12/30/07

Secular New Year vs. Samhain, Witch's New Year

Oak Moon
Waning (age: 20 days), in Virgo
Weather: mild, low clouds, expecting some rain or snow

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For many witches, Samhain (Oct. 31, also known as Holloween here in the US) is the beginning of the new sacred year. Much like the Jewish Rosh Hashanah, Samhain is a time for one to focus upon the past year and introspection, as well as making plans for the new year. While in the Jewish tradition, work is prohibited and attendance at temple, with contemplation of the liturgical texts appropriate to the holy day is required, it is a bit different in witchcraft.

Yes, many witches hold circles and will engage in boisterous celebrations. Some will hold somber rememberances for the dead and others will engage in the merriment that overtakes the rest of the community in a glut of candy, chocolate, and hijinks, Samhain can have many different ways it is celebrated. Within my tradition, Samhain is both a time for merriment and a time for preparation.

A long, long time ago, Samhain was approximately during the time of the last major harvest of the year and the culling of the herds. This time was a time of mixed emotions because the approaching winter brought great apprehension even as there was joy that the labors of the year were nearly over. This time of mixed emotions does persist into the modern era, though it doesn't fall on Samhain as frequently now.

Now, the date of Dec. 31st is the one where we culturally have our time of merriment and apprehension. We bid the old year good bye, celebrate the coming year, and find ourselves plagued by the uncertianty of the coming year, in addition to being troubled by lingering fears of the past year.

Here, on the verge of the secular New Year, I realize that Samhain has come to me late this year. It fell on the secular New Year, rather then the Witch's New Year. I find myself relieved that the burdens of the past 12 months are finally passing, but I am also concerned for the burdens that will persist as well. I am filled with deep and speechless joy, gratitude, and wonder for all of the special and truly amazing things that has happened this year, such as the birth of my son. I feel hope for the coming year and also anxiety.

In this, I realize that I must bid the year good bye in a way that banishes the past fears and plans for the coming year. At Samhain and at the secular New Year, many people light bonfires. These fires are lit generally for the pure pyromaniac joy of watching something burn. Oh sure, many people talk about how these fires are symbolically bringing in the warmth of the summer or some such rot like that. But let's be honest, 99% of the people who light fires on New Years and Samhain are doing so because the fire looks cool. Not saying that symbolisim is bad, but there is such a thing as reading far too much into something.

That rant aside, I believe that I'm going to do some variation (obviously much smaller) of a bonfire. It may only be a candle, but this flame will be used to symbolically consume the old year's dross. I think I may also do a little ritual to reinforce my goals of the next year in addition to this, I haven't decided yet. But I recognize that I need to do this, which brings me back to what I wanted to say earlier but I think I did a terrible job of doing.

It is important to take at least one day out of the year for us to recognize where we have been and where we'd like to go. This is what the holy day of Samhain is for in my tradition and the way that I try to view the secular New Year as well.

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