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Samhain: Celebrating the Ancient Ways in Modern Times

Peterborough, NH, October 24th, 10am-6pm

by Jess Venusta with Kevin Sartoris


The cool, crisp morning air and silvery frost that blankets the ground
signal that summer has come to a close. The scent of burning wood from a nearby hearth; the piles of crimson and gold leaves that rustle beneath our feet; the ever-growing shadows of early evening – herald the impending dark and winter to come.

Shorter days and longer nights will draw a curtain upon the season of bounty. The cycle of life, the ever-turning Wheel of the Year, completes a revolution. The time has come for the Final Harvest, for taking stock, for turning inward, and reminiscing.

Day’s end will find most of us retreating to the warmth and comfort of
our modern homes – though we carry within us the ancient memory of much
harder times. For Pagans, whose spirituality is based in the natural cycles of life and death, this time of year evokes a meaningfulness beyond that of pumpkin pie and hay rides. We seek to honor the ancient ways, and celebrate the dark as well as the light.

The Celtic holiday of Samhain (pronounced sow’-when) is one of eight
primary Pagan festivals dedicated to the seasonal and symbolic transitions represented by the Wheel of the Year. Falling between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice, Samhain is the Pagan ‘New Year’ – the beginning of the "dark half" of the year.

For the ancient Celts, this was a time to bring livestock in from the fields and cull the herd for winter. In anticipation of the long nights and cold days to come, Samhain observances often included bonfires, drumming, and feasting.

Situated between the light and dark halves of the year, it was believed that the "veil" between the worlds – that of the living and the dead – was at its thinnest at Samhain. Candles were placed in windows, and "soul cakes" or other foods were left out to welcome returning spirits. Samhain was regarded as an auspicious time to commune with those who had passed over, and likewise, to conduct divination and
fortune-telling.

Ancestors and those who had recently passed on to the spirit realm were honored with stories, a setting at the table, and home altars adorned with mementos and images of the deceased. As Christianity spread, many of the indigenous Pagan customs were assimilated and reconstituted in
observances such as "All Soul’s Day", when those saints not granted holidays of their own and the deceased were honored. This feast day was intended by the Church to substitute for Samhain, draw the Celtic folk into the new religion, and ultimately replace it.

With the waves of Irish immigration and that of other Celtic peoples early in the last century, the traditions of Samhain were introduced to this country – eventually morphing into the trappings associated with the uniquely American holiday of Halloween.

Halloween customs such as trick-or-treating, jack-o’-lanterns, bobbing
for apples, ghostly costumes and masquerade are all derived from pre-Christian traditions practiced by Pagans in Ireland and elsewhere.

Each October, the quaint town of Peterborough, New Hampshire,becomes the gathering point for Witches, Pagans, and wise folk from across New England and beyond to rekindle the "Old Ways" and celebrate the holiday of Samhain in a festive manner.

Now in its fourth year, Celebrate Samhain is an all-ages, celebration
of the Final Harvest and ancestors past – filled with magic, music, crafts, and merriment. This year’s event will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough, NH on October 24th from 10am-6pm.

Open to the public, attendees can enjoy the entrancing music of a gypsy
troupe; browse the wares of mystical vendors; learn something new in a
variety of free workshops; make and take home magical crafts; enlist a
reading by a gifted intuitive; feast on delectable harvest-tide fare and beverages to warm the body and spirit; and observe the Celtic holiday of Samhain in a traditional, Earth-centered ceremony that honors those who have gone on before.

Last year Celebrate Samhain drew attendees from every state in New England, New York, New Jersey, and from as far off as Maryland. The event raised several hundred dollars for the New Hampshire chapter of SpiralScouts, a co-ed, Earth-centered non-profit youth scouting organization as well as donations for the local food bank and Unitarian Universalist Church’s clothing drive.

Confirmed speakers and presenters include New Hampshire’s own celebrated Witch and award-winning author, Christopher Penczak; featured musical recording artists, The Gypsy Nomads from New Paltz, NY; author, spiritual coach, intuitive and healer, Dr. Kevin Ross Emery from Portland, ME; recording artist and WitchTalk radio host, Karagan from Salem, MA; Spiritual medium and author, Jimahl di Fiosa from Salem, MA; and noted Kitchen Witch and owner of Cucina Aurora, Dawn Hunt from Long
Island, NY.

Vendors from near and far will offer handcrafts, books, jewelry, clothing, ritual items, artwork, herbal and body care products, intuitive readings, Reiki services, and all feather of unique and special gifts. A Children’s Craft Room will keep little hands busy with supervised instruction creating "Day of the Dead" sugar skulls, bean runes, and feather masks. A raffle will feature unique and handmade gifts, autographed books, services, gift certificates, and more.

Celebrate Samhain culminates with a traditional Wiccan Samhain ceremony to honor those who have passed on before us. Led by High Priestess, Lady Lyrion Ap Tower and High Priest, Lord Raven Ap Tower, of the Granite Tower in Wilton, New Hampshire – everyone, regardless of spiritual path, is invited to partake in this especially moving ritual.

Admission to the all-day event is $2 per person (children under 10 free) with a requested donation of either a nonperishable food item or an item of new winter clothing (mittens, hats, scarves, socks, etc.) to be donated to the Peterborough Town Hall Food Bank and the Peterborough UU Church’s Mitten Tree project, respectively. Admission sans donation is $3.

Celebrate Samhain is an indoor event and will be held rain or shine. The Peterborough UU Church is a handicapped-accessible venue (ramps and elevators are available) and is a Welcoming Congregation.

For more information, see the ad on the back cover of this month’s issue or visit www.CelebrateSamhain.com, befriend us at www.Facebook.com/CelebrateSamhain, or receive updates at www. Twitter.com/SamhainFestival. 




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