In the Ancient Celtic Tradition a festival called Samhain was celebrated on the night of October 31. Samhain means “summer’s end” which marked the beginning of the dark half of the year, and was also the Celtic New Year. The night of Samhain is one of the principle festivals of the Celtic calendar, and it represents the final harvest. The Samhain celebrations have survived in several guises as a festival dedicated to the harvest and honouring those who have died and departed the physical world. In Ireland and Scotland in the past, the “Festival of the dead” took place on Samhain. It was a time to celebrate the lives of loved ones that have passed on, and to honour them with songs, stories, dancing, and remembrances. This is a festival of Light, not darkness, sadness, or grief. In Mexico to the present day such a festival is celebrated with the addition of a “Ribbon Tree” a tree where ribbons are tied to the tree in memory of a person or pet who has passed on and prayers are said for them. Also in Mexico alters to departed ones are built at this time of the year; these alters are decorated with things that the departed person loved to do, their hobbies, any collections they had, even clothes, books and dishes. This is a real celebration of the departed person.

It was also, and still is, the custom in some areas to set a place for the those who have passed over at the Samhain feast, and to tell tales of the ancestors on that night. The Gaels believed that the border between the physical world we live in and the “Other-world” became thin on Samhain; because some plants and animals (slaughtered for food at this time of the year) were dying, it thus allowed those who have passed on to reach back through the veil that separated them from the living. So this is the Time of the Thin Veil or communion with the dead; the ruling time of the Crone aspect of the Goddess. Cerridwen is the Underworld Goddess/Fairy Hag associated with this time. She has a magic cauldron in which She stirs a brew that confers inspiration, transformation, and wisdom. Cerridwen can guide us through the dark back to the light and will keep us safe if we ask Her and honour Her. This is also the ruling time of the Dark Lord of the Underworld, the God of protection and rest.

The Gaelic custom of wearing costumes and masks, was an attempt to “copy” the appearance of the spirits and placate them. In Scotland the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled, or blackened faces, dressed in white. Turnips were also hollowed out and carved with faces to make lanterns and were used to ward off harmful spirits. This is where the modern customs of Halloween originated. Also Samhain as a festival of the dead became associated with the Christian festival of “All Soul’s Day” which is celebrated on November 2.

For me, the Ancestors that are remembered at this time of the year are those who “feed” us and we “feed” them in a mutual giving, loving relationship. Ancestors can help us with certain actions from the spiritual realm and we can help them with certain physical actions that mutually helpful to us all. Having said that, these ancestors must be those that carry no deep wounds or deep hurts. Throughout most of the last 5 to 6 thousands years (so-called historical civilized time) there have been almost continuous wars, deportations, slavery, genocides, and many other forms of abuse. This has led to deep ancestral and generational wounds that have been carried through the millennium in Western culture. So, it seems to me, that to find the ancestors, or ancient ones, that can truly help us with the guidance, wisdom and knowledge to navigate our often chaotic lives and world, we must go back at least 6 or 7 thousand years when humans lived more in harmony with Nature and other peoples. In the Americas we can ask the Indigenous pre-Columbian ancestors for their help and guidance as well.  However, I do not mean to forget your own family ancestors, some have wisdom and knowledge to help us also. For the deep primal wisdom and knowledge though it is the ancient ones who can best help us.