“The candles are lighted, the hearthstones are swept, the fires glow red. We shall welcome them out of the night, our home-coming dead.” ~ Hallow-E’en 1917 by Winifred M. Letts
The Celtic celebration of Samhain, popularly known as All Hallow’s Eve, is the high holy day of witchcraft, which marked the Celtic new year and is an evening of reflection, honoring the dead and receiving their wise messages from the underworld. Along with magnanimous planet Jupiter firmly placed in Scorpio for the next year, the Sun and Mercury are also residing in the sign of metamorphosis, mastery and regeneration. Heavy, man, as my older hippies friends would say, barely begins to explain how deep the vibes are penetrating this Samhain season.
The importance of light, in both the magic and mundane world, has been on my mind frequently and I found myself having visions of golden lanterns at my usual 4:00am awakening. For some reason, my personal magic hour seems to be at dawn, just before the sun rises, as glimmers of light creep from the East. I find that magic works best during the “in-between” times of day and Samhain marks the beginning of winter and the waning light. Without light, we are forced to rely heavily on our senses and this creates an opportune time and atmosphere to work magic. Many magicians work strictly in a cloak of darkness and this time of year reminds us of the power of light, whether it be a single flickering candle or a blaze of carved pumpkins.
Jack-o-lanterns are a beloved Halloween tradition for all ages and while I partake in it with glee, this year I’m approaching it in a solemn and more ritualistic fashion, since the Scorpionic nature of worldwide events have forced us all to face the bleeding wounds of our soul in order for a revelatory transformation to occur. Originally the Celts in Ireland would carve turnips or gourds, as pumpkins were not local, for protection and warding off evil spirits, placing them on porches and in windows.
The name Jack o’lantern comes from the lore of Stingy Jack, a trick-loving blacksmith who toiled with the Devil, chasing and trapping him up in an apple tree. When Jack died, he would not be admitted into heaven or hell and roamed the earth carrying an ember that could never burn out, courtesy of the Devil, and placed it in a carved out turnip, his favorite food. Jack o’lantern is also referred to as the will-o’-the- wisps, a mysterious misty ghost light that resembles a lantern over swamps, bogs and marshes appearing at night. Scientifically, it is some kind of phosphorescence believed to occur due to a spontaneous combustion of chemicals such as methane or from decomposing matter. Magically the will-o’-the-wisps conjures up faeires, ghosts and all kinds of unexplained phenomena and science can’t exactly explain the entire pale flames dancing above the marshes.
On October 31st after the frivolity of trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples and other parlor games has passed, let the night envelop you and commune with silence. Be aware of the sensual world and light a flame. Carve occult symbols of protection into a pumpkin, rutabaga, potato or gourd, whatever you have access to, and if possible surround yourself in a circle of lanterns. Their light should be the only light illuminating your space and imagine yourself descending towards the bowels of the underworld. If you have a witches flying ointment or oils of mandrake, henbane or belladonna anoint your temples and feet. Incense, oils, or balms, and a glass of good red wine will often set the mood. Think back on last Halloween, how your eyes have opened and what you’re still grappling with one year later. Honor those loved ones who have passed and raise a glass to their memory, perhaps they will visit you in a dream or through a sign of life. Revel in the warmth, guidance and light that these lanterns and the season of Samhain provide.