Tuesday, November 5, 2013

High Day: Samhain (DP Entry)

The prime directive of this blog is to document our ADF Dedicant Program work.  Obviously, it has grown into more than that, but still.  Since we started, Michael completed, submitted and had approved his DP documentation and I have procrastinated at great length about getting mine written at all.

My commitment for November is to focus on getting a good chunk of this done, so there should be a lot of posts coming, and some of them won't be particularly seasonal as it includes a requirement for essays about of the eight High Days, so bear with me on that.

The actual submission requirements include a pretty rigorous word count limitation, and while 'extremely brief' makes absolutely good sense as a submission policy (both to avoid having the reviewer go insane from reading it all, and because if you can't explain what you know in a reasonably short bit of verbiage, extra padding is not likely to help), it's not really my voice to spit out thought in just a few words - so I'm just going to say it here the way I do and then do some ruthless editing to submit.

Here then, is my draft essay for Samhain.  The requirement is:  Short essays on each of the eight ADF High Days including a discussion of the meaning of each feast. (125-375 words each)

High Day: Samhain

Samhain (generally pronounced SOW-en) is an Irish word for an ancient Gaelic period of feasting which is also found in the Irish word for "November" - it did not denote simply a day but a longer time of year as Winter approached.  Traditionally, this was the time when livestock were brought in from their summer pastures and herds were culled.  It was a matter of economic and actual survival that those animals that were fed and cared for over Winter were only those few most likely to grow next year's herd, while the majority of the herd was put to use as food for the coming months.  This then, was the meat harvest, the last of the three periods of harvest before the long, lean period of the dark season of the year, and it was a period of feasting and plenty. 

Additionally, Samhain occurs at the liminal period of the year when Summer gives way to Winter and is regarded as a time when the veil between the worlds is thin. Spirits of the dead and the fae could easily cross  the veil and wander the earth, and for this reason, many Samhain customs involve protection magic and staying close to home and others involve honoring and welcoming the spirits. Many of these customs are alive and well in modern Halloween celebrations, from disguises and jack-o-lanterns to welcoming strange visitors and offering a treat to avoid a trick.  Because communicating with the dead is easier when the veil is thin, this also is a time that is regarded as favorable for divination.

There are many holidays in other cultures around this time of year that are also related to similar themes. 

For example, the ancient Greek celebration of the Thesmophoria occurs sometime around October to November (depending on the lunar calendar) and was a women's ritual that centered around a re-enactment of the story of Persephone and Demeter.  When Persephone was abducted into the Underworld, her mother's response in her grief and anger hurled the world into a season of cold and death where nothing would grow.

Other examples include the Norse celebration of Winternights, focused on honoring the Ancestors, and celebrating abundance before the coming of the cold months, and the Mexican custom of Day of the Dead, which combines elements of Catholic Spanish customs and Native American ancestor worship by feasting with their family ancestors in cemeteries and depicting them as happy skeletons continuing to lead normal lives.

Pope Gregory IV, in 835, moved All Saints Day (All Hallows Day) from May 12 to Nov. 1, quite likely to line it up with popular pre-Christian customs already in place.  However, since so much of our lore was written in the Christian era, it is difficult to pinpoint which customs were practiced in spite of Christian influence, and which because of them.


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