Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. Villagers cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames. [The word bonfire is thought to derive from these "bone fires."]. With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit their hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together. Like most Celtic festivals, it was celebrated on a number of levels. Materially speaking it was the time of gathering food for the long winter months ahead, bringing people and their livestock in to their winter quarters. To be alone and missing at this dangerous time was to expose yourself and your spirit to the perils of imminent winter. In present times the importance of this part of the festival has diminished for most people. From the point of view of a tribal people for whom a bad season meant facing a long winter of famine in which many would not survive to the spring, it was paramount. Samhain is also a time for contemplation. Death was never very far away, yet to die was not the tragedy it is in modern times. Of signal importance to the Celts people was to die with honour and to live in the memory of the tribe and be honoured at the great feast.
This was the most magical time of the year; Samhain was the day which did not exist. During the night the great shield of Skathach was lowered, allowing the barriers between the worlds to fade and the forces of chaos to invade the realms of order, the material world conjoining with the world of the dead. At this time the spirits of the dead and those yet to be born walked amongst the living. The dead could return to the places where they had lived and food and entertainment were provided in their honour. In this way the tribes were at one with its past, present and future.
On the level of cosmic event, the rising of Pleiades, the winter stars, heralds the supremacy of night over day, the dark half ruled by the realms of the moon.
In the three days preceding the Samhain month the Sun God, Lugh, maimed at Lughnassadh, dies by the hand of his Tanist (his other self), the Lord of Misrule. Lugh traverses the boundaries of the worlds on the first day of Samhain. His Tanist is a miser and though he shines brightly in the winter skies he gives no warmth. and does not temper the breath of the Crone, Cailleach Bheare, the north wind. In this may be discerned the ageless battle between the light and dark and the cyclic nature of life and the seasons. In parts of western Brittany Samhain is still heralded by the baking of kornigou. Kornigou are cakes baked in the shape of antlers to commemorate the god of winter shedding his "cuckold" horns as he returns to his kingdom in the Otherworld. When the Romans made contact with the Celts, they added their feast of the dead to Samhain. The Christians subverted the recognition of Samhain to honor the saints, as All Saint’s Day on November 1st and named October 31 as All Hallow’s Eve. This latter became a secular holiday by the name of Hallowe’en. Although using different nomenclatures, all of these festivals and feasts are celebrating the accessibility, veneration, awe, and respect of the dead.
While the money-making and party-throwing opportunities of Halloween thrive across Asia, the festival also shines a spotlight on the region’s profound relationship with the afterlife. From traditional markets to modern entertainment districts, major cities across Asia are looking to cash-in on "All Hallows’ Eve." In Hong Kong, markets bulged with lanterns, masks, fake pumpkins and costumes that were quickly snapped up, while online game developers, cinemas and department stores splashed special offers and products in Seoul. Children in the Philippines trick-or-treated at the Manila home of former president Joseph Estrada, while in Beijing, Bangkok and Hanoi, the night of dressing up in disguise is simply seen as an expatriate party. Apart from the money to be made and the fun to be had, Halloween’s celebration of the afterlife appeals to Asians’ deeper relationship with the supernatural, said Hong Kong-based cultural commentator Nury Vittachi. "Ghosts are very big in Asian culture and there is a deeper understanding and interest in their place in society," "You can have a relationship with them, you can make friends with them. In the West, ghosts are nearly always bad things, but here they are on your side."
The Chinese Yue Lan, or Hungry Ghosts, festival falls just a few weeks before Halloween. Families mark the day with picnics at the graves of loved-ones, even setting them a place at the meal to ensure their happiness. Other rituals include burning gifts the ghosts may want. Modern offerings range from paper versions of iPods, designer suits and airline tickets to a representation of a domestic servant. Graves are swept and presents are even burned for ghosts who do not have relatives to look after them, for fear they may become angry. This trepidation about an avenging afterlife was perhaps most acutely seen in Thailand, where many locals said the souls of those killed in the 2004 tsunami haunted the coastline, driving away Asian tourists. However, this strong link to the afterlife can also cause tensions between traditional values and the growing popularity of Halloween. Lai Chi Tim, a professor in Chinese religions at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said many Chinese are left bemused by the festival. "In Chinese religious traditions, it is not understandable why the ghosts have to become part of Halloween," he said. "The underworld is not a source of amusement. Chinese people believe that when you pass away, spirits are still living in this world." The bemusement can lead to suspicion. Vittachi recalled a story of students at Beijing University giving out invitations to a Halloween party, dressed in skeleton costumes. As they were trying to drum up business, they were questioned by police, who ordered them to stop, adding: "You cannot practice your religion here."
Despite the rare cultural clashes, many cities will prepare for the celebration with good humour. "It is a good excuse for a party, and who doesn’t like a party?" Vittachi said.
By Guy Newey AFP
A Testament.. .
"Contrary to what those who choose to persecute or lie about us wish to believe, Wicca is a very peaceful, harmonious and balanced way of thinking and life which promotes oneness with the divine and all which exists. Wicca is a deep appreciation and awe in watching the sunrise or sunset, the forest in the light of a glowing moon, a meadow enchanted by the first light of day. It is the morning dew on the petals of a beautiful flower, the gentle caress of a warm summer breeze upon your skin, or the warmth of the summer sun on your face. Wicca is the fall of colourful autumn leaves, and the softness of winter snow. It is light, and shadow and all that lies in between. It is the song of the birds and other creatures of the wild. It is being in the presence of Mother Earths nature and being humbled in reverence. When we are in the temple of the Lord and Lady, we are not prone to the arrogance of human technology as they touch our souls. To be a Witch is to be a healer, a teacher, a seeker, a giver, and a protector of all things. If this path is yours, may you walk it with honour, light and integrity.
Wicca is a belief system and way of life based upon the reconstruction of pre-Christian traditions originating in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. While much of the information of how our ancestors lived, worshiped and believed has been lost due to the efforts of the medieval church to wipe our existence from history, we try to reconstruct those beliefs to the best of our ability with the information that is available. Thanks to archaeological discoveries, we now have basis to believe that the origins of our belief system can be traced even further back to the Paleolithic peoples who worshipped a Hunter God and a Fertility Goddess. With the discovery of these cave paintings, estimated to be around 30,000 years old, depicting a man with the head of a stag, and a pregnant woman standing in a circle with eleven other people, it can reasonably be assumed that Witchcraft is one of the oldest belief systems known in the world today. These archetypes are clearly recognized by Wiccan as our view of the Goddess and God aspect of the supreme creative force and predate Christianity by roughly 28,000 years making it a mere toddler in the spectrum of time as we know it.
Witchcraft in ancient history was known as "The Craft of the Wise" because most who followed the path were in tune with the forces of nature, had a knowledge of Herbs and medicines, gave council and were valuable parts of the village and community as Shamanic healers and leaders. They understood that mankind is not superior to nature, the earth and its creatures but instead we are simply one of the many parts, both seen and unseen that combine to make the whole. As Chief Seattle said; "We do not own the earth, we are part of it." These wise people understood that what we take or use, we must return in kind to maintain balance and equilibrium. Clearly, modern man with all his applied learning and technology has forgotten this. Subsequently, we currently face ecological disaster and eventual extinction because of our hunger for power and a few pieces of gold.
For the past several hundred years, the image of the Witch has been mistakenly associated with evil, heathenism, and unrighteousness. In my humble opinion, these misconceptions have their origin in a couple of different places. To begin, the medieval church of the 15th through 18th centuries created these myths to convert the followers of the old nature based religions to the churches way of thinking. By making the Witch into a diabolical character and turning the old religious deities into devils and demons, the missionaries were able to attach fear to these beliefs which aided in the conversion process. Secondly, as medical science began to surface, the men who were engaged in these initial studies had a very poor understanding of female physiology, especially in the area of a women’s monthly cycles. The unknowns in this area played very well with the early churches agenda lending credence to the Witch Hunters claims and authority. The fledgling medical professions also stood to benefit greatly from this because it took the power of the women healers away giving it to the male physicians transferring the respect and power to them.
Unfortunately these misinformed fears and superstitions have carried forward through the centuries and remain to this day. This is why many who follow these nature oriented beliefs have adopted the name of Wicca over its true name of Witchcraft to escape the persecution, harassment and misinformation associated with the name of Witchcraft and Witch not to mention the bad publicity the press and Hollywood has given us simply to generate a profit. We do not sacrifice animals or humans because that would violate our basic tenant of "Harm None." Anyone who does and claims to be a Wiccan or a Witch is lying. Pagans see the divine not in one god but in all of nature and in simple, ersonalised rituals, they worship its mysteries.
Being a pagan in 21st century Britain is nothing to do with black cats and magic. Not all pagans are practising wiccans, and those who want to put a hex on an enemy always bear in mind the Law Of Return -anything you put out you get back threefold. In many ways the pagan path is a natural progression for anyone who cares about ecological issues and is disaffected with conventional religions. It’s gentle, keeps you in tune with the rhythms of the landscape, and encourages individual responsibility."