Time: Sunset 31 October-sunset 2 November (30 April-2 May in the southern hemisphere)
Focus: Ancient wisdom, moving between the dimensions, the intersection between past and future and so a present that is not limited by time and space; welcoming the ancestors, confronting and overcoming fears of ageing and mortality
This festival, recalled in the modern world as Hallowe'en, or All Hallows Eve, marked the beginning of the Celtic year that officially began at sunset on 1 November. It was an occasion for welcoming home family ghosts to the family hearth where their favourite food would be left. This custom continues today in Mexico and to some extent in strongly Catholic countries, such as France and Spain, and in France, All Saints' Day, 1 November, is a public holiday.
In earlier times people in many lands would put garlic on West-facing windows and open the shutters to allow the good family dead to enter It was also the time when the cattle were brought from the hills for the winter and either put in byres or slaughtered for meat, having been driven between twin fires to purify them. These fires also served to drive away bad spirits who were believed to lurk at the transition of the year. Food was stored for the winter and so it is a time of housekeeping, spiritually as well as physically and mentally.
Fears of the unknown and evil have become focused around this festival: our ancestors projected their anxieties on to bad witches and malevolent faeries who might be kept away by a Jack o' Lantern, a candle in a pumpkin or turnip. The name derives from a legendary Jack who escaped from Hell and was ever after forced to walk in limbo carrying a hot coal.
In the myth of the Wheel of the Year, the descended god now guards the gate to the Otherworld and on this festival he holds sway. In some myths, the Goddess enters the Underworld to be reunited with him and returns to Earth on the third day to prepare for the birth of the new Sun, the ascended god, at midwinter.
The year too is dying and will be also reborn on the mid-winter solstice, so there is a cross-over of energies as the new year begins on the wane of the tide at a period of decline and darkness. Just as the Celtic day began at sunset, with the darkest part of the night still to come, the Celtic year begins in darkness.
This is a time for charities and initiatives to aid the family, the elderly, the sick and dying, to encourage experience to be valued in a culture that worships youth; also for the preservation of ancient sacred sites and the cultural heritage of the world, including the wisdom of indigenous peoples.
On a personal level, rituals are potent for family concerns, especially those about older members of the family or any who are sick or need constant care; for psychic protection, overcoming fears, for laying old ghosts, psychological as well as psychic, and for marking the natural transition between one stage of life and the next, for remembering the family dead and linking the young to the traditions of the past; also for increasing divinatory skills.
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