In the ancient Irish calendar, the year begins at Samhain. It is the time when the veil is thinnest between us and the ancestors, which is why the Christian Church used it as the day of the dead, All Souls’ Day.
Traditionally, the year ended on 30th October and the new year began on the 1st November. The 31st October was a day of no year. It belonged to the ancestors. Samhain was the most important time of the year in Ireland, because people believed that our ancestors walk with us. Many of our ancestors died in the Great Famine and were never buried, so when we walk on the earth, we walk on their bones.
In the old tradition, when a person dies, a bee often comes and carries their souls to Tír na nÓg, the land of the forever young. Their spirit becomes part of the energy of the earth herself. So the air that we breathe, the colour of the flowers and the songs of the birds, all carry the energy of our ancestors. They are around us all the time.
On Samhain (Hallowe’en) people took out items (pieces of cloth, clay pipes, combs or jewellery) that had belonged to their ancestors. These mementoes helped them to connect and commune with them. They called on their ancestors for help.
People battened down doors and windows, getting ready for winter. They brought the cattle indoors, to survive the winter and to keep the people warm in the bothán (cottage). Farm work slowed down, so they had time to visit each other and share stories of those who had passed on. In sharing the stories of the year – who had died, married or been born – and the stories of their people, they allowed themselves to release what they were holding.
Samhain carried people into the winter months when days were short and nights were long. It was a time for integrating all that had gone on in the working months, for contemplation and for finding inner balance.
Colcannon was the food of Samhain – potato, cabbage and onion mashed together with cream and butter. Barm-brack is a traditional fruit cake containing raisins, soaked overnight in tea. The tradition was to add a farthing coin, a piece of cloth and a ring into the cake. Children waited anxiously to see if they would receive the farthing which meant they would be rich when they grew up, the piece of cloth which meant that they would be poor, or the ring which meant that they would marry. They often ate the cloth rather than admit that they had got it!
The deity who presides over Samhain is Tlachtga, a Munster goddess and daughter of Mog Ruith (Mog of the Wheel), the greatest magician this land has ever known. It is said that people were afraid to say his name aloud for fear of invoking him. They lived on Valentia Island, in County Kerry.
Tlachtga holds the presence of Samhain and is the keeper of the gate between the worlds. She teaches us the importance of releasing, of embracing death, before we can move on. Death does not often mean physical death, it means releasing.
On the Wheel of the year, when we stand in the place of Tlachtga, we are invited to explore our way of being with her. Once we develop a relationship with Tlachtga, we no longer need to be afraid of death. We are being called to go deep within ourselves, to move into her space and when we allow ourselves to go into that place, she comes to our aid.
We do not have to sit in the place of death, because death is always with us. Death shows itself to us in every line of our faces and every fold of our bodies. Awareness of our mortality is not a burden that we carry, rather, it is what makes us value life and live it to the full.
Standing in the place of Tlachtga, we recognise that there are things that we carry, right now, that are heavy for us. It could be the death of a relationship, the end of a job, or some process we are going through within ourselves. We have to let go of those burdens first before we can move on. It is only by releasing that we attract the new.
The Way of the Seabhean, An Irish Shamanic Path by Amantha Murphy (Irish shaman, healer and seer) with Orla O'Connell (scribe) will be published for Brigid's Day, February 1st 2021 by Womancraft Publishing.
The Way of the Seabhean is now available for Pre-order from Womancraft here!
Read Orla O'Connell's Samhain piece on the Trasna Blog