The Wild Hunt - Samhain
"The autumn equinox has long passed, and the sun makes its journey south along the ecliptic, spending less and less time above the horizon. The approach of winter is palpable now. There is a chill in the air, and the days are noticeably shorter. If you are brave enough to venture out on Samhain night, and if it is a moonless night, you will find an enchanting array of stars emblazoned across the celestial sphere."
Today on October 31, we celebrate Samhain, also called the witch’s New Year and it's the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice.
Because the climate of the seasons was once so difficult to predict, Samhain was a celebration of bounty but also a time of fear. No matter how much preparation was done, one could never be sure what was to come or whether the provisions for winter would be sufficient. Oftentimes, an early frost was interpreted as otherworldly spirits blighting the vegetation with their breath. This type of “weather as omen” belief may have given rise to the notion of dead spirits cavorting about and faeries plotting to steal away human beings on Samhain night.
The Wild Hunt
In faerie lore, Samhain is the night of the “wild hunt,” a notorious and rambunctious ride when scores of faeries come racing out from within their hollow hills to wreak havoc throughout the towns. Meandering mortals avoided traversing near the sidhe , or faerie mounds, out of fear of abduction. And if one did venture out during the wild hunt, it was only under the auspices of a protective charm, such as salt or iron. Turning one’s clothing inside out was another way to protect against faerie mischief.
Faerie lore claims that a stone with a natural hole through it, dry but found near the water, would enable the wearer to enter the faerie realm and return from it unharmed. This same type of amulet was also believed to protect horses from faerie mischief and theft.
Perhaps it was the practice of wearing charms for protection that led Samhain to become a night for divination. Many different methods of divination were used by the Celts in order for young girls to learn the name of a future husband. Others sought to get a glimpse of the future and obtain information about a future occupation. Babies born on Samhain were thought to possess divinatory power and were often treated with special respect as well as fear.
Samhain is also the time when rituals were held to honor the dead. Benevolent spirits were beckoned and tempted with favorite foods that they enjoyed during life. Malevolent spirits were banished and kept away. The origin of the jack o’ lantern is rooted in the belief of wandering spirits and ghosts. The lantern’s glow was meant as a beacon for the spirits of the dearly departed, while the terrible faces carved therein were meant to frighten away any spirit with ill intentions.
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