Samhain (SOW-in) is upon us and this is a perfect opportunity to take a moment and appreciate October 31 as more than just a reason to eat candy and dress up. Let's take a look at WHY we originally started these traditions to use as milestones to see where we are today in modern culture. If you are uncomfortable or unwilling to discuss or learn about Pagan, Druidic, and/or Wiccan beliefs and traditions, turn back now.
Why is this day especially supernatural?
It is believed that this is the most liminal of days between our world and that of the spirits. Ghosts of ancestors and sundry denizens of the Otheworld like the Aos Sí (ESS-shee, banshees being related) are more likely to roam the lands and visit, play tricks, or worse. Since Samhain is also known in this culture to be the end of the year, or Third Harvest, any crops left in the field are considered taboo and should be left to the Nature spirits. On that note, considering the spirits of Nature and man are so restless this day...
How can we ward against their tricks?
Fear not, for there are ways to ensure your household will get through the night. One way is to put a candle in your window to help guide your ancestors home. Preferably this night you will keep an open seat and plate of food at your table for them. If not, you may leave an offering of food at your door to feed the walking dead (in this case, no, not the zombie-themed comics/show). If you feel particularly harmful spirits were about, you could carve a turnip into a face to try and scare them away. Or, to confuse them, it is appropriate to guise as a spirit or even in the clothes of the opposite gender. That way the Aos Sí won't be able to find the target of their mischief. Mumming door to door can help ensure your neighbors are both warded and observing the custom to feed the walking dead.
What can we do as a community to pass the night safely?
Fellowship is important especially now. There is much to be done. As The Darkness approaches we can practice a little sympathetic magic by lighting in our hearths or yards (please check all local laws and/or get permission for public fires) fires. It helps the sun fight The Darkness just a bit longer. As well, you can write down a bad habit to cast into the fire so you may help be rid of it. Carving your name and those names of your family onto rocks to ring around the fire may help purify them. As well, we each must take a flame from the fire to bring into our homes as warmth and remembrance of those who have passed and those we live with today. Cast bones of the animals we prepared for winter's demands into the bone-fire (bonfire) and spread the ash in the fields the next day to honor Nature and prepare it for Beltane's planting.
Where can I find more information?
For a great list of meaningful ways to observe Samhain.
To better understand the meaning of Samhain.
Learn some Irish words and phrases to celebrate!
Two great music makers got together to make a nice, atmospheric tribute to Samhain.