Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Blessed Samhain

I know a lot more about Samhain now than I did back in 1978.  The Wiccan/Neo-Pagan holiday, that is, not the ancient Celtic one, though I suspect they have much in common.  

On the surface, Halloween and Samhain have much in common --  the date, the colors (orange and black), the jack-o-lanterns, the ghosts about, and so on.  It makes sense, both having their roots in the Celtic Samhain.  But while secular Halloween involves scaring ourselves, and the Celts thought (and the Church would have you believe) that evil spirits roam the night and you must protect yourself against them by wearing masks and lighting candles in scary gourds, Pagan Samhain is much, much more.

The date is a significant one in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year-- it is considered the Wiccan New Year.  It is also one of the four Greater Sabbats, occurring across the Wheel from Beltane, on the midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice.  As a Greater Sabbat, it marks a significant change in the seasons.

Instead of fearing the dead, we Pagans often welcome lost loved ones, who can come close on this, one of two nights in the year when the Veil between our world and the spirit world is at its thinnest. (The other is at Beltane.)  We, too, light candles in gourds (most often pumpkins in North America), but these lights are not meant to scare away evil spirits, they are meant to guide our ancestors to our homes.  We decorate in black and hold Dumb Suppers.

Many of us also take this night to celebrate various gods and goddesses of death, again taking advantage of the thinness of the Veil.  Some believe that it is the first night of the Wild Hunt, as the Fey can also come across the Veil at this time.

 We decorate in black, also, to mark the coming of the death of the earth, which must happen before it comes to life again in the Spring.  In doing so, we celebrate darkness.  As such, it marks a time of rest and renewal, and many Pagans spend the time between Samhain and the Winter Solstice in meditation and reflection, preparing for the next year. 

But we also decorate in orange, for while this is a night to celebrate death and the dead, it is also the 3rd Harvest Festival, which marks the final harvest.  It is a time for feasting one last time before we batten down for Winter.  A time to celebrate the harvest--whether that harvest be crops or relationships or knowledge gained.  Or anything else that you have reaped in the past year.

We also, of course, dress in costumes, but that has more to do with secular fun than Samhain.  :)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

And Now for More Serious Stuff . . .

Well, sort'a.  We're near to the middle of  the month, and the Domestic Witch's Halloween 2010 Blog Party,  so I've decided to switch from the fun, frivolous, fantastical holiday of Halloween to the biggest Witch holiday of the year, Samhain.  And I thought I'd begin the new topic by writing about our first experience with it, last year.

It wasn't the first time I'd heard the word.  I think the first time I heard it was in the 1978 "Halloween" movie, or maybe the novelization thereof.  You know, the one with Michael Myers and Jamie Lee Curtis?  If I remember correctly, the evil spirit of Samhain had possessed the innocent young Michael, or some such nonsense.  Not that it's not a GREAT movie--I just object to their ignorant use of the concept of Samhain.

Being entirely ignorant of Celtic or Wiccan holidays myself, that was the last I heard of it, until I became Wiccan myself, in January of 2009.  Learning about the new holidays that were now part of my life, I came to the chapter on Samhain--and was ecstatic!  Imagine, a religion that celebrated Halloween as much as I did!  How exciting!  How wonderful!

But, I didn't want to give up the Halloween angle, either.  So, last year, DH and I attempted to celebrate both.  Now, I'm told it can be done, and often is.  I plan to do it this year.  But last year, last year was a disaster.  Why?  I think because we are SO experienced at Halloween, it completely threw us to try and combine it with anything else, perhaps most with something so similar.  We ended up doing both badly, and were quite frustrated and unsatisfied, both from the festive side AND the spiritual side.

We learned from our mistakes, I hope.  And we've thought about it a lot, and planned a lot.  I'm confident that this year we can treat costumed children AND honor our ancestors, and do both well.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

M is for Massachusetts
ABC Wednesday

Well, I've been out for a week, so I'm behind on all the Halloween stuff I was going to post before moving on to Samhain!  At this point, it might just have to wait until next year!  But before I discuss more serious topics, I thought I'd mention, for my ABC Wednesday post this week, the Festival of the Dead in Salem, Massachusetts.

The Witches in Salem really know how to celebrate in style!  I've never been, but I've dreamt about doing so every year since I first heard about it.  They've turned their dark and sad history into a bright and glittering celebration, not to mention business.

Whatever you seek, they've got.  From the Psychic Faire and Witchcraft Expo to the Vampire's Masquerade Ball, from Ghost Hunting 101 to the Dumb Supper, there seems to be something there for everyone.  All leading up to the grand event, their crowning glory, The Official Salem Witches' Halloween Ball.

So if you get the chance, go!  (And don't forget to write and tell me about it!)  Or maybe some of you have already been?  What did you think?

Attending in my imagination . . .

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Who Can Forget the Costumes?

My The Domestic Witch's 2010 Halloween Blog Party entry for today is all about costumes.  Fun, silly, scary, serious or sexy, what would Halloween be without them?
Trick-or-treating, masquerade balls, costume parties, and costume contests--little princesses, goblins, pirates, cheerleaders, vampires, ninjas, and cowboys wandering up and down our streets, treat bags in hand, in the earlier hours of that special night.  Or their more sophisticated and sometimes sexier adult aspects which we see at parties, bars, and clubs throughout the week or so preceding the big night.  All of them are part of the magic.

I don't remember all of the costumes I've worn throughout the years, but a few of them stand out.  DH and I dressing as vampires and handing out sangria to parents out with their trick-or-treaters.  Going as the Christian devil while my DH went as the Christian god on Austin's famous (infamous) 6th Street.  Going as a ghost in a top-hat.  (It was the only way to keep the sheet from sliding.) 

There are others' costumes I remember, also.  The year a housemate went as a fairly elaborate Cleopatra.  My DH's boss' boss, who was about 6'2", dressed as Darth Vader, mask and all.  The little girl who came to the door as the Pink Power Ranger.

What was your most memorable costume?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

K is for Kitties 
(ABC Wednesday)

Black ones, that is.  A black cat, especially the arched-back silhouette variety, is one of the most easily recognized symbols of Halloween, which is my topic today for The Domestic Witch's 2010 Halloween Blog Party.

We all know the symbols of Halloween, if not the reasons behind them.  They definitely call up the season, and sometimes even give us a chill.  I'll talk about Halloween history later in the week, but for now let's just discuss the symbols themselves.

Black cats, witches' hats, and flying bats, to start.  Witches themselves, especially the ones flying broomsticks across a full moon. That same full moon behind a bare, gnarled tree.  Tombstones, ghosts, jack-o-lanterns and the pumpkins from which they are now carved.  Cauldrons, skeletons, and anything black and orange.  Severed limbs and scarecrows, cobwebs and dripping candlesticks.

The modern secular holiday is all about scaring ourselves, and these symbols all, at one time or another, did just that.  Today, I fear we're moving away from the classics towards signs that are more gross than eerie--bugs and slimy eyeballs and the like.

What images give you a bit of a fright? 

Friday, October 1, 2010

On the 1st Day of Halloween. . .

This post, late as it may be, is my first one for The Domestic Witch's 2010 Halloween Blog Party.  I'm going to attempt to post every weekday in October about Halloween/Samhain--the mundane, the magickal, and even the magical.  :)

Starting out, I thought I'd talk about the Halloween parties of my past.  This includes everything from the first one I threw to the biggest one I've ever thrown. 

The first one was at my mom's house when I was 13.  It was quite possibly the first Halloween party I ever attended.  (Nobody in the small Texas town where I grew up was as into Halloween as I was.)  It was certainly the first costume party to which I'd ever gone.  I still have some of those decorations, although they're more like mementos now, much too fragile to actually be used.

I continued to throw, and go to, Halloween parties all through my high school, university, and young adult days.  One memorable year I attended four different parties on October 31st.  The guests changed, as did the size of the guest list and the themes, but they all celebrated my favorite, favorite, favorite holiday. 

Then I met my DH, and to my delight he loves Halloween as much as I do.  We began throwing one every year.  We started small, with less than a dozen guests, in Cedar Park, Texas.  At our last one, in Vancouver, BC, we invited close to 200 people.  (I hope those of you who were there remember it as well as I do.)  By this time, we had more Halloween decorations than we'd ever need--and still do.  We've not gotten rid of any of them.

We were forced to move, to California, and were so unhappy the two Halloweens we were there we didn't even THINK about throwing a party.  (Although we did spend one Oct 31 in Death Valley, in costume.)  And for each of the five Octobers we've been in Ontario (2010 makes six), something or other has gotten in the way of having one.  We did seriously consider having a party this year, but life once again interfered, this time in the form of financial and health problems.

But there's always hope for next year.