Halloween used to mean taking a late nap, then heading out sometime after 11 to the biggest party we could find, dance all night and stumble home, costumes in shambles, hangover pending. Sometime in my 30s, while being inundated with ‘sexy’ costumes on every single female (who knew female cops wore garters and stilettos?), and put off by the high price of party tickets and insanity of downtown on Halloween night, the party lost its luster. Halloween became just another reason for people to get wasted.
I’ve always believed in ghosts, spirits, elementals and in the basic animistic nature of our world – everything is alive. Everything. But it wasn’t until I had my own child that I began to step up and practice molding my life around those beliefs. I take being a mom seriously. It’s my responsibility to raise my son with foresight, looking into what kind of future he will grow into and what kind of challenges his generation will face. With the environmental crisis looming, I believe the only thing that will save the humans is to rekindle our love-affair with Mama Earth and go back to the land.
Living with the wheel-of-the-year the way our ancestors did is a very direct way to renew this relationship. The wheel turns as the seasons rise and fade and as they do, there are many ways we can participate in the process.
Participation enables our hearts and minds to connect with the season and become aware of how it affects us. This reminds us of our place in the natural world.
When there were no convenient shops to supply bread and little money to buy food, the relationship with the Earth Mother was felt very closely. These days we seldom suffer such hunger, or concern for the coming of spring. The stresses of modern occupations cannot be compared with the fear of starvation, the desperation when the weather prevented the sowing of seeds or reaping of harvests, or when the winter woodpile was depleted or last peats burned, long before snows had melted from the cottage roofs. ~Marion Green from A Witch Alone
Many of the seasonal tasks performed out of necessity by our ancestors probably don’t apply to us, especially if we live in cities, however there are many tasks we can do to bring the spirit of the season into our every-day, even if it’s in a ceremonial or figurative way.
I never knew how much fun, rewarding, fulfilling and satisfying these activities could be until I had a little one to do it with. Not only am I honouring Mama-earth, but I am teaching the next generation how to do it – an honourable legacy. In the next generations the humans will need leaders who can pioneer their future. By planting the seeds of love and honouring and nurturing of the earth and all of her creatures early on, we can lend to the survival of our species. In the thralls of a crisis much, much greater than ourselves, where we can feel like just giving up because we are so helpless, this can be very empowering. I’m reminded of a shamanic journey I undertook in late summer, where we were directed to go to the centre of the earth and visit with the spirit of the Mama. When I asked her what could be done about the environmental crisis, she simply said, “Teach your children about me.”
Samhain, pronounced Sow-wen, or Halloween, is one of two liminal periods of time on the wheel. Just as Beltane marks the passing of spring into summer, so Samhain marks the passage of fall into the darkness of winter. Because winter is a time of stillness, hibernation and dying, the veil between the world of the living and of the dead becomes thin. The dead can more easily cross over and we can more easily communicate with them.
When I was a kid growing up in a small town in the mountains, Halloween was filled with spooky and superstition and giddy excitement. We usually painted our faces and all the moms made the kids costumes. Ghosts, goblins or tiny witches, we trudged out in the jack-o-lantern night to search out our booty and freak each other out with scary stories. It was one of my favourite times of year because of the company we kept – and because of the, well there was the candy! – but also the overall mystery and suspense of the occasion, where the ‘seen’ of ordinary reality meets the unseen.
Now that I have my own child and am laying the foundations for our family traditions, that sense of community and mystery come with me from my childhood. Even though we only have one young one, Fox is 6 now, in our neighbourhood we are surrounded by kids. Fox’s two little cousins, ‘the girls’ live upstairs from us and our families are very close. They come and go as they please and the three are growing up like siblings. The week of Samhain we decorate our front yard, carve jack-o-lanterns and choose costumes – we always dress up with the kids. We set up a table outside to hand out candy and apples and hot mulled wine for the parents because it’s cold out there! We play music (this year I sorted an awesome playlist of 1920-30s music) and take turns going out for rounds of trick or treating. Later, our neighbour up the street, who puts on the scariest private haunted house I’ve ever seen (seriously it gets scarier every year), sets off fire-works in the middle of the street for around half an hour. Huge crowds gather, including local police! His wife serves wine throughout. Afterwards we bundle home to get warm and eat dinner with friends.
Some traditional Samhain foods include wild game and venison, cakes and wine and apples. Wild game is the only red meat we eat in our house so I have become quite creative with it. I usually do a huge batch of stew in the crock pot to share for whomever is around after the fireworks. This year’s fair was bison stew, mulled wine, hot apple cider and traditional Scottish oat cakes, (baked with help from Foxy).
One of the most fun and engaging ways to connect with the turning of the wheel is building seasonal altars. This is a great tool for teaching kids about seasonal correspondences, symbols, your cosmology, beliefs and the natural world. When we set up the altar, Fox generally asks about the gods or the ancestors which leads to good discussions and teachable moments. Valuable lessons can be passed on to kids at Samhain, about death and dying, the passage of seasons, the life cycle. See this year’s altar here.
And of course, perhaps the most important aspect of Samhain is honouring the ancestors. We set a place for them at the table and share all of our food and drink with them at the altar. During this time of year I often speak to them, toast to them, even hear from them a bit here and there (like when my Nana plain-as-day asked for a bit ‘o whiskey in her cup this year).
My goals for next year’s Samhain celebration are to experiment with making mead and to visit a local graveyard with the kids. I love the idea of spending time reading out names, cleaning up garbage and leaving flowers and treats at the gravestones. After all, they want to be remembered.
Kids Prayer for Samhain
Samhain is here, cold is the earth,
as we celebrate the cycle of death and rebirth.
Tonight we speak to those through the veil,
the lines between worlds are thin and frail.
Ghosts and spirits in the night,
magical beings rising in flight,
owls hooting up in a moonlit tree,
I don’t fear you and you don’t fear me.
As the sun goes down, far to the west,
my ancestors watch over me as I rest.
They keep me safe and without fear,
on the night of Samhain, the Witches’ New Year.
Happy Samhain season to you and your babies! I wish you all the best of the season. May your ancestors bless you. May your hearth be warm, your plates be full and your children sleeping soundly in their beds.
Some interesting articles and sources: