Passing Through Winter's Gate | Celebrating Samhain & Día de los Muertos

'Tis the season of harvest festivals, ghostly decorations, costumes & ofrendas...Learn about Autumn holidays from the Aztec and the Celts, and craft your own rituals and celebrations.

“I was born on the night of Samhain, when the barrier between the worlds is whisper-thin and when magic, old magic, sings its heady and sweet song to anyone who cares to hear it.”
~Carolyn MacCullough, Once a Witch

A little bit about Samhain

Pronounced "sah-win,” Samhain is an ancient Pagan harvest festival. It is Irish Gaelic for "Summer's End,” and marks the start of the long, dark winter months. Since in Celtic culture the day began and ended at sunset, Samhain is traditionally observed from sundown on October 31 through sundown on November 1st.

Katherine May, author of Wintering, writes: "Samhain was considered to be a moment when the veil between this world and the otherworld was at its thinnest. Old gods had to be placated with gifts and sacrifice, and the trickery of fairies was an even greater risk than usual.

This was a liminal moment in the calendar, a time between two worlds, between two phases of the year, when worshippers were about to cross a boundary but hadn’t yet done so. Samhain was a way of marking that ambiguous moment when you didn’t know who you were about to become, or what the future would hold. It was a celebration of limbo.”

“Winter’s gate.
The deepest in,
the darkest moon…
Silence roots, trees unleaf,
the land is stripped back to bone,
bone-fires on hills, wood smoke at dusk,
wet leaves in layers stuck to our boots,
the spider, the web, the ancestor bread,
a purple candle in the heavy-hung window
for our beloved dead returning home.”
~Excerpt from Samhain, by Debra Hall

Ritual inspiration:

~Friends and family in spirit form are traditionally honored during Samhain. This honoring can be anything from making your loved one's favorite foods to lighting a candle near their photo.

~This season is also our opportunity to rest and reflect and to dream of new beginnings...the fertile potential of Winter darkness that brings transformation and rebirth in the Spring.

~Foods for celebrating Samhain include traditional autumn fare such as pumpkin pie, apples, cider, roasted meats, root vegetables, pears, cinnamon and dark wine.

~Traditionally, Jack-o-lanterns served as a beacon for departed spirits and those carved with scary faces were thought to keep evil spirits at bay.

A little bit about Día de los Muertos

On the Day of the Dead, it is believed that the souls of loved ones come back to the physical realm for 3 days of feasting, music, dancing and celebration. The roots of this holiday go back 3,000 years to ancient Mesoamerica, and the Aztec...

They held a cyclical view of the universe, and saw death as an integral, ever-present part of life. Upon dying, a person was believed to travel to Chicunamictlán, the Land of the Dead. Only after a journey of several years, could the person’s soul finally reach Mictlán, the final resting place. In rituals honoring the dead, family members provided food, water and tools to aid the deceased in this difficult journey.

Much later, with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the 1600's, traditions from medieval Spain (All Saints Day, All Souls Day) also merged into what we now know as el Día de los Muertos.

Ritual inspiration:

~Many people create altars called ofrendas (offerings) for their ancestors. These ofrendas can be decorated with candles, bright marigolds called cempasuchil and red cockscomb flowers alongside food like stacks of tortillas, sweet decorated breads and sugar skulls, and fruit.

~In ancient Europe, pagan celebrations of the dead also took place in the fall, and consisted of bonfires, dancing and feasting. In medieval Spain, people would bring bring wine and pan de ánimas (spirit bread) to the graves of their loved ones on All Souls Day. They would also cover graves with flowers and light candles to illuminate the dead souls’ way back to their homes on Earth.

Photo credit: Rebecca Zendejas @zendohous

Community Altar | Add your loved ones' names to our altar ~ For the third year, Santa Barbara artist and woodwork Rebecca Zendejas is creating a Community Memorial Altar at Paradise Found, inspired by the celebrations of Samhain and Dias de los Muertos. Click here to find out more.

“Days decrease, / And autumn grows, autumn in everything.”
~Robert Browning
“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!”
~Humbert Wolfe
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