My thoughts on Samhain
I am one of many Pagans who love the time around Samhain. For me, it brings back a myriad of cherished childhood memories and the slightly cooler temperatures in SA make me feel alive again.
I grew up in the South West of Germany which always has had lots of Pagan traditions combined with Catholic customs. The small village I used to call home was, according to local folklore, founded 2000 years ago during the times of the Roman invasion of Germany and it derived its name from the Roman god Zeus. It is nestled in a fertile valley surrounded by vineyards, orchards and forests.
The start of Autumn was marked with helping at the vineyards with the harvesting of grapes (we actually got off school for this and got paid) and helping in the fields picking potatoes. We were always rewarded with feasts of sweet onion cake and grape juice which just started to ferment, but the best for me were always the smells…
The smells of the bonfires and the potatoes we used to roast on sticks, the smells of the Autumn leaves we disturbed and threw at each other when we ran through the forest, the smells of the chestnuts we used to eat and make little mannetjies from to play with, the smell of the freshly chopped wood my father made me stack into piles for Winter.
On Samhain Eve, we would carve faces into big sugar beets and light candles in them to chase away the spirits and visit the old graveyard in the center of the town. We used to run around like maniacs trying to scare each other hiding behind the walls of the old church. We also collected dog turds, pack them into newspaper, put them in front of entrance doors of the people who gave us a hard time during the year, light them and ring the bell and then hide…
Fast forward to the year 2014 in South Africa and my Samhain celebration will be much more sedate. I will be decorating my seasonal altar this weekend with butternuts, grains, leaves, fruits and nuts. I will be making a wreath out of rosemary to remember all my ancestors who came before me and place the pictures of my grandmother and my mother who have passed on to the Otherworld on the altar. We also remember all our pets on Samhain eve and the ashes of beloved dogs who crossed the rainbow bridge years ago will be present. We won’t be carving sugar beets, but boere pampoene and we will make sure that candles will burn through the night on the 30th of April.
And I will be sitting at my special tree in the garden with a glass of wine watching the sunset and the mist settling over our beach and our little valley and contemplating life. Hail to the gods and our ancestors!