Samhain is the traditional name for Gaelic festival that precedes Halloween and the Christian festivals of All Saints and All Souls. It observes the end of the “light” half of the year and the beginning of the “dark”.
Like any Celtic festival, it starts at dusk and ends at dusk the next day. So this Samhain started last night and will continue until tonight. This is because the Celtic day, like the Jewish day, starts at dusk and ends at dusk the next day. And so it is also that Samhain has been described as the Celtic New Year (some neo-Pagan groups may even sing Old Lang Syne at this time).
The symbolism is interesting, showing that the “new” starts in the darkness. Before the tree there was a seed waiting in the darkness of the soil, before birth there was the infant waiting in the darkness of the womb, before the Big Bang there is a Mystery that lies beyond the light of our knowledge, and for a while the Universe was a soup of matter and energy long before stars came to shine, and certainly before there were eyes to see them.
We are in darkness, and it is a time to look inwards, our thoughts perhaps turning to the ancestors, death and the past. In an age of plastic, hand-held Internet technology and convenience, these must seem very unusual, and yet they have been and are important aspects of our lives, whether we heed them or not.
The neo-Pagan wheel of the year is cyclical in nature, reflecting on the turning of the natural year equating them with human life phases (Samhain with death and Winter Solstice with birth, etc.). Each festival becomes a natural time to reflect of aspects of our own lives as well as the changing of seasons.
Right now many people will be experiencing the change of the season differently, depending on climate and hemisphere, and perhaps the traditional associations of Samhain don’t always apply – Spain certainly differs from England in many ways.
Recently the black redstarts have arrived from elsewhere in the Penisula, the ash trees have lost their leaves, the fig tree is still in the process of losing its own, and the mushroom-picking season is drawing to a close. And one day shortly I will be eating chesnuts cooked over a fire!