Samhain Sunrise, Dorset, 2016. Credit: Pan Avalon.
Each year for the past five or so years my mum and I have gone on a UK holiday around the time of either the Autumn Equinox or Samhain (Halloween). This year we made a pilgrimage to the South-West coast of England for Samhain.
On Samhain morning we rose before the dawn, and walked down to the sea. From the stone pier leading out to the water we watched the sun rise in a spectacular glow of orange and pink. We were blessed indeed – the German photographer there before us said she’d been here every morning for several days and this was the first time she’d seen any colour at all.
Letting things go, welcoming things in
We each took two pieces of paper. On one we wrote a list of things we’d like to let go from the previous year. On the other we wrote a list of things we’d like to call or welcome into our lives for the coming year. Many pagans celebrate Samhain as the start of the new (Celtic) year, and we certainly incorporate this aspect of endings and new beginnings into our own practices.
We read our lists of things to let go aloud to the sea and the sun, before tearing them into tiny pieces and flinging them to the wind, which caught them and carried them to the sea. The lists of things to welcome into our lives we held up to be blessed by the rising sun, and folded up to keep close by us as we venture into the new year. We then blew a kiss to the lady sea, and the lord sun, and said in unison: ‘As we will it, so mote it be. Blessed Be.’ We bowed, and turned to walk homewards for breakfast.
Although simple, this writing of the two lists can be a very emotional activity to undertake each year. It certainly makes you realise what you have truly let go from the previous year and no longer need to include on your list – which can be incredibly empowering. This year, for instance, I no longer felt the need to include the name of an ex-lover whose memory used to cause me pain – I’ve let him go. Conversely, it can highlight issues that are residually troubling (such as any psychological or emotional issues), or need constant attention (such as health and fitness, for example). It’s a good way to take stock, and to create goals and direction for the following year. Sometimes we add a third list – things that we are grateful for from the previous year.
So Samhain is a great time of year to think about personal development and goals – but it’s also a time to think about those that have passed.
Remembering the ancestors
This year we set out a portion of our ploughman-type dinner as an ancestral feast – including things that we knew they liked best (pickled onions, pork pie, and Tunnocks Caramel for my Granddad!). We lit a candle by the feast, and announced that it was for the ancestors, and that they were welcome. We also, of course, carved a pumpkin and lit a candle in its features to keep away any nasty spirits roaming abroad…
I also ran a bath, lit a candle, and whilst submerged in the water (which I have always felt to be a powerful spiritual conduit), I undertook the act of really, truly remembering a loved one that passed far too soon – trying to summon up his smell, his mannerisms, the sound of his laugh. Although painful, it was also a beautiful and very productive thing to do, because in the face of uncertainty about what comes after death (let’s face it – none of us really knows what happens when we die) – this is one absolute way that the dead can live on – in us.
Samhain is a time of year to honour the dead – and especially the many ways in which they live on in us in a multitude of ways: our attitudes, habits, sayings, and even physical features. Perhaps the veil is actually more psychological than spiritual – in seeking out and acknowledging our memories in a deep and aware way, we can make the dead live again.
As I watched the Samhain sun setting over the sea, I welcomed the deeper introspection and germination in the darkness that comes with winter, and the approach of Yule.