with economic reasons, had a distinctly religious aspect, as it had among the Teutons. In recent times in Ireland one of the animals was offered to S. Martin, who may have taken the place of a god, and ill-luck followed the non-observance of the custom. The slaughter was followed by general feasting. This later slaughter may be traced back to the pastoral stage, in which the animals were regarded as divine, and one was slain annually and eaten sacramentally. Or, if the slaughter was more general, the animals would be propitiated. But when the animals ceased to be worshiped, the slaughter would certainly be more general, though still preserving traces of its original character. The pastoral sacrament may also have been connected with the slaying and eating of an animal representing the corn-spirit at harvest time. In one legend S. Martin is associated with the animal slain at Martinmas, and is said to have been cut up and eaten in the form of an ox, as if a former divine animal had become an anthropomorphic divinity, the latter being merged in the personality of a Christian saint.
Other Rites Related to Samhain
Other rites, connected with the Calends of January as a result of dislocation, point also in this direction. In Gaul and Germany riotous processions took place with men dressed in the heads and skins of animals. This rite is said by Tille to have been introduced from Italy, but it is more likely to have been a native custom. As the people ate the flesh of the slain animals sacramentally, so they clothed themselves in the skins to promote further contact with their divinity. Perambulating the township sunwise dressed in the skin of a cow took place until recently in the Hebrides at New Year, in order to keep off misfortune, a piece of the hide being burned and the smoke inhaled by each person and animal in the township. Similar customs have been found in other Celtic districts, and these animal disguises can hardly be separated from the sacramental slaughter at Samhain.
Our Ancient Ancestors Casted Out Evil on Samhain
Evils having been or being about to be cast off in the New Year ritual, a few more added to the number can make little difference. Hence among primitive peoples New Year is often characterised by orgiastic rites. These took place at the Calends in Gaul, and were denounced by councils and preachers. In Ireland the merriment at Samhain is often mentioned in the texts, and similar orgiastic rites lurk behind the Hallowe’en customs in Scotland and in the licence still permitted to youths in the quietest townships of the West Highlands at Samhain eve.
Samhain, as has been seen, was also a festival of the dead, whose ghosts were fed at this time.
As the powers of growth were in danger and in eclipse in winter, men thought it necessary to assist them. As a magical aid the Samhain bonfire was chief, and it is still lit in the Highlands. Brands were carried round, and from it the new fire was lit in each house. In North Wales people jumped through the fire, and when it was extinct, rushed away to escape the “black sow” who would take the hindmost. The bonfire represented the sun, and was intended to strengthen it. But representing the sun, it had all the sun’s force, hence those who jumped through it were strengthened and purified. The Welsh reference to the hindmost and to the black sow may point to a former human sacrifice, perhaps of any one who stumbled in jumping through the fire. Keating speaks of a Druidic sacrifice in the bonfire, whether of man or beast is not specified. Probably the victim, like the scapegoat, was laden with the
accumulated evils of the year, as in similar New Year customs elsewhere. Later belief regarded the sacrifice, if sacrifice there was, as offered to the powers of evil—the black sow, unless this animal is a reminiscence of the corn-spirit in its harmful aspect. Earlier powers, whether of growth or of blight, came to be associated with Samhain as demoniac beings—the “malignant bird flocks” which blighted crops and killed animals, the samhanach which steals children, and Mongfind the banshee, to whom “women and the rabble” make petitions on Samhain eve. Witches, evil-intentioned fairies, and the dead were particularly active then.
The Celts Did Sacrificing of Animals & Humans?
Though the sacrificial victim had come to be regarded as an offering to the powers of blight, he may once have represented a divinity of growth or, in earlier times, the corn-spirit. Such a victim was slain at harvest, and harvest is often late in northern Celtic regions, while the slaying was sometimes connected not with the harvest field, but with the later threshing. This would bring it near the Samhain festival. The slaying of the corn-spirit was derived from the earlier slaying of a tree or vegetation-spirit embodied in a tree and also in a human or animal victim. The corn-spirit was embodied in the last sheaf cut as well as in an animal or human being. This human victim may have been regarded as a king, since in late popular custom a mock king is chosen at winter festivals. In other cases the effigy of a saint is hung up and carried round the different houses, part of the dress being left at each. The saint has probably succeeded to the traditional ritual of the divine victim. The primitive period in which the corn-spirit was regarded as female, with a woman as her human representative, is also recalled in folk-custom. The last sheaf is called the Maiden or the Mother, while, as in Northamptonshire, girls choose a queen on S. Catharine’s day, November 26th, and in some Christmas pageants “Yule’s wife,” as well as Yule, is present, corresponding to the May queen of the summer festival. Men also masqueraded as women at the Calends. The dates of these survivals may be explained by that dislocation of the Samhain festival already pointed out. This view of the Samhain human sacrifices is supported by the Irish offerings to the Fomorians—gods of growth, later regarded as gods of blight, and to Cromm Cruaich, in both cases at Samhain. With the evolution of religious thought, the slain victim came to be regarded as an offering to evil powers.
Folk-Tales, Faires, Oh, My!
This aspect of Samhain, as a festival to promote and assist festivity, is further seen in the belief in the increased activity of fairies at that time. In Ireland, fairies are connected with the Tuatha Dé Danann, the divinities of growth, and in many folk-tales they are associated with agricultural processes. The use of evergreens at Christmas is perhaps also connected with the carrying of them round the fields in older times, as an evidence that the life of nature was not extinct.
Samhain may thus be regarded as, in origin, an old pastoral and agricultural festival, which in time came to be looked upon as affording assistance to the powers of growth in their conflict with the powers of blight. Perhaps some myth describing this combat may lurk behind the story of the battle of Mag-tured fought on Samhain between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomorians. While the powers of blight are triumphant in winter, the Tuatha Déa are represented as the victors, though they suffer loss and death. Perhaps this enshrines the belief in the continual triumph of life and growth over blight and decay, or it may arise from the fact that Samhain was both a time of rejoicing for the in gathered harvest, and of wailing for the coming supremacy of winter and the reign of the powers of blight.
Time To Journey Back To Our Own Century….
Wow, did you enjoy our little journey? Most of all did you learn anything? I know I learned somethings I didn’t know even about my own Tradition. I would say it is sad that I don’t know some of this information but I won’t. Most of the information that I uncovered here is not spoken or taught anymore. Why? It is part of our history or the other Celts like myself. It is a part of who we are, what makes us, us. There is no denying our past, I have always known the Celtic tradition was very beautiful as well as magickal and mystical. I know most of the time when I hear individuals talk about any history, they portray the ancients as being ignorant and not knowing. That is the farthest thing from the truth. Our ancestors were very smart people. They recognized the seasons. They knew when to plant and when to harvest all by watching the stars and the Sun. They knew when the days would grow shorter and then longer. They created small villages and built their own homes from what Mother Earth provided. They don’t sound ignorant to me but very intelligent individuals. Most of all the ancient ones recognized a higher power than themselves. They knew at each turning of the seasons, it was right to give thanks not only for a bountiful harvest but making it through another turning of the Wheel.
As we approach Samhain, let us remember how our ancestors celebrated, what their beliefs and practices were at this time of the year. Our celebration of Samhain does not even come close to the way it use to be celebrated. Lots of the traditions have been lost down through the centuries. Perhaps now that we know some of our ancient ancestors celebations we can incorporate them into our Samhain celebrations. Reviving these celebration of who we are and what we believe is very important. This is our history, most of it lost, but now found. We must past it on to the next generation and the next so our Religion will thrive and prosper. Not only that but also were our children and their children will know we are a very old people with a very rich history.
Sources:The Religion of the Ancient Celts J. A. MacCulloch Lady Of The Abyss Witches Of The Craft
All the information that has been provided on this page is accurate. Witchcraft is a very serious Religion. What we know and what some do has not occurred overnight. We have had to study and commitment our lives to Witchcraft. This is what Witches and Witchcraft are really like. If nothing else, remember, the snapping of fingers or a nod of a head isn’t going to make Magick happen. Witchcraft is work but the rewards are bountiful.