A Holiday Poem

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Twas the evening of Samhain

By Cathor Steincamp

'Twas the evening of Samhain, and all through the place

were pagans preparing the ritual space.

The candles were set in the corners with care, in hopes that the Watchtowers soon would be there.

We all had our robes on (as is habitual)

and had just settled down and were starting our ritual

when out on the porch there arose such a chorus

that we went to the door, and waiting there for us

were children in costumes of various kinds

with visions of chocolate bright in their minds.

In all of our workings, we'd almost forgot,

but we had purchased candy (we'd purchased a LOT),

And so, as they flocked from all over the street,

they all got some chocolate or something else sweet.

We didn't think twice of delaying our rite,

Kids just don't have this much fun every night.

For hours they came, with the time-honored schtick

of giving a choice: a treat or a trick.

As is proper, the parents were there for the games,

Watching the children and calling their names.

"On Vader, On Leia,

On Dexter and DeeDee,

On Xena, on Buffy,

Casper and Tweety!

To the block of apartments

on the neighboring road;

You'll get so much candy,

you'll have to be TOWED!"

The volume of children eventually dropped,

and as it grew darker, it finally stopped.

But as we prepared to return to our rite,

One child more stepped out of the night.

She couldn't have been more than twelve or thirteen.

Her hair was deep red, and her robe, forest green

with a simple gold cord tying off at the waist.

She'd a staff in her hand and a smile on her face.

No make-up, nor mask, or accompanying kitsch,

so we asked who she was; she replied "I'm a witch.

And no, I don't fly through the sky on my broom;

I only use that thing for cleaning my room.

My magical powers aren't really that neat,

but I won't threaten tricks; I'll just ask for a treat."

We found it refreshing, so we gave incense cones,

A candle, a crystal, a few other stones,

And the rest of the candy (which might fill a van).

She turned to her father (a man dressed as Pan)

and laughed, "Yes, I know, Dad, it's past time for bed,"

and started to leave, but she first turned and said

"I'm sorry for further delaying your rite.

Blessed Samhain to all, and a magical night."

-- Anonymous, October 26, 2001


Here's one that came in my email, and Sherri, how about posting here your piece about the Celtic origins of Halloween? I think it would be nice to have it in OUR archives as well!

'Twas The Night Before Samhain

'Twas the night before Samhain and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring except for my spouse.
The incense it burned in his Caldron so black,
For witchcraft and magic he'd a wondrous knack.
The circle was drawn with the athame of power,
The guardians were called to each quarter tower.
The Lord and the Lady attended our rite,
In wonder and glory and power and might.
The dearly departed came as our guest,
To live once again after their rest.
We bid them goodbye with a tear in our eye,
Such a lovely presence of loved ones so nigh.
The candles danced in the flickering light.
With the Great Rite we bid them all a good night.
The guardians thanked, have all sped away.
The Lord and the Lady, thanks for the day.
The night before Samhain, Gods Bless this house.
A circle of wonder 'round me and my spouse.

-- Anonymous, October 26, 2001

The first lines of your poem remind me of the year I got up early to do a sunrise Yule ritual. I was trying to be very quiet so I wouldn't wake Keith. Unfortunately I didn't notice that I had set up my little cauldron incense burner directly beneath the smoke detector. Oops!

-- Anonymous, October 26, 2001

OK, here's the Halloween info I posted over at Country Families. Also, the Boston Globe had a very nice article about Samhain yesterday, here's the link Boston Globe

Thank you for this opportunity. I have been studying Celtic history and folklore as a hobby for several years. Halloween derives it's origin from the Celtic holiday called Samhain (pronounced sow-in). Samhain traslates as "summer's end". There were three harvest festivals in the Celtic religion, Samhain was the last and the most important. By this time all the crops had been gathered in and stored away. The ancient Celts didn't have the advantage of hay-bailers, silage systems, or bagged feed, so they didn't have a way to maintain all of their livestock through the long winters. The best animals would be kept for breeding stock and the rest would be butchered and the meat dried or salted for use during the winter. There weren't any grocery stores, so whatever they stored away was all they had to live on through the winter. Samhain was a time to be thankful for a good harvest and to pray that the tribe would make it through the winter. Fire was very important to the Celts, the hearth was considered the heart and the luck of the household. Having your hearthfire go out was considered very unlucky (as anyone who has woke up in a cold house because the woodstove went out overnight can attest). During Samhain a large bonfire was lit in each village, and each villager would take a torch and carry some of the bonfire home to add to their hearth fire. This helped to strengthen the ties of friendship between the villagers and to assure that everyone had good luck for the winter. The bones of the butchered animals would be burned in the bonfire and the ashes spread over the fields to return to the earth what had been taken from it (and as a form of fertilizer).

Samhain also was the Celtic New Year. It was a special night that wasn't part of either the old year or the new year. Because of this, it was believed that the boundaries between this world and the afterlife were very thin on this night. The spirits of deceased relatives were encouraged to visit their families; candles were placed in the windows to guide them home and a special place was set for them at the dinner table. Not all of the spirits walking that night were happy ones though. Some spirits, due to the circumstances of their life or their death, did not like humans anymore. It was the custom to leave some food outside the house for these unhappy spirits so that they wouldn't come inside the house. Fortunetelling was common on this night to see what the new year would bring. Our modern custom of bobbing for apples is actually an old fortunetelling game.

It also was customary to go door to door collecting food to give to those in the village who may not have enough to get through the winter. It was considered somewhat dangerous to walk outside at night because you might meet one of the unhappy spirits, so the people going door to door would dress in costumes in order to confuse the ghosts.

In pre-Christian times these celebrations would have been conducted by the Druid of each tribe. The Druids were pre-Christian priests, but the were much more than just religious figures. They also were the lawyers, geneologists, astronomers, physicians, historians, etc. They studied in colleges for at least 21 years, and would have been the equivalent of a PhD today. Most of the "bad press" regarding the Druids comes from the writings of Julius Ceasar. It's important to remember that Ceasar was writing to Rome in order to get more money for his conquest of Britain, so it was in his best interests to make the "enemy" seem as evil as possible. There is no archaeological evidence for the large-scale human sacrifice that Caesar described. Criminals could be executed for certain crimes, but the USA executes criminals to this day and it's not considered "human sacrifice".

Most of the Halloween customs we celebrate today were brought to the USA by Irish immigrants. The Church tried to discourage the celebration by emphasizing the "evil spirits" aspects of the holiday. This had the unfortunate side-effect of increasing the amount of mischief and destruction that took place on that night, because it was easy to blame the vandalism as the acts of the evil spirits. Halloween is actually a corruption of "All Hallows Eve", which is the name of the holiday the Church used to replace Samhain. The "Fall Harvest Festivals" that many churches hold today as opposition to "Pagan Halloween" are actually closer to the true spirit of the Pagan holiday than they may realize. :-)

-- Anonymous, October 26, 2001

"I didn't notice that I had set up my little cauldron incense burner directly beneath the smoke detector. Oops!"


-- Anonymous, October 26, 2001

Yes, I too noticed that particular 'idea' for getting the rest of the house out of bed in the morning. Bet you got some pretty black looks.

-- Anonymous, October 26, 2001

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