Revd. MacNeill Cooper: October 2020
The Nights are Fair Drawing In- Celtic New Year and All Saints/Souls
In the Christian Celtic tradition, the month of an t-Samhain (pronounced Sowin) begins on November 1st. This month is the source of ancient roots for modern Hallowe'en celebrations- also known as All Hallows Eve on October 31st, All Saints November 1st and All Souls on November 2nd. This ancient festival has been modernised with a consumerist twist seeing young ones dress in somewhat scary costumes demanding sweets from houses- not so different from the ancient Samhainn- except modern Hallowe'en mostly is absent of spiritual understanding of guising. In some areas, churches hold Hallowe'en alternatives but I think we have lost the plot when it comes to this Celtic season because it isn't about evil, it is about remembering our dead. And death/resurrection are the centralities of Christian life. Samhainn festivals marked the bringing the animals in from pasture marking another turning of Celtic Wheel of the Year. October 31st is essentially, Celtic New Year's Eve.
October 31st (Oidhche Shamhna) is considered a time when the veil between the living and the dead, the visible and invisible is most thin- in the Celtic Christian tradition there is only a fine veil separating the living and the dead- the Resurrection is a continuation of life in that Otherworld, the place of the eternal living what we might call Heaven. These two worlds are not separate from earth but are inaccessible to one another, save for the 'bridges' between the two. And therefore, Samhainn is a time to remember ancestors and dearly departed loved ones. Small turnips/swedes/neeps would be carved out and illuminated (now a days pumpkin Jack o Lanterns), ritual food would be prepared and of course there were bonfires. Many would take the flames from the bonfire back to their homes using peat or fir branches and then circle the dwelling sunwise to mark the new year and bless their dwellings.
For those who are part of the Celtic Christian tradition, we still light candles (maybe even a bonfire) but it is a sacred time to remember our ancestors. You will see candles outside the Snailbeach Churchyard on November 2nd as part of that remembrance for All Souls. Many recite all the names of everyone in their family tree and for many Celtic Christians, a child would be taught the names of their ancestors on both parents sides and recite from memory the names of mothers and fathers in many branches of a heavy laden family tree. Much like remembering who begat whom in the Bible.
Samhainn is also a time of drawing inward within the self. Samhainn- it is spiritually and physically darker month but it is not something to avoid- it is something to be embraced. Celtic Christians are encouraged to have a genuine examination of the self. In modern times This is all done in the warmth of a home with scents and lights and comforts to enable us to go inward to those parts of ourselves in which we might struggle. This period of drawing inward lasts until December 21st, the Longest Night/Winter Solstice when there is another turning of the year.
If you would like to have your own period of self reflection in an t-Samhain, here are some spiritual exercises to peck away at over the month.
On October 31st All Hallows Eve
remember your family by lighting a candle and reciting the names of as many ancestors as you can and then say, "I remember you and thank God for you." (even if you haven't met them or if you are part of an adopted family- in the Celtic tradition adoption was considered sacred).
On November 1st, All Saints Day
light a candle think of those family members who have helped shape who you are today. Who had the biggest influence on you? Be sure to give thanks for them.
On November 2nd, All Souls Day
, light a candle and remember those you know who have died in the past year. Share a story about them, or look at their photo. Thank God for them and bless them. You might also wish to join in our All Souls Day service online or by phone (please ring 01743 791 267 to find out more)
For the rest of the month, ask yourself- What are some family issues I want to let go of? What have I been holding on to? (Past hurts, disagreements). Why have I been holding on to those hurts? Give yourself permission to let them go. Write them down and burn safely if you like, offering them to God.
Revd. MacNeill Cooper is a Methodist Minister and has family roots in Hebridean Celtic Christian Tradition.
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