For our Celtic ancestors, these last days of October and the first days of November were a holy time. For the ancient Celts, time’s cycle was truly a sacrament, a way to experience the sacred. Day and night, sun and moon, and the four seasons all carried profound spiritual messages.
The wheel of the Celtic year is divided into the four seasons, measured by solstices and equinoxes. Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”), now celebrated on the first of November, is a cross-quarter day, located between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. This is the Celtic end of the old year, the beginning of the new, and as such, it is a “hinge” in time, marking the transition between summer’s light and winter’s darkness. At the beginning of this period, the Celts believed, the gate between the worlds swings open, and it remains ajar until November 16, known as “Gate Closing,” which coincides with the beginning of the Leonid meteor shower.
For the Celts, all “in-between” places and times are holy, whether they are the shores between land and water, the boundaries between political territories, bridges that cross streams of water, the twilight between day and night, or the transitions between the seasons. These liminal spaces, neither one thing nor another, are where human beings step outside their rigid mental boxes and catch a glimpse of Mystery.
For the Celts, as well as for many modern Pagans, Samhain, as the juncture between the two halves of the year, is the most potent in-between time of all. During these days, time itself loses all meaning, and the past, present, and future become intertwined. The dead walk among the living, as do the faerie folk. This is a solemn time, but also a time of celebration, a festival of light to drive back the evil spirits, to affirm the power of life to endure the dark and cold of winter.
The only celebration with which our modern Western world marks this season is Halloween, but Samhain is far more than a spooky children’s holiday. This is the end of the old year’s light and busyness, a time to prepare for the “womb-time” of winter, when we will turn inward, finding in the cold and darkness new possibilities, new potential for growth. The Celts understood that death and life are always joined.
Free from the commercialization of Advent and New Year’s, this is a private, holy time for many who celebrate the Wheel of the Year, a time to reflect on Nature’s rhythms, on those we have loved who are no longer with us, on the battle against evil, on mysteries and magic, and on the meaning of time itself.
May it be a time of blessing for all of you.