by Joann Keesey
Even though in Irish, sam means summer, Samhain (pronounced sah’-wen)is the festival of November eve and the beginning of the dark half of the year for the Celts. In the Coligny calendar, a series of engraved bronze plates unearthed in France in 1897, the year begins with a month marked”SAM” and a festival known as Samonios or “summer’s end.”Alwyn and Brinley Rees comment in Celtic Heritage that this arrangement harmonizes with Caesar’s testimony concerning the precedence of night over day. “The Gauls, he says called themselves sons of the god of night and defined ‘the division of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights…”
The ritual outlined below makes use of the symbolism of apples quite extensively,along with honoring the ancestors, which was a common Celtic practice at the commencement of winter. If apples are not available, nuts can be used. Keeping with a Celtic theme, hazel nuts or filberts, for the divinatory aspects would be a good choice.
This ritual was designed for public use and, as such, has a few caveats.The format is extremely simple but the preparations are fairly extensive. In our case, the person chosen to be the apple woman was from another coven. We talked quite extensively about how I envisioned the role and what she would bring to it, and she was given a small but working sickle to meditate on for a week beforehand. That sickle also formed part of her ritual attire and was worn on a cord around her waist. She had a deep basket which held about 25 apples. We had 22 participants. The apple cores were gathered up afterwards and used for garden compost. Alternatively, the seeds could be planted by someone or the apples eaten completely. For a smaller group,it could also be feasible to carve a small sigil on the apple before it’s eaten.
The second caveat has to do with the one non-Celtic element in this ritual.The second chant is a Yoruban ancestor chant from a South Carolina village that has worked extensively to recreate an African village compound in this country. It is not a chant to be used lightly. It does call the ancestors. There should be a trance medium or one who is used to working with ancestor spirits present. For those who are new to the topic or have not yet realized that you can work with ancestors other than your own, I would advise the substitution of another chant. Finally, for those who have recently lost friends or family, this chant may bring the fresh feelings of grief to the fore, and both the apple-woman and the presiding priestess as well as any other elders present should be prepared to deal with these appropriately.
The meditation, the ground of being, and the first ancestor chant are the work of Erynn Laurie from Seattle, who has a wonderful Celtic Internet list called nemeton-l. For those with Internet or e-mail access, you can subscribe by sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org which simply says in the body of the message “subscribe” and your e-mail address. Erynn also has a fine book out called A Circle of Stones: Journeys and Meditations for Modern Celts.
I would be happy to hear about peoples’ use of this ritual and will answer any questions. Write care of the Obsidianpost office box to Joann Keesey.
The apple is considered feminine, ruled by the planet Venus. Its element is water, and it is associated with the following deities: Venus, Dionysus, Olwen, Apollo, Hera, Athena, Diana, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Iduna. The powers of the apple are love, healing, garden magic and immortality. Folk names for the apple retain these associations; for example, Fruit of the Gods,Fruit of the Underworld, Silver Branch, and Tree of Love. Halloween apple games descended from Celtic feasts of Samhain at the end of October. If you bobbed for apples and got one, the luck of the year would accompany you. If you managed only water, then the prospects were not so bright. Iduna(1) guards her apples well,and only the worthy will emerge victorious. Throughout the Indo-European culture complex, apples represented the Goddess’s sacred heart of immortality,displaying the pentagram when cut across.
Hey ho for Hallow E’en
A’ the witches tae be seen
Some in black and some in green
Hey ho for Hallow E’en.
In the Celtic countries, this was the time when ghosts and spirits of the dead came back to their former homes looking for warmth and food. The harvest had been gathered in, the cattle bedded down in their winter stalls. Families could hardly deny the shades of relatives the welcome they gave their cattle.On Samhain Eve, a fire would be built up and a table set with food to welcome them. Sometimes there was even a dumb supper with the company of those who had gone before. Throughout Gaul and Britain, fires were kindled on the hilltops to serve as a guide to those well disposed and a warning to deter those bent on mischief. Hundreds of years after Samhain had been replaced by All Hallows’ Eve, people were still building up the fire and setting the table for a feast, then leaving the house unlocked and departing for church. The custom only died out when not only the food was gone, but also the silver and other family heirlooms. Italians and Latin Americans still make an elaborate celebration, often having picnics in the cemeteries.
Apple rust, and cinnamon rust,
And cloves like rusty nails,
Turn my head to an iron box
And my ribs to rusty rails.
Long a symbol of life and fertility, nuts were an indispensable part of the holiday feast. In some parts of the British Isles, Hallows was known as Nutcrack Night. Nuts were divinatory, especially as far as romance was concerned. For each couple, a pair of nuts would be placed near the fire or on a hot shovel. In Wales, if both “pop and fly” simultaneously,the couple will marry, but if they explode at different times, they will part. In Scotland and Northern England, the nuts should burn quietly together.If they spring apart, so will the couple, but in the South the rhyme has it:
If he loves me, pop and fly!
If he hates me, lie and die.
4 quarter candles
stone, feather, water
large basket with apples or nuts
cakes and wine (good non-alcoholic choice here is apple cider)
container to dispose of apple cores
Cast the Circle
East, South, West, North! Let the people gather forth!
Air, Fire, Water, Earth! Sacred circle now sees birth!
Call the Quarters
EAST: (Lights Eastern candle)
Let there be a light kindled from the spirit.
Blessed be this Eastern Gate and blessed be the element of Air.
SOUTH: (Lights Southern candle)
Let there be a light increasing and illuminating the South.
Blessed be this Southern Gate and blessed be the element of Fire.
WEST: (Lights Western candle)
Let there be a light radiating in the West.
Blessed be this Western Gate and blessed be the Element of Water.
NORTH: (Lights Northern candle)
Let there be a light reflecting in the North.
Blessed be this Northern Gate and blessed be the Element of Earth.
Casters: Let these powers be as one.
All: So mote it be.
Stand quietly and relax with your hands resting at your sides. Clear your mind and concentrate on your breathing. Breathe in and out slowly and follow along with this meditation.
Take three breaths. On the fourth, raise the hands from the sides to the heart, palm over palm.
We are at the center of the World.
Exhale, move to one knee with palms on the ground before you.
We stand firmly upon the Land.
Inhale and rise to your feet, moving the hands behind at hip height, palms up, cupping. Exhale and move the hands in an arc until they meet in front.
The sea always surrounds us.
Inhale and move hands to the sides, spread the fingers wide, palms forward.Exhale and raise the arms, bringing the hands together above the head, thumb and forefinger meeting to create a triangle.
The sky spreads itself above us.
Inhale and lower hands to heart again.
We are at the center of the Three Realms.
Exhale and lower hands to the sides.
Ground of Being
Take stone and raise it above the head, lower it to touch the ground.
May Talamh Naomh (2)support us.
Set stone back. Take water and tip some salt into it. Swirl water three times clockwise. Walk three times clockwise around group.
May Farraighe Siorai (3)surround us.
Place water back and take feather. With the feather, describe an arc from east to west over the group.
May Speir Eigriochta (4)watch over us.
Honoring of the Ancestors
After pouring the libation, the Priest/ess says:
Let us make offerings to the ancestors and land spirits. Meditate upon our debt to them, for without them we would not exist.
All chant (in one-note chant):
Here I stand on sacred land
The sky is over my head
All around me the endless sea
We honor the Mighty Dead.
Priest/ess then says:
Beginning with [name of person in circle] and continuing deosil around the circle, when you are ready go to the Apple woman and receive your offering of immortality after you have remembered those who have gone before.
Wole wa, egun gun, wole wa (three times)
Oh, ohh… wole wa. (5)
(Continue entire chant until all have visited the Apple woman)
The fruit is eaten, and the Priest/ess then says:
As we have eaten of the fruit of life, so our ancestors live in our fruitful memories of them.
Apple cores are collected and disposed of in the manner chosen.
Cakes and Wine
Dismissal of the Ancestors
Dobayo, egun gun, dobayo (three times)
Dismissal of the Quarters
NORTH: By the power of the stone at Midnight, I transform, send forth and remain at Peace.
WEST: By the power of the setting sun and rising moon at Twilight,I transform, send forth and remain at Peace.
SOUTH: By the power of the radiant Sun at Noon, I transform, send forth, and remain at Peace.
EAST: By the power of the rising sun and morning star at Dawn, I transform, send forth and remain at Peace.
Priest/ess: Let these powers be as none.
All: So mote it be.
Opening of Circle and Closing
North, West, South, and East! All have eaten of the Feast!
Earth, Water, Fire, and Air! Circle is open with joy and care!
The circle is open…
JOANN KEESEY has been a witch for ten years. She belongs to a small working coven that specializes in British and Celtic folklore.
1. The goddess Induna lives in Asgard and possesses magical apples which the Gods eat and, as a result, never grow old.(Return to text)
2. Pronounced “Talav Noom.” (Return to text)
3. Pronounced “Farrah Sheer.”(Return to text)
4. Pronounced “Spear Eg-greesh.” (Return to text)
McNeill, F. Marian, The Silver Bough, Volume Three, a Calendar of Scottish National Festivals, Hallowe’en to Yule, (Glasgow: William Maclellan,240 Hope Street, Glasgow, 1959).
Rees, Alwyn and Brinley, Celtic Heritage, Ancient Tradition in Irelandand Wales, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1961).