Samhain, The Celtic New Year is a day where we remember our ancestors who have gone before us.We think of relatives and friends who have died, particularly in the last year.It is a very sombre occasion very different from the commercial Halloween that is celebrated on this day.Halloween has origins in Pagan traditions but have lost it’s meaning and significance because of the commercialism we see today which does sadden me some what.As a parent I always explain with the children the holidays and special days that have Pagan origins.
Last Saturday I went to Avebury Stone Circle for the Samhain Gorsedd.It’s the first time I have vivisted in two years so it was nice meet up with old friends.The circle lasted about an hour where the meaning of Samhain was explained, poems read and songs sung.We remebered those who had died that year when a stafff was passed around as names were called out.Cakes and mead also passed round where each person would say to the person stood next to them in the circle, ”May you never hunger” when offering the cake and “May you never thirst” when mead was passsed to the next person.
After the ritual I warmed with half an ale and shared bowls of chips my friends and we left Avebury to visit West Kennet Long Burrow not far from Avebury and in view of Silbury hill.West Kennet is a Neolithic burial site, it was very eerie inside but very pearceful at the same time.High on the hill we stayed inside for about 10 minutes taking in the atmosphere and looking at the stones and the chamber.
Samhain, The Celtic New Year celebrates the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one as the 8 festilvals are represented as a wheel.This is cyclic like the revolving Sun and the ebb and flow of the Moon’s cycles.Yule is the next festival celebrated on or around the 21st (this is based on the Sun’s position so it differs each year between the 20th-21st December) and was Christianised as Christmas.I talk about in more detail next month.
This is going to be a pretty hard post to write, but here goes.I was raised a Christian, although I was never Christened.But for me although I’ve always considered myself spiritual, I never found any connection.When I was 11 a friend of mine told me that I wouldn’t be able to get married if I wasn’t confirmed (I don’t know what that meant back then and still don’t!).She suggested that I attend Sunday school.So for just over a year I spent 2 hours every Sunday and Thursday evening learning about Christianity.Now, for me if you don’t know or understand something you ask questions, which I did.A lot.But I became very frustrated with the answers I was given.Because they weren’t really answers, quite a few contradictions.So I left.By the time I was 16, I began to feel a bit ‘unattached’ spiritually, back then I felt I had to ‘believe’ in something but had no idea what it was.It was many years later after a break up from my then fiance, that I decided to discover myself.I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing, I just bumbled along reading lots of books.It was late one night when I was flicking through TV channels when I came across an interesting programme on Paganism.I sat there and thought wow, I can relate to this.So I began researching and learning about Wicca and Witchcraft.Now, unfortunately my ‘coming home’, was untimely as this was around the time when Buffy the Vampire Slayer hit the British screens.Where one of the characters, Willow becomes a Wiccan/Witch.Although of course she wasn’t portrayed in a very good light (but then they never are!)I love Buffy and the spin-off Angel, but I soon began to realise that I couldn’t sit my family down and say, “Hey, guess what I’m a Witch!”.So I did keep my beliefs to myself.Which back then, was a dual deity, a God AND a Goddess.Although because, Paganism is a fertility ‘religion’ the Goddess is seen as the giver of life.Now, I read many books.After a while I began to study Wicca, a new religion (around 50 years old) which bases itself with Witchcraft.Now I could go into huge detail here but I won’t.Instead I’ll put a link to Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicca
My favourite authors are Cassandra Eason, Scott Cunningham, Kate West, Sally Morningstar, Marian Green and Rae Beth.I have read really good and really stuff (fortunately not too often).Along the way I have realised with the birth of my second child that I wouldn’t be able to practice rituals or meditate as much if at all.My husband isn’t a Pagan and I had no intention of teaching our kids my beliefs so I had to find other ways to connect to the earth and this leads me on my next post.
The Celtic festival of Ostara/Eostre/Spring Equinox/Vernal Equinox follows about 6 weeks after Imbolc.Celebrated by Pagans as the festival of balance, awakening, new life and the first day of Spring.This when day and night are of equal length but this when days become longer and the days warmer.Later Christianised as Easter, Oestre, the Goddess of light, brings fertility.This is the root of the word ‘oestrus’, the time in an animal’s sexual cycle when it is fertile, and oestrogen is the hormone stimulating ovulation.I attended the free and open Gorsedd at Avebury with lots of my friends.It was nearly a 200 strong circle that was formed.I had to sit out most of the celebration as Mousewas teething and very unsettled.
Afterward we attended Sarah and Martin’s handfasting.Handfasting is a traditional ceremony of (temporary or permanent) betrothal or wedding.
The term is derived from the verb to handfast, used in Middle to Early Modern English for the making of a contract of marriage.
The term is originally a loan from Old Norse hand-festa “to strike a bargain by joining hands”.
The Council of Trent changed Roman Catholic marriage laws to require the presence of a priest. This change did not extend to the regions affected by the Protestant Reformation, and in Scotland, marriage by consent remained in effect.
By the 18th century, the Kirk of Scotland no longer recognized marriages formed by mutual consent and subsequent sexual intercourse, even though the Scottish civil authorities did. This situation persisted until 1940, when Scottish marriage laws were reformed.
In the 18th century, well after the term handfasting had passed out of usage, there arose a popular usage.
In the present day, some Pagans practice this ritual. The marriage vows taken may be for “a year and a day”, a lifetime, “for all of eternity” or “for as long as love shall last”. Whether the ceremony is legal, or a private spiritual commitment, is up to the couple. Depending on the state where the handfasting is performed, and whether or not the officiant is a legally recognized minister, the ceremony itself may be legally binding, or couples may choose to make it legal by also having a civil ceremony. Modern handfastings are performed for heterosexual or homosexual couples, as well as for larger groups in the case of polyamorous relationships. Currently, handfasting is a legal Pagan wedding ceremony in Scotland, but not in England, Wales or Ireland.
As with many Pagan rituals, some groups may use historically attested forms of the ceremony, striving to be as traditional as possible, while others may use only the basic idea of handfasting and largely create a new ceremony.
As many different traditions of Paganism use some variation on the handfasting ceremony, there is no universal ritual form that is followed, and the elements included are generally up to the couple being handfasted. In cases where the couple belong to a specific religious or cultural tradition, there may be a specific form of the ritual used by all or most members of that particular tradition. The couple may conduct the ceremony themselves or may have an officiant perform the ceremony. In some traditions, the couple may jump over a broom at the end of the ceremony. Some may instead leap over a small fire together. Today, some couples opt for a handfasting ceremony in place of, or incorporated into, their public wedding. As summer is the traditional time for handfastings, they are often held outdoors.
A corresponding divorce ceremony called a handparting is sometimes practiced. In a Wiccan handparting, the couple may jump backwards over the broom before parting hands.
As with more conventional marriage ceremonies, couples often exchange rings during a handfasting, symbolising their commitment to each other. Many couples choose rings that reflect their spiritual and cultural traditions, while others choose plainer, more conventional wedding rings.
For more photos and reports on Pagan ceremonies held in Wiltshire please
visit my friend’s website