There’s a great deal of controversy about what Samhain ("sow-en") is. People who don’t follow Pagan religious practices are confused and sometimes frightened by the word (thank you Hollywood). Even amongst Pagans what Samhain means varies. There are a great deal of new variations in Pagan religion from wiccans to witches to druids to solitary practitioners. One of the great aspects of Pagan beliefs is that they require no church, no tithing, no leader. This results in many variations. Some practice magic. Others don’t. Some practice in groups or covens, others practice alone. Some pray. Some don’t pray. Some simply commune with nature and plant crops. Others find comfort in the symbols and rituals of incense, oils, crystals, and candles.
If my stringent Methodist upbringing taught me anything, it was that Christ’s attraction to man was that he told the commoners they could speak to God without having to pay a rabbi to communicate. That poor men could talk to God through prayer and He would hear. In fact, the need of religious leaders was truly redundant.
You can no more make an assumption about a Pagan as you can about a Christian. For certain, a Catholic wouldn’t want to be mixed up with a Mormon, nor would a Baptist like to be thrown in with a Methodist. The same can be said for Pagans. If you ask a Christian what their core belief is, regardless of which practice they perform, they’ll say “Jesus is my personal savior.” The next time someone gets up the courage to tell you they’re a Pagan, what they’re really saying is, “I believe in nature, the seasons, the cycles of life.”
Let’s clear up some assumptions. There’s a rumor going around that Samhain is a ceremonial night for the god of death. (sigh) Actually, Samhain is a Celtic word meaning "summer's end." The Celt’s believed their year ended on October 31st and the new year started on November 1st. In ancient times, the ties to the earth were crucial. After all, without crops and herds, how could man survive? On Samhain they lit bonfires and sacrificed part of their crops and herd to the god/goddess to ensure another year of prosperity. (consider it an offering plate of sorts lined not with gold, but something more priceless to ancient man)Today, the bonfire is still an important symbol, as is eating foods from the harvest including grains and corn.
This last night of the year, the Celts believed that the spirits were allowed to roam the earth and it was at that time that they could more easily communicate with the other side. Offerings for the dead are common even today amongst Pagans who set up shrines in their home for loved ones they miss, leaving out pictures and favorite foods. If this symbolism seems archaic, ask a Christian why he eats the flesh of Christ and drinks his blood? Lights a candle in prayer? Uses incense in ceremony? The god/goddess may have changed with Christianity, but the ceremonies still remain in subtle ways from Easter eggs to Yule logs.
We’re more the same than we are different.