Samhain (saw-wen): honoring the Celtic New Year, and the ancestors

We hosted a Samhain (saw-wen) gathering last night to honor the Celtic New Year which begins with sunset, October 31. (For anyone interested, the veil remains thin through November 5!) We have been doing this for years. I take special care creating our Samhain fire. For a couple of years we have been building a smaller fire in our story-fire place, a circle of stones for the fire pit surrounded by another circle of stones for seats, surrounded by an outer circle of upright logs. For years before that I would build a much larger fire in the middle of our standing stone circle nearby. But large or small, I build the fire the exact same way. First I gather fallen wood from the forest on the edge of the meadow and place the branches around the fire pit. (That’s not quite accurate. The very first thing I do is collect a good amount of White pine twigs that I snap off the trees.) Then I form a loose ball of dry straw from our barn and around that I build a self-supporting tipi-structure using small pine sticks surrounded by larger twigs and branches, maintaining a dense symmetrical cone shape so there is a hole or chimney going up the center, but not a lot of room for air to enter from the sides, only through a channel below where the fire is lit with a small torch at the center. Once lit, the fire takes its time expanding inside the tipi and slowly makes its way up through with a few tentative bursts of pure flame from the top but once free it grows taller, flicking and waving like the wing of a firebird. Then it begins to gyrate like a sinuous dancer and finally, now that we are all transfixed watching it, it comes into its own and is “like” nothing. It is fire, timeless and mysterious, one of the most ancient elemental-spirits. And this bright and mesmerizing spirit rises to three or four times the height of the wood, releasing countless flames at the top where it can reach no higher, but tries, making infinite little leaps. Later the fire hears our stories and receives our intentions and hopes for the new year, as we honor this moment in time and we honor each other, just by showing up . . .  and we honor the ancestors who are not just our blood-ancestors but these trees and stones and the mountains that hold this valley, our home.
We always light a candle from this Samhain fire and place that candle in a West-facing window to guide the beneficial ancestral spirits to our home because we value their presence and invite their protection.


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