Samhain – What does it mean


Samhain (pronounced sow-en) is the ancient Celtic Fire Festival, one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals along with Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh. It’s a celebration of the end of harvest and the start of the colder winter months.

Celebrated from sunset on 31 October until sunset on 1 November, Samhain is not Halloween. It’s much more than that, Halloween is full of make-believe and fantasy, dressing up and playing games, whereas Samhain has a much more spiritual focus.

Like Beltane, Samhain is traditionally thought to be a festival when the doorway to the ‘other world’ opens but while Beltane is the Festival of the Living, Samhain is the Festival of the Dead, sometimes thought of as the Festival of Year’s End and New Beginnings, celebrated at a time of year when the earth has ‘died’ – the fields are bare, the leaves have fallen from the trees and the skies are grey and cold.

But rather than being scary or morbid, Samhain is a celebration of death and rebirth; a time for reflection, giving thanks, recharging and renewing; a time for recognising our weaknesses and looking forward at ways to work on them.

All of life is part of a cycle and here we acknowledge the new beginning in the midst of endings. – Glennie Kindred – Earth Wisdom

Traditionally, there are various rituals surrounding Samhain including dancing, thanksgiving, honouring of the dead and bonfires, which were thought to have protective and cleansing powers. It was believed that the fire mimicked the sun, promoting growth and holding back the darkness of winter. Cattle were brought down from the summer pastures and food was prepared for winter storage. In the cycle of the goddess, by Samhain she is associated with the crone. This is the old woman, the earth mother or the wise woman we look to when we need advice. She teaches us that sometimes we must let go in order to move on.

The challenge of the season initiated by this night is to simply enter a place of stillness and simply be where you are: not moving forward or backward but simply being utterly present, suspended in the space between past and future. It is here that we listen to the voices in the crackling fire, rain, and wind. We enter the dark season of the year to dream and remember before we begin to make our return after winter solstice.
– Ruth Barrett – Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries

In our Yoga practice around this time, we should focus on introverted resting poses such as forward bends and seated or reclining asanas combined with relaxing breathing practices such as alternate nostril breathing or humming bee breath.

Perhaps best to practice when you’re alone, humming bee breath is calming, soothing and centering, allowing you to transition easily into deeper meditative states – and just be. It’s simple to perform too – breathe in through your nose, drawing the breath deep into your belly and exhale a long smooth humming sound with your lips closed and jaw relaxed, covering your ears to invite the sound inside your head.

Why not place a candle in the window this Samhain? As you light it and watch it burn, consider what you’re ready to let go of. Meditate on the candle as it burns and ask yourself:

  • What do I carry in my heart that’s old and I’m ready to let burn away?
  • What do I want to open space for in my heart?
  • What do I want to invite in?

Or you may wish to practice a healing or seasonal Yoga Nidra. The Yoga Nidra Network is a great place to start – there are some great free downloads here.

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