Medicine Circle - NW

by Jenny Chapman Diary

Traditionally the first night of Samhain[1] (‘summer’s end’) began when the sun went down. Bonfires were lit to mark the change of season. Livestock passed through the bonfires or embers to get rid of parasites before over-wintering in barns. Those animals unlikely to survive were slaughtered for the Samhain feasts.

This theme of death, or killing that which is unlikely to or should not survive, is continued in other ways.

Samhain is a time for divination - about death and marriages - and for luck or warding off evil spirits, ghosts and witches. A day of remembrance when the veil between the worlds is thinnest, allowing communication with the dead. In the past soul cakes were given out and the recipients asked to pray for those who had died during the year. The Hallowe’en game of apple-bobbing probably began with divinatory rites to foresee the future. It was believed successful apple bobbers were sure of marrying by the next Hallowe’en.

It is a time to honour the dead including our ancestors and for personal reflection. In Somerset pumpkin lanterns and their bearers represent the spirits of the dead briefly returning from the Land of Shades. In Ireland it is said the faery mounds opened and they rode out to roam the countryside. Whilst, in Wales it was the Ladi Gwyn or White Lady and the Black Sow who chased foolish travellers. Elsewhere the names of those who were to die in the following year were called out at midnight.

This day signals the close of harvest and inaugurates the start of winter. The Earth retains memories just as our subconscious does. It is as if the elements of our Northern winter - the cold, darkness, silence, storms and winds - set the scene for the coming year. At Samhain, our emotions brew and ferment like a baker’s yeast. We might recognise; the physiological reason we re-enact dramas, set boundaries, find our own inner truth, rest like nature and then realise something invisible in the plain light of day, understand that the physical structures around us reflect our own mental approach or our lineage affects our present behaviour.


[1] Today, when both Christian and pagan beliefs are mixed together, this festival lasts from October 31st to November 5th. In the early church is was celebrated on February 21st or May 1st or 13th.