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Lesson #39

Samhain: The Great Sabbat

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Samhain: Summer's End

As the old year dies again
The new begins at dark Samhain

Rede of the Wiccae (adapted version)

Samhain: Summer's End!1

1   Note: this is a very long lesson, since Samhain is our major Wiccan holy day. So it's going to be broken up into 2 parts, the second of which will come out next week.

The storm winds rush through the fields and hiss through the dead grasses, howl at the edges of the house and rattle at the windows, and stir the bare black boughs to scratch and twist against the dark sky.

The trees seem ragged, few tattered leaves clinging to branches like dead sticks, clattering dryly in sharp, chill winds: Death's maracas.

The glow of the Moon peaks and hides behind the eerily stark limbs, sailing the lengthening night, huge and bright, clear queen of the skies: it is Her time now.

She's suitably attended by brilliant courtiers of stars, flashing and winking on the dark velvet of infinite outer space — often visible, now that the Sun's brilliance can't hide them for long.

The birds have all flown to their Winter homes; only the toughest remain: crows, ravens, Stellar jays... birds that feed on Winter-killed flesh.

The gardens and orchards now lie empty and put to bed: clear and blank as a slate, awaiting next year's changes.

The last of the harvest has been brought in, shared, preserved, and stored in the cool rooms — anything remaining after this day belongs to dark Hecate and Her wild creatures.

The joyful colours of life are reduced to basics: greys, browns, blacks — only the gourds retain brightness to cheer the eye a while longer.

While the days may hold a faint breath of warmth, the mornings and evenings are frosty and crisp. The Earth begins to freeze. And life huddles deep and still within Her bosom... hunkered down, awaiting rebirth.

Fogs roll thick and eerie; mists veil the ground like drifting spirits — transforming the ordinary and the known into Mystery, evoking otherworldly sensations and deep, primal tensions.

It's a strange between-the-worlds state — the liminal zone between wake and sleep, life and death; the long, poised, indrawn breath just before the year's final sigh.

This is descent into Mystery, the unknown, the inner realms.

This is the season of the Sacred Dark2
— the Star Goddess —
in the purest form we can know Her.

The Great Sabbat

Samhain,3 the Great Sabbat, is a major turning point of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year.

2   The Sacred Dark was introduced in Lesson #34, Autumn Equinox / Harvest Home / Mabon.

3   Pronounced SOW-in — rhyming "sow" with "how" — though you'll likely also hear people say SOW-ain, or SOW-een.

Known in popular culture as "Hallowe'en" and in Christian culture as "All Hallow's Eve."

4   For those in the Southern Hemisphere, that's May 1.

5   Summer ending on November 1 seems confusing to us, but it makes sense when you realise the Celts imagined the year as divided up into not four but only two seasons: Summer and Winter.

So the start of Winter marked the end of Summer.

FYI: The word (or a derivative) still means "November" in Irish and Scots Gaelic.

Technically, this cross-quarter Sabbat is occurs when the Sun is at 15 degrees Scorpio... but modern Wiccans simplify things and begin the celebration as of sunset on October 31.4 Wicca-School Winking Witch ©

"Samhain" comes from the Old Irish word Samuin, which meant "Summer's End," according to generally accepted etymology.5

The Moon is fully in ascendency; the Sun's Power ebbing to its lowest point.

The outward movement of the year's Energy cycle has clearly come to a close, and the inward journey (or contraction) into the Power of the Sacred Dark is well underway.

This Sabbat is associated with the West (the dying away), and therefore with Water... particularly the very deep, dark waters associated with the Ocean.

As the "final harvest," and as we go into the lean, cold months of Winter, it seems natural that this season has been associated with death for millennia.

That's Samhain: the dark of the year which eats the remains of Summer's life.

All things belong to the Dark Goddess at this time, returning to the Earth to be transformed into new incarnations. Any fruit still on the branches on this date belong to Her, and are left for the wildlife to consume.

Samhain is very much a key to the Mystery of the Wheel: the gates of life, death and rebirth (one of the fundamental principles of Wicca), and especially the most psychologically and spiritually challenging gate on the Wheel: Death.

As a Wiccan, you understand that "Where there's fear, there is Power." 6 And that's a big part of why this Sabbat is so revered by Wiccans.

6   As the popular chant goes.

7   At least, philosophically. It can be another thing altogether to accept and embrace it in a personal context. Wicca-School Winking Witch ©

Wiccans don't hide from the fact of death. We embrace it7 as a healthy, life-giving part of the Cycle.

We face our own mortality, and the mortality of all Earthly things, knowing that death is only a doorway, not an ending.

It has also been a time when it's perceived that the "veil between the worlds" is then and easily crossed — the dead coming back for a visit; easy communication between the living and the dead, between mortal and Divine.

When we can walk willingly into a dance with Death and the Divine, we are uplifted and empowered by the season that others may fear and shun: Samhain.

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Continue with Samhain: The Great Sabbat , part 2:

Season of the Witch

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