Samhain: Rituals, Recipes and Lore for Halloween

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Title: Samhain: Rituals, Recipes and Lore for Halloween

Writer: Diana Rajchel 

Publishing House: Llewellyn Publications

Date of Publication: September 1st 2015

Rating: 5 stars

‘’At Samhain, the circle of the year has come to its final spoke in the Wheel. At this time, the harvest has finished, the dying god interred, and the goddess has descended to the underworld to be with her beloved. Above, her people prepare for the veil between the worlds to thin; dead ancestors will be visiting, and with the harvest tools put away, there’s a new year to think about, resources to manage, goodbyes to say, and plans to make. Meanwhile, the now barren land gives way to the rulership of the Crone.’’

As soon as August ends, we obsessed lovers of all that is mysterious and haunting, and spooky and spiritual, start preparing for Samhain. The end of October signifies the true turning point of the year as the curtain is about to fall before it rises again to reveal a new ‘’set’’ of 365 days that no one knows its course. We are at the heart of autumn, and it is during its most beautiful and lyrical days that the chasm – or is it truly a chasm? – between the mortal world and the land of the spirits closes. October brings a unique atmosphere into our homes and our hearts. Brown, red, orange, black. Before everything turns to white and grey. Before we start anew.

‘’October is a sad and beautiful time. Autumn leaves cover the ground like bright bleeding, leaving the trees bare. The grass fades from green to brown and in the mornings carries the white hoar of frost. The temperatures grow colder, forcing more and more time indoors, and with what we have gathered, we have just a bit more time to remember the loved ones we no longer have.’’

Samhain combines the extremes. Our mischievous and solemn nature, our fervent wish to live and the fascination with Death and the world beyond. In the lovely book, we learn about the bonfires lit by young boys in Wales and the Scottish Highlands that were called ‘’samghnagans’’ to scare the fairies and to protect their properties from potential witchcraft. We are reminded of the sad story of Old Jack whose evil nature was frowned upon even by the dark lord of Hell. So he had nothing to lighten his way to Purgatory but a turnip lamp. And thus, the jack – o’ – lanterns were born. In Ireland, the women of the house would make candles for their neighbours to pray over in a moving display of what it means to be part of a community. The candles also formed a path for the ancestors to find their way back to our world. Doors were left unlocked, cakes were set out to welcome the loved ones from the Other Side.

We meet the Lady Gwyn who seems to be either a gentle lost soul or a dangerous spirit that chases travellers in the middle of the night and the Dullahan, the headless horseman. The Faery Host and the less fortunate ones who would go ‘’mumming’’ in the custom that gave birth to the modern ‘’Trick or Treat’’. In Somerset, children would ask for money to pay for fireworks used on Mischief Night, representing the souls of dead children. In France, they were given flowers to decorate the graves of their family members. Make some harmless jokes on Cabbage Night, stand in front of a mirror to witness your future spouse. Participate in apple bobbing, form the letter of your true love with an apple peel, decipher the secrets of the hearth the morning after Halloween. Read the legends of Persephone and Hades, Morrighan and Dagda, learn about All Souls’ Day, Dia De Los Muertos, Autumn Dziady, Hop – tu- Naa and the fast-approaching Guy Fawkes Night. And you have to admit that dumb suppers are creepy…

What surprised me most in this book was the invocations to the archangels of the Judeo- Christian religions during a relatively Pagan ritual. Isn’t interesting and telling when religions come together in peace, even for the wildest of reasons? 

I’ll leave the last word to Hecate because she simply rules!

‘’Praise to you, queen of all witcheries,

for this glorious night of magick!

Be gentle to us mortal beings – 

let us see how we might sharpen our 

wits,

strengthen our magick,

illuminate our souls.

Long have we been fain to learn all

sorcery,

so graciously have you taught us!

We pour libations, raise this toast

to the Keeper of the Keys of Olympus

to the Queen of All Sorcery,

to the lady who knows the secrets of the

gods!’’