Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Samhain to you

Today is the eve of the most solemn feast of the Celtic year: Samhain (pronounced 'sowen').

Samhain is the first day of November and the start of a new cycle, where growth will occur during the time of darkness, as the time of agriculture comes to a close.

Typically, in Ireland, Scotland and Wales there would be a three-day period of night-time rituals to mark the occasion, and tonight (what is now Halloween) would be the final night.

One of the rituals would involve the lighting of a bonfire, and all households extinguishing all sources of light (candles, torches, hearths). Objects representing wishes of different people, or of ailments they suffered from, were thrown into the bonfire. After that, members of each family would come forward and light their torch at the bonfire, and carry the flame back to the household to rekindle all lights.

Another ritual included hospitality for the dead. Food would be set aside for the three nights for the deceased and was not to be eaten by anyone else. Samhain was believed to be the one time of the year when the demarcation between the dead and the living was removed, and the two could commune together.

It's interesting to see how, in Christian times, the days of All Saints (Nov 1) and Halloween (Oct 31) evolved. In Italy tomorrow, families will go to cemetaries with plants of chrysanthymums as offerings, and in Mexico, el Día de los Muertos (the day of the dead) people will dance and toast and eat little sugar skulls bearing the names of deceased loved ones.

No bonfire possible in this po-mo, urban setting, so instead many candles have been lit and one long, luxurious, cleansing bubblebath has been taken.

Right foot forward into the darkness.


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