Friday, October 31, 2014

Today is Samhain.

The door is open. Seek.

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Samhain (pronounced SAH-win), or Halloween if you prefer, is a festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the "darker half" of the year -- that period when days are shorter rather than longer. It began at dusk on October 31, and ended at dusk on November 1.

Many people in Europe, particularly Gaelic and Celtic areas, believed that the barrier separating this world from the spiritual world was thin and easily pierced on Samhain. This allowed people to communicated with higher powers, to seek guidance regarding important issues or to communicate with the deceased. But with the barrier low, evil spirits might also cross over and do harm to people.

Bonfires were lit on Smahain to remind people that the sun still held sway, and would return. These bonfires were also thought to scare off evil spirits. Often, special things were burned in the bonfire, such as salt or the wood of the oak or ash tree. These items were held to be sacred, and the smoke of their burning helped keep evil at bay.

Feasting was common on Samhain. Most people had spent the spring and summer practically starving. But Samhain marked the end of crop harvest and the beginning of slaughter. Eating the first fruits of the harvest marked a time of great plenty for the common man. It was not uncommon for items to be baked or cooked on the Samhain bonfire, such as toffee or parkin (an oatmeal cake made with molasses). Mumming (performing short plays in the street) and guising (donning a small disguise and going door to door to ask for treats) was a common folk tradition associated with the festive nature of Samhain.

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