Samhain's Magic Circle limited edition print
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Samhain, meaning “summer’s end” in Gaelic, is an ancient Celtic fire festival that is often referred to as the Pagan New Year, for it marks the start of the Autumn and Winter months known as the “dark” half of the year. As a way of closing out the year and starting fresh, Samhain is a time of reflection on events throughout the past year as well as remembering ancestors and communing with the spirit world. Many of the traditions and lore of Halloween stem from Samhain, however they are two separate holidays. Halloween is a non-secular, modernized celebration of mischief and horror whereas Samhain is a spiritual celebration focused on ancestor worship and ensuring protection of the hearth and home throughout the winter. Although different, many of the Halloween traditions we practice today have their roots in the pagan festival of Samhain.
The first frost after the October full moon marked the beginning of Samhain festivities. During this holiday it is believed that the veil between our world and the spirit world is at it’s thinnest, allowing spirits to roam freely. Along with spirits, it is said that all sorts of magical creatures roam in the shadows while the veil is open. Of all these creatures, Fairies were the most feared during Samhain. They were mischievous and unforgiving, prone to playing harmful tricks and kidnapping children. In order to mask themselves and confuse the fairies, Celts would often wear costumes during Samhain and this is where our Halloween custom of dressing up in costume stems from. In addition, mummers used to roam the villages at night dressed as wandering spirits collecting soul cakes from each house in order to ensure a safe winter and appease the otherworldly souls. This further perpetuated the tradition of wearing costumes during the night of Samhain. If a house refused to give offerings to the “spirits” the mummers would play a trick on the family, hence “Trick-or-treat!”
Along with soul cakes, it was customary to arrange an extra place setting at your holiday dinner table as a symbolic gesture of remembrance and respect for ancestors passed. Believing that their ancestors were present during Samhain, families would gather in their homes and recount all of the events of the past year so the spirits may listen. This was a custom that was usually practiced in the privacy of one’s home after the communal festivities were performed. Druids, the holy men of the Celts, would light a bonfire, usually with different sacred woods. Each family would put out the hearth fires in their homes and relight them with a torch from the communal Samhain bonfire. This was a custom that brought good luck and protection throughout the winter months. Fire is the element of transformation so it was also believed that relighting the hearth fire was a form of cleansing and starting new.
Samhain’s Magic Circle is a wheel depicting the traditions, deities, and natural correspondences for the fire festival of Samhain. At the center of the wheel is the Crone whom alludes to the withering, dying earth. The ring surrounding her depicts the various traditions and beliefs of the holiday; (clockwise from top): The communal bonfire, carving turnips as Jack-o-lanterns, wearing costumes, soul cakes, the last harvest, lighting candles for the dead, and spirits roaming freely. Bursting forth from the ring of traditions is a seven-pointed star, each point containing an animal corresponding to Samhain. (clockwise from top): The spider, raven, wolf, scorpion, bat, owl, and black cat. The seven-pointed star is symbolic of the union between the divine spirit world (3) and earth (4), which alludes to the thinning of the veil at Samhain. The people depicted in small circles on the wheel are deities from Celtic, Norse, and Greek mythologies, for these were the cultures to first celebrate Samhain once it spread from the Celtic lands. Clockwise from the top is Badb (Celtic crone goddess of war), Odin (Norse supreme god), Cailleach (Celtic hag goddess of winter), Hel (Norse goddess of death and the underworld), Hades (Greek god of death and the underworld), Hecate (Greek goddess of the moon, magic, and witchcraft), and Arawn (Celtic god of war and the otherworld). From these deities each stems a corresponding tree that grows towards the center of the magic circle and two corresponding herbs that grow towards the outer edge of the composition. These trees and plants correspond to the deity as well as the Samhain holiday and the intention embodied by the deity in which they grow. Flanking each god or goddess are symbols (alchemical and Norse runes) and animals that relate to the being. Each section of the wheel “ruled” by a deity corresponds to an intention put forth during the practices of Samhain. The entire magic circle is encompassed by the Ouroboros (snake eating itself) as it decays into skeletal remains. This depiction of the dying snake alludes to the overarching purpose of Samhain being a time to confront death and the natural cycle of the earth as it fades into hibernation.
Samhain’s Magic Circle isoriginal artwork hand drawn and screenprinted by Adrienne Rozzi of Poison Apple Printshop. Measures 13.5″ x 13.5″