Here we are at the end and beginning of the Celtic year. The harvest is finished and we prepare ourselves for the long sleep of Winter. Time to put on more clothing, bring out hats and scarves, sturdy footwear and raincoats. Fire up the heating (gas, electricity, or solid fuel fires) feel the rain and gales that stir heaps of fallen leaves and drive us indoors for most of our waking hours. The Sun is low in the sky and paints the clouds crimson by late afternoon, shadows are longer, and the light seems pale compared to the full brightness of Summer.

Samhain is the festival most associated with Witchcraft and divination in the popular imagination, mostly due to the commercialisation of ‘Halloween’ (from ‘All Hallows Eve’, its Christian name). At this time the spirits of the departed were believed to return to Earth as the veil between the worlds of the living and dead is thin. Like most old festivals, nobody knows for certain when it began to be celebrated but so strong is the urge to mark the occasion that it endures. Looking at the images of death so prevalent at this time we feel the ancient pull towards our Ancestors, honouring the hereditary gifts and knowledge they handed down to make us what we are. The past is with us most of all at Samhain, and our fear of Death fades as we recall beloved relatives and friends.

A big bonfire outdoors is perfect for this occasion, with hot drinks and of course a feast. Red wine or cider are wonderful when gently heated with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg stirred in. These are the ‘mulled’ drinks of old. Cranberry or cherry juice make suitable non-alcoholic versions. Serve up with spiced fruit cakes and ginger parkin. Disguise yourself and fool even those who know you best! Practice divination, tell stories of those gone before, shed a tear, have a laugh, hug each another and dream…

Suitably Pagan songs include Loreena McKennitt’s ‘All Souls Night’, Damh the Bard’s ‘Samhain Eve’ and Lisa Thiel’s ‘Samhain Song’. Join hands and weave a dance in memory.

Autumn Equinox

We arrive now at the time of balance again, the day when day and night are of equal length. From this point of the year, the darkness increases and the hours of daylight are noticeably shorter. The harvest is still going on, fruits and fungi adorn field and hedgerow, birds that are our summer visitors are gradually leaving for warmer climes and others arrive for winter. Some animals are getting ready to hibernate as their food sources die off with the approach of the cold.

There is a definite sense of Nature’s bounty declining as Mother Earth prepares to sleep. Misty days prevail, the winds gather pace, plants and trees with broad leaves are turning multi-coloured to reveal what was formerly only green as the growing season ends. It is easy to feel a sadness at all this decay, but wait:– like all seasons, we know this to be transient and full of its own special wonder. The scent of Autumn is the earthy mushrooms and toadstools, the tang of poplars, apples, pears, berries and jam-making, pickling and preserving. Gather with friends, fill a tub with water and indulge in the absurdly funny game of bobbing for apples. You will get wet! Wander outside amongst fallen leaves forming a blanket for the Earth’s slumber, watch as small whirlwinds spin dried brown leaves on lawns and roadsides, piling them up in corners. Feel the crunch of those leaves underfoot, pick them up, kick them up. See your shadow lengthen and note a crispness in the air. Stargazers will enjoy longer times looking up, so layer your clothing as you get those binoculars and telescopes out. Find out about fungus forays in local nature reserves. There is so much to love about this season.

Musical accompaniments could be the sad but exquisite Sandy Denny ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’, and Moody Blues ‘Forever Autumn’.