For the Celts, Druids and other pagan paths this harvest festival marks the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter. For the Fae, it is the time of year that they leave hills and proceed underground for the season. It is also when the Unseelie Court (chaos, mischief, passion) comes to into power.
Samhain is all associated with All Souls Day (All Hallows Eve aka Hallowe'en) and the Day of the Dead. Both are commemorations and times to remember those who are departed but not gone.
One thing all of these beliefs have in common, is that the veil between worlds is thinner at this time of year, and especially on Samhain night. Encounters with ghosts, faeries, undead, and things that go bump in the night all increase in probability.
As I do not believe in hiding away the "secrets of magic", I would like to share my experience with this year's Samhain Ritual, as I found the whole evening quite beautiful and heart-warming.
We began as most rituals do, by opening the circle. Envisioning the light of our hearts glowing toward the center of the room and then enveloping the group in a warm bubble. As the meditation began, that ball of light transformed into a golden-orange harvest moon that hung low over a corn field. There was a crowd of beings gathered in a clearing with a bonfire blazing brightly. Their clothes were strange and eclectic, pointy and flowing, colorful even in the dark, fashioned with bark buttons and leaf lapels.
As I wandered into the reveling crowd, a Chestnut Boy came up to me and offered to share his food. He was tall an slender with a winning smile, dressed in burlap-browns and squash-golds. I was flattered by the offer and so he pressed some food to my lips and I ate. All around us music filled the chilly night air, but in this clearing it wasn't cold. There were tables of cornucopias filled with fruits and breads, wooden mugs of cider and pints of ale.
The Chestnut Boy reveled onward and soon I was approached out of the darkness by a creature that so tall and stick-like, I knew it to be some manner of Fae. It moved like a praying mantis and knelt down to whisper in my ear. It seemed as though perhaps long ago, he had been my brother, and he told me pleasant things, imparting feelings of eternal connection before he had to leave.
Soon I receded from this Host, as we were each passed our sheer, black shrouds. We donned them over our faces and accepted cups of fruit, cheese, nuts and crackers. It was time for our Dumb Supper, where we would eat in silence, in honor of our ancestors and those that have departed.
A hush fell, and I carefully began to eat the offerings in my cup. Each bit I savored with purpose, knowing that those who had passed would taste what I was tasting. My mouth watered around the salty cashews and buttery crackers, I mixed them in tiny bites with juicy grapes and mellow cheese being sure to think about every last sensation.
My mind was filled with the image of a stone Hall. There was no light and all was covered in dust. The food on the banquet table was molded and ashy, hardened and tasteless. The candelabras were tarnished and the tapestries faded and colorless.
As my eyes fell upon the candles in the room, gazing through my own shroud, the very flames seemed to have divided into fours, sixes, eights and so on as the room filled with ghostly reflections. A convocation of black-shrouded beings gathered in their finest. They ate the food, yet it tasted to them full of flavor - even as we ate our offerings on this side.
They drank their wine and cider from goblets, enjoying the tang of fermentation, as we drank our bubbly apple-juice over here. Eventually our feast was done and the mouths of the dead were filled with deliciousness that would tide them until next time.
We removed our shrouds from our heads then, focused on our heart's wish for the upcoming season and tied them in a knot. Everyone took a small keepsake skull from the bowl as a reminder of the wonderful evening and then we feasted for real!
Blessed Samhain and Winter Season!