Welcome Samhain!

1 Comment
Happy Samhain!

Happy Samhain! (c) José Antonio Gil Martínez from Vigo, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.

On October 31 to November 2, much of the world continues a celebration that has its origins in Celtic antiquity, the Feast of Samhain (also spelled variously in Celtic languages as Samhainn, Samhuinn, and Sauin. All are pronounced /ˈsɑːwɪn/ sah-win or /ˈsaʊ.ɪn/ sow-in, the Christian Hallowmas and an ancient Aztec festival.

The names for Samhain come from the Old Irish samain, samuin or samfuin. Since the 1907 work of linguist Whitley Stokes, the etymology has been suggested as from Proto-Celtic *samani (‘assembly’), cognate to Sanskrit sámana, and Gothic samana. Thus the name commemorates the Royal (and other) assemblies for this feast.

October 31 is Oíche Shamhna (Irish Gaelige), Oidhche Shamhna (Scotts Gaelic), or Samhain’s Eve, while November 1 is Samhain itself. Over the millennia, a third day, November 2 completes the three-day festival. Samhain also is the name for the month of November in Gaelige, and some other Celtic languages.

We should note that, consonant with modern practice, we are using the latin alphabet to write the Gaelic names. The older, traditional alphabet would look like this:

Irish Uncials

Irish Uncials

In English language popular media, especially in North America, Samhain is routinely mispronounced as “Sam-hain” because the speakers do not realize that Irish / Gaelic Orthography represents sounds considerably differently than English does. While there is some controversy on how to correctly pronounce this Gaelige word in English (in the Nominative Case), the standard is /ˈsaʊn/, /ˈsaʊɪn/ or /ˈsawɪn/, NEVER Sam-hain.

Gustave Doré: Don Quijote de La Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863

Gustave Doré: Don Quijote de La Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863

English in general, and particularly North American English, usually tries to preserve something of the original pronunciation of foreign words it imports. Thus “Rendezvous” is pronounced “rahn-duh-voo” (N.A.) or “rahn-dih-voo” (U.K.) in an approximation of the original French “rahn-day-voo.” Normal English orthography would call for the word to be pronounced “Ren-dez-voos,” as it is sometimes pronounced for humorous effect.

North American and British English diverge, however, especially in some Spanish words and names. Most famously there are:

Spanish British North American
Don Juan Don Juan Don Juan
Don Quixote Don Quixote Don Quixote
San Joachin San Joachin San Joachin

North American usage is to approximate the original sound, but not over-exaggerate it. For example, Los Angeles, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. During our mid-guided military adventures in Central America, some newscasters got a little carried away with “authentic pronunciations, which are parodied in the sound clip as the third alternative. We usually Anglicize the Spanish “G.”

Finally, with names of cities and countries that have long-standing English names, we use those instead of importing

Beijing Railway Station

Beijing Railway Station

foreign pronunciations. For example, the capital of Russia is Moscow in English, not Moskova. Only when nations insist upon a change, as in Peking to Beijing, do we switch.

The Fire Festivals

Samhain is one of the four Fire Festivals, the mid-point celebrations in-between the Equinoxes and Solstices. The Wheel of the Year for the Northern Hemisphere looks something like this:

Circle of the Year

It is important to note that the seasons begin on the Fire Festivals, and the Solar Festivals mark the High Point (esoterically, the strongest energy) of each season. These are all aligned with the directions, stages of life, the four elements, etc.

Imaginative illustration of  'An Arch Druid in His Judicial Habit'. 1815.

Imaginative illustration of ‘An Arch Druid in His Judicial Habit’. 1815. “The Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Islands” by S.R. Meyrick and C.H. Smith.

For Samhain, the festival is the Kalends of Winter in the Brythonic Gaelic languages: in Wales it is Calan Gaeaf, in Cornwall it is Allantide or Kalan Gwav and in Brittany it is Kalan Goañv. You will recall that the Kalends is the first day of the Roman month. It is the origin of our word Calendar.

It is unclear in the ancient world where the year began. Modern Pagans and Celtic Revivalists generally use Samhain as “New Years,” based on a reference in Manx Gaelic to October 31 as “New Year’s Night” or Hog-unnaa. There is slender evidence that this was true among the ancient Celts.


As we did with Lughnasadh, here are some of the common correspondences of Samhuinn:

  • Direction:                   North West
  • Life:                             Eldership
  • Kabbalah Path:        Faithful Intelligence
  • Tarot Trump:            Justice (Lamed) (to Teach, Instruct; Ox Goad)
  • Kabbalah Number:   11 (Daath). Meanings of 1 + 1 individually OR the Theosophical Reduction = the Meanings of 2 (at the second level).
  • Gemmatria Value:  30
  • Consciousness:         Equilibration
  • Essential Meanings:  Karma, Balance
  • Zodiac:                        Libra
  • Alchemy:                    Airy
  • Color/Note:   Green / F-sharp, G-flat

Body:                          Kidneys, the lumbar region of the spine, the vaso­motor system, and the skin,  suprarenals, has some influence upon the gonads, or sex-glands. Balance through Elimination

  • Christian:                  Western: All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day, All Souls Day; Eastern (Byzantine): See special section below.
The Tower. Coleman-Waite Tarot

The Tower. Coleman-Waite Tarot

As Samhain is the end of Autumn and the gateway to Winter, it mediates the Autumn Correspondences seen in our article on Lughnasadh, and those of Winter:

  • Number: 16 = 1+6 OR 7
  • Kabbalah:
  • Sephirot:       Either Crown + Beauty or Victory
  • Oppositions:   Grace and Sin / Beauty and Ugliness
  • Path:               Active or Exciting Intelligence
  • Divine Name Letter:      Final Heh
  • World:                        Assiah: World of Action; The Material World
  • Tarot:                          The Falling Tower, Peh (Mouth as the Organ of Speech)
  • Tarot Suit:                  Pentacles (Coins, Denars) = Diamonds
  • Tarot Court:               Page
  • Personality:                Body
  • Consciousness:          Awakening
  • Planet:                           Mars
  • Alchemy:                    Iron
  • Body:                          Gonads, adrenals; Svadistthana Chakra. Prostatic ganglion (3 fingers below the navel)
  • Week:                         Tuesday
  • Book of Humanity:    7th Page  (Martinism)
  • Martinist:                   Humanity’s true Science
  • Element:                     Earth
  • Druid World:             Abred: Circle of Struggle
  • Christian:                   The World, place of the Spirit’s Action; Christmas Lent, Nativity
  • Esoteric:                     This plane of existence

Samhain’s Place in the Circle

The Veil between the Worlds

The Veil between the Worlds

Samhain is not only the end of the harvest, it is also the time when the cattle are brought from their summer pastures to their winter home. In both contexts, it is the preparation of the vegetable and meat products which, naturally frozen by the winter, will keep the people alive during the cold months ahead.  It is therefore at the intersection of life (Summer) and Death/Sleep (Winter).

Building on this, the mystical and spiritual aspects of Samhain include, not surprisingly, the time of the year when the veil between the worlds is thinnest, and the living and the dead can cross over and interact.

One of the most ancient customs is the lighting of bonfires, and carrying the flame from this back to one’s hearth in a carved turnip, gourd or squash. The often gruesome faces carved on the gourd not only allowed the flame to breathe, but also warded off bad luck and frightened away evil spirits, which were roaming about at this time.

Over the hundreds of years through the 19th century, many other customs attached to the celebration of Samhain, including feasting, mumming, guising and tricking (and begging for treats).

How Samhain Evolved

The Western Church, as it did with so many Pagan (Country) Festivals, assimilated the themes of Samhain to All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2). At first, All Saints was celebrated in the spring, but beginning in the 9th Century, it moved to its present spot.

The customs of the Pagan Samhain then blended with those of these Christian adaptations, with Oct 31 being “All Hallows’ Eve,” eventually “Hallowe’en.” These festivals persisted in England and the Celtic countries. In England itself, the popularity of the Nov. 5 “Guy Fawkes Night” after 1605 began to draw the customary feasts a few days later.

You may recall that on the evening of November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the

Fireworks at Chestnuts Field behind Waltham Forest Town Hall on Bonfire Night 5 Nov. 2010 © William Warby. Wikimedia Commons

House of Lords, was arrested and the plot to kill the Lords and James I was thwarted. The cry of “Remember, remember, the 5th of November,” was heard every year thereafter, and became England’s great State festival. Unfortunately, it also had considerable anti-Catholic overtones, as Fawkes and his fellow plotters were English Catholics reacting to the English Reformation and the persecutions of Catholics.

For centuries, Guy Fawkes Day drew energy away from Hallowe’en in England. Today, however, the trend is reversing, as Hallowe’en is increasingly popular there.

Guy Fawkes has been revived, thanks to the Graphic Novel and film, V for Vendetta. This is the story of an anarchist revolutionary in post-apocalyptic, dystopian Britain, which has reverted to a fascist state. He wears a Guy Fawkes mask and plots to blow up the Parliament buildings, to galvanize the people to restore rule by the people. The motto of the film is “People should not fear their government, Governments should fear their people.”

Samhain / Halllowe’en-All Saints-All Souls (collectively known as Hallowmas) continued to be vigorously celebrated in the Celtic countries. On the continent, commemorations of the departed took place on Hallowe’en and All Souls, particularly in France, Italy and Spain.

Trick-or-Treat in Sweden. Photo by ToyahAnette B, Wikimedia Commons

Trick-or-Treat in Sweden. Photo by ToyahAnette B, Wikimedia Commons

In Puritan North America (remember the Puritans?), Hallowe’en was completely suppressed. If they didn’t want to celebrate Christmas, why Hallowe’en?! The mass 19th century immigrations of Irish and Scots to America brought Samhain/Hallowe’en back to the United States, where it became immensely popular by the beginning of the 20th century,  finally resulting in exporting the Americanized Hallowe’en customs around the world.

Hallowe’en’s customs are clearly resonant with those of Samhain. Costumes, evil spirits, ghostly apparitions, trick-or-treating, jack-o’lanterns, etc. are all familiar signs of the festival.

At Yale, when I was an undergraduate, the Catholic Chaplaincy (St. Thomas More House,

More House at Yale

More House at Yale

led by Fr. Dick Russell) and the Episcopal Chaplaincy (headed by the founders of St. Gregory of Nyssa parish in San Francisco, Frs. Rick Fabian and Don Schell) celebrated Hallowe’en in a unique way. As many as wished vested in full regalia, and processed through the campus, including the Library (!) incensing and blessing all. We then ended up at the Episccopal Dwight Chapel and celebrated the Eucharist together for All Saints Day.

Fr. Don Schell

Fr. Don Schell

Fr. Rick Fabian

Fr. Rick Fabian

It was great fun, and very spiritual, but was stopped because the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Hartford, John F. Whealon intervened and chastised More House for—gasp!—intercommunion with other Christians. Ah, Well!

Modern Pagans and Celtic Reconstructionists celebrate Samhain with various customs related to this historical practices.

Dia de los Muertos

La Catarina – In Mexican folk culture, the Catarina, popularized by José Guadalupe Posada, is the skeleton of a high society woman and one of the most popular figures of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. Picture taken at the Museo de la Ciudad, Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico. © Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

La Catarina – In Mexican folk culture, the Catarina, popularized by José Guadalupe Posada, is the skeleton of a high society woman and one of the most popular figures of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. Picture taken at the Museo de la Ciudad, Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico. © Tomas Castelazo, http://www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

The southern European commemorations of the departed during Hallowmas are continued in the celebrations of Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico. They blended with pre-columbian Aztec festivals of the dead held during August, presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the Queen of the Underworld, who rules with her husband Mictlantecuhtli. The customs of the three-day feast are summarized by Frances Ann Day, and should be familiar when compared with the All Souls Day customs in southern Europe:

“On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children’s altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit. November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives. The three-day fiesta filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.” — Latina and Latino Voices in Literature (Frances Ann Day), Greenwood Publishing Group, 72.

This Mexican festival is now very widespread in the United States, especially in California and the Southwest. San Francisco holds an elaborate celebration on the weekend of the Day of the Dead.

This festival has spread to Brazil, and other parts of Latin America, to Haiti and to The Philippines and Oceania including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Indonesia. The traditional European All Souls Day commemorations are now being re-influenced by the Mexican usages.

In other cultures, very similar customs exist to honor and commemorate the beloved departed, including in Africa and Asia. We should not forget, of course, the elaborate meals and offerings given to the departed by the ancient Egyptians at all times, and especially at the festival of the dead. The ancient classical cultures followed similar, if less elaborate, commemorations.

It would be not only another posting, but a lengthy study to reference all of the appearances of Samhain/Hallowmas/Dia de los Mueros in various types of media. Here are just a few of my favorites:

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree

Hallowe’en III: Season of the Witch

The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror

And in Classical Music, the list is almost as long, many quoting the Gregorian Chant, Dies Irae:

Liszt — Totentanz

Berlioz — Symphonie Fantastique

Mussorgsky — Night on Bald Mountain (In this version from Walt Disney’s Fantasia, the opening art is clearly influenced by Rosicrucian Mystic, Nicholas Roerich.

Marschner – Overture: Der Vampyr (The Vampire)

Saint-Saëns — Danse Macabre

Bernard Herrmann — Psycho Suite – (Proms 2011)

Béla Bartók – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, III (used by Stanley Kubrick in The Shining)

Gy Ligeti — Requiem (used by Stanley Kubrick in 2001)

(Thanks to Limelight Magazine for these selections!) Next year we’ll have to do a “Hallowe’en Media” post, there are so many!

The Mystical Supper

The Mystical Supper. St. Elias the Prophet Ukrainian Catholic Church, Brompton, ON.

Byzantine Christian Associations

Let us cap our discussions with an interesting anomaly, the apparent absence of Samhain or Hallowmas Analogates in Byzantine Christianity. We are surprised at this, because in most other cases of the 8-fold year, there are Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine/Greek Catholic parallels.

The Byzantine Christian Tradition, shared by Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine (Greek) Catholic Christians, does not have any major feast that corresponds to Samhain. Just to give you a feel for the complexity and depth of the commemorations on the Byzantine Calendar, here are the Saints for the three days of Samhain:

Oct 31:

St. John Kochurov. Missionary to America and First Hieromartyr under the Bolshevik Yoke. Martyred October 31, 1917 in Bigildino-Surky, Ryazan, Russia.

St. John Kochurov. Missionary to America and First Hieromartyr under the Bolshevik Yoke. Martyred October 31, 1917 in Bigildino-Surky, Ryazan, Russia.

Apostles Stachys, Amplias, Urban, Narcissus, Apelles, and Aristobulus of the Seventy; Martyr Epimachus of Alexandria; Saints Spyridon and Nicodemus the prosphora-bakers of the Kiev Caves; Saint Maura of Constantinople; Saint Anatolius, recluse of the Kiev Caves; New-Martyr Nicholas of Chios; Martyrs Stephen, Barnabas, Trophimus, Dorymedon, Cosmas, Damian, Sabbas, Bassa, Abraham, and others with them; Martyr Gordian; Martyr Epimachus the Roman; Martyrs Seleucius and Stratonica his wife, myrrh-gushers; First Priest-martyr of the Russian Revolution John Kochurov; Martyr Foillan, Abbot of Fosses; Saint Quentin; Saint Begu, nun of Hackness; Saint James, Bishop of Mygdonia, one of the 318 fathers of Nicaea; Saint Erc, Bishop of Lilcach.

Nov 1:

Holy Unmercenary Physicians, Cosmas and Damian.

Holy Unmercenary Physicians, Cosmas and Damian.

Holy and Wonder-Working Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian of Mesopotamia and their mother Venerable Theodota of Mesopotamia (c.287); Martyrs Cyrenia and Juliana in Cilicia (305); Hieromartyr John the Bishop and James the Presbyter of Persia (345); Martyrs Caesarius, Dacius, Sabbas, Sabinian, Agrippa, Adrian, and Thomas at Damascus (7th c.); Saint Theolepte, martyr; Martyrs Cyprian and Juliana; Martyr Mary the Slave Girl (c.117-138); Saint Benignus of Dijon (2nd/3rd c.); Saint Austromoine (Austremonius, Stremoine), first Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, the “Apostle of Auvergne” (c.250); Martyrs Caesarius of Africa, a Deacon of Africa, together with Julian, a local presbyter, martyred at Terracina in Italy (c.284-305); Saint Mathurin of Larchant (Maturinus), confessor, French exorcist and missionary (c.310); Saint Marcellus, 9th Bishop of Paris (c.430); Saint Amabilis of Riom (475); Saint Cledwyn (Clydwyn), patron saint of Llangedwyn in Clwyd in Wales (5th c.); Saint Pabiali of Wales, patron-saint of Partypallai in Wales (5th/6th c.); Saint Dingad of Llandingat (5th c.); Saint Vigor, disciple of St Vedast, became Bishop of Bayeux, resolutely opposed paganism (c.537); Martyr Hermeningild the Goth of Spain, Prince (586); Saint Gwythian (Gothian, Gocianus) of Cornwall, hermit (6th c.); Saint Cadfan, Abbot of Tywyn and Bardsey Island (6th c.); Saint Caillin, a disciple of St Aidan of Ferns in Ireland (6th c.); Saint Ceitho, one of five brothers, all saints in Wales (6th c.); Saint Licinius of Angers (Lesin, Lezin), chosen Bishop of Angers in 586 and consecrated by St Gregory of Tours (c.616); Saint Caesarius, Bishop of Clermont in France (c.627); Saint Floribert (Florbert), Abbot of monasteries in Ghent, Mont-Blandin and Saint-Bavon in Belgium (c. 660); Saint Genesius of Lyon (c.679); Saint Severinus, a monk who lived as a hermit in Tivoli in Italy (c.699); Saint Germanus of Montfort, born in Montfort in France, became a monk at the monastery of Savigny, reposed as a hermit (c.906-1000); Venerablemartyr James of Mount Athos and his two disciples James the Deacon and Dionysius the Monk of Prodromou Skete on Athos (1520); Saint David of Euboea (1589); New Virgin-Martyr Helen of Sinope (18th c.); Blessed Cosmas of Verkhoturye (1704); Hieromartyrs Alexander (Smirnov), and Theodore (Remezov), Priests (1918); Hieromartyr Demetrius (Ovechkin), Priest of Perm (1937); Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of the Zaporizhia Eparchy (1937): – Hieromartyr Sergius (Zverev), Archbishop of Elets and Melitopol, Hieroconfessor Alexander (Ilyenkiv), Hieroconfessor Protopresbyter Dimitrius (Ihnatenko), Hieroconfessor Protopresbyter Victor (Kiraniv), Hieroconfessor Protopresbyter Michael (Bohoslovsky), Hieromartyr Priest Matthew (Alexandriv), Hieromartyr Priest Michael (Shafaniv) and his Presbytera St Sofia, Hieroconfessor Priest Alexius (Usenko), Martyr Stefan (Nalyvayko); Virgin-martyr Elizabeth (1937); Martyr Peter (1941); Other Commemorations: Translation of the relics of St. Boniface of Mainz, enlightener of Germany (see June 5) (755); Repose of Elder Hilarion of Valaam and Sarov (1841).

Nov 2:

Ozerianka Icon of God of Shuiu-Smolensk

Ozerianka Icon of God of Shuiu-Smolensk

The Holy Senators of Sebasteia, martyrs of senatorial rank, under Licinius, by fire (ca.315); Martyrs Eudoxios, Agapios, and eight others with them, soldiers from Sebasteia, under Licinius (ca.315); Women-Martyrs Kyriaki (Cyriaca), Domnina and Domna, by the sword; Martyrs Acindynus (Akindynos), Pegasius, Aphthonius, Elpidophorus, Anempodistus, and those with them, of Persia (341); Holy 7,000 Martyrs who suffered in Persia, during the reign of King Sapor II (310-381); St. Marcian of Cyrrhus, in Syria, monk (ca. 388); Saint Justus of Trieste, sentenced to death by drowning (293); Martyrs Publius, Victor, Hermes and Papias, in North Africa; Saint Victorinus of Pettau, Bishop of Pettau in Styria in Austria and the earliest exegete in the West (304); Saint Erc of Slane, Bishop of Slane, Ireland (512); Saint Ambrose, abbot of the monastery of St. Moritz in Agaunum in Switzerland (532 or 582); Saint George of Vienne, Bishop of Vienne in Gaul (ca.699); Saints Baya (Bava) and Maura, Anchoresses in Scotland (ca. 10th c.); Saint Amicus, a priest, then hermit, finally a monk at St Peter’s in Fonte Avellana (ca.1045); Blessed Cyprian of Storozhev, former outlaw (Olonets) (16th c.); New Hieromartyrs Bishop Victorinus, and Priest Basil (Luzgin) of Glazomicha (1918); New Hieromartyrs Ananias (Aristov) of Perm, and Constantine (Organov), Priests (1918); Other Commemorations: Ozerianka Icon of God of Shui-Smolensk (Shuiskaya-Smolensk) (1654-1655); translation of the relics of Saint Ebba I of Coldingham (Æbbe of Colding-


Holy Apostle Philip

Holy Apostle Philip

Nov 15: beginning of the Philipine Fast (Christmas Lent).

All Saints of Great Britain and Eire

All Saints of Great Britain and Eire

Icon of the Sunday of All Saints

Icon of the Sunday of All Saints

One should note that besides “Byzantine” Saints, Pre-Schism Western Saints are

actively commemorated. The Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches have never forgotten that there are other parts of the Church beside their own.

The Byzantine commemoration of All Saints falls on the First Sunday after Pentecost, around the time of the Summer Solstice. The Second Sunday after Pentecost is the Commemoration of all the Local Saints. For example, in Greece, it is All Saints of Greece. Here, it is All Saints of North America.

By the way, the Orthodox Church has been very proactive in glorifying saints in North America. Here is the list of those already glorified, and those under current consideration:

American Orthodox Saints

The New Hieromartyr John (Karastamatis) of Santa Cruz (1937-1985).

The New Hieromartyr John (Karastamatis) of Santa Cruz (1937-1985).

Persons under consideration (whether formal or informal) for glorification:

All the departed are commemorated on several days of the year, particularly Saturdays, which are dedicated to the departed in general:

  • The Saturday of Meatfare Week (the second Saturday before Great Lent)—the day before the Sunday of the Last Judgement
  • The second Saturday of Great Lent
  • The third Saturday of Great Lent
  • The fourth Saturday of Great Lent
  • Radonitsa (Monday or Tuesday after Thomas Sunday)
  • The Saturday before Pentecost
  • Demetrius Saturday (the Saturday before the feast of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki—26 October). In the Bulgarian Orthodox Church there is a commemoration of the dead on the Saturday before the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel—8 November, instead of the Demetrius Soul Saturday.

Aside from the many saints, including the Holy Moneyless Wonderworkers Cosmas and Damian, commemorated on Nov 1, why is there no major feast following the themes of Samhain?

First, the adaptation of Samhain into All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints, and All Souls is a solely western development, as Samhain was so popular in Western Europe.  The original All Saints in Western Christianity was in April and May, but was switched to November 1 in 835 in the Gaulic Empire, and later in the rest of the West. There was no parallel development in the East.

Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church, San Francisco

Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church, San Francisco

Second, however, and I believe more importantly, there is no need for a feast on the primary theme of Samhain: the crossing through the veil between this world and the next. That is because this is celebrated daily in the Churches of the Byzantine (and other Eastern) Christians.

Byzantine Liturgical theology clearly teaches that the Divine Liturgy in particular, and all of the many daily Liturgical services (e.g. Vespers, Compline, Midnight Office, Matins, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, and many other occasional services (Baptism/Chrismation, Matrimony, Ordination, Funerals, Molebens, etc.) are not reenactments.

Rather, the Eternal Liturgy before the Divine Throne is forever ongoing, and by raising ourselves spiritually and being transformed by the Holy Spirit, we simply step into the Eternal Liturgy at the beginning of a Divine Service, and withdraw at the end of the service. That is why, to Western eyes, Byzantine Services don’t appear to have a clear beginning and ending (although they actually do): we are the ones entering into the eternal reality that is continuous.

Furthermore, since the Eternal Liturgy is in the Divine “Now,” and all time and space are one, we are made present to the Mystery being celebrated at the Liturgy. We are at the foot of the Cross, at Pentecost in Jerusalem, etc. This is the same as the theology that when one is praying before an Icon, one is actually present before the Mystery or Saint depicted. This is not unique to Byzantine Christianity, Buddhism teaching something of the same about prayers before holy images.

On a personal note, that is why I have no doubt that Christ is Risen, as I have been present at the Resurrection year after year.

This is why no special feast of the “Piercing of the Veil” is needed among Byzantine Christians, as it happens every day.

More Research: History and Aspects of Hallowe’en – An Initial Bibliography for Exploration

Here is an annotated Bibliography about just a few good ways to continue your research on Samhain, Hallowmas and Dia de los Muertos:

Hallowe’en is an unexpectedly complex holiday, with facets ranging from the ancient Celtic Samhain (Samhuinn) through the Western Christian “All Saints & All Souls Days,” to Latin American and other “Days of the Dead.” The following works give an introduction to this rich history and cultural mélange. (Please note, these are academic texts, not children’s holiday or recreational literature.) For further searches, the Library of Congress subject headings include Halloween; Halloween – History; All Souls’ Day; Religious calendars–Neopaganism. For google searches, the terms Halloween, Samhain, Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos are helpful.

A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o’-lantern from the early 20th century. Photographed at the Museum of Country Life, Ireland. © Rannpháirtí anaithnid at en.wikipedia

Bannatyne, Lesley, Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History. NY: Facts on File, 1990.  From the Publisher: Lesley Bannatyne’s fascinating book . . . will be widely appealing to anyone who ever wondered where witches, trick-or-treating, and jack-o-lanterns really came from. It is by far the best book on the history of Halloween available today. Alison Guss, senior producer, The Haunted History of Halloween, The History Channel An excellent resource for research into the history of holidays . . . in the United States . . . Highly Recommended. The Book Report Halloween has evolved from the Druids’ celebrations of 2,000 years ago to become today the fastest-growing holiday in the country. This, the only book to completely cover All Hallow’s Eve, examines those ancient origins as well as its traditions and celebrations, from costuming to bobbing for apples. Jack-o-lanterns, black cats, and witches are explained. Ghosts, ghouls, and goblins lurk behind every page. The book traces the contributions of America’s immigrants to the holiday, documenting the beliefs each ethnic group has added to the mix. Related recipes, poems, songs, crafts, and photos perfectly complement the meticulously documented text. The result is the most educational and entertaining examination of Halloween, its myths, and its truths.

_______________, Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night. Gretna, LA: Pelican Pub. Co., 2011. From the Publisher: America’s leading authority on Halloween presents interviews with spooky rock groups, amateur vampires, haunted house creators, champion pumpkin carvers, and more, all in the quest of explaining the nation’s unique love affair with this holiday. The collection of essays and interviews explores the pop culture phenomenon that is Halloween, and why we celebrate it the way we do today.

Traditional Dia de los Muertos Offering Altar in Mexico. © Chuchomotas, Wikimedia Commons

Traditional Dia de los Muertos Offering Altar in Mexico. © Chuchomotas, Wikimedia Commons

Carmichael, Elizabeth, and Chloë Sayer. The Skeleton at the Feast: the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991. Contents: Pt. 1. The Day of the Dead — The pre-Hispanic background — The Spanish conquest — Travellers’ tales — The here and now — pt. 2. Interviews: Introduction — Fredy Méndez, la congregación del Tajín, state of Veracruz — Juan Simbrón, la congregación del Tajín, state of Veracruz — Froylan Martínez Cuenca, Huaquechula, State of Puebla — Candido Reyes Castillo, Huaquechula, State of Puebla — Luis Vivanco, San Salvador Huixcolotla, State of Puebla — Consuelo García Urrutia, Toluca, State of Mexico — Wenceslao Rívas Contreras, Toluca, State of Mexico — María Antonieta Sánchez de Escamilla, Puebla City — Víctor Fosado, Váquez, formerly Mexico City — Appendix. The Day of the Dead in Mixquic / by Elizabeth Baquedano Meza. From the Publisher: All over Mexico, early in November, families gather to welcome the souls of the dead on their annual visit home. The smells of burning copal incense and pungent cempasúchil (marigolds) mingle with the aromas of fresh bread, new clothing, sweets, and candles. One of Mexico’s most important festivals since prehispanic times, the Day of the Dead is an occasion for celebrating and feasting, cleaning and decorating graves, dancing and making music. In this unique work, the authors explore both the historic origins of this holiday and its colorful present-day celebrations in Mexico and the United States. Interviews with Mexican artists and crafters who provide goods for the festival–from personalized sugar skulls to gigantic papier-mâché skeletons–offer a fascinating glimpse into traditional and contemporary attitudes toward death and the dead. Lavishly illustrated with color and black-and-white photographs, The Skeleton at the Feast will be required reading for all who are interested in Mexican culture, art, and folklore.

A statue of the Pumpkin King outside of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion during the

A statue of the Pumpkin King outside of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion during the “Haunted Mansion Holiday” overlay in 2004. (Anaheim, California, USA.) © Imperpay at en.wikipedia.

Kelley, Ruth Edna, The Book of Halloween (Forgotten Books). Boston, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1919. From the Publisher: Halloween, or Hallowe’en, is a holiday celebrated on the night of October 31. Traditional activities include trick-or-treating, bonfires, costume parties, visiting “haunted houses” and carving jack-o-lanterns. The term Halloween (and its alternative rendering Hallowe’en) is shortened from All-hallow-even, as it is the eve of “All Hallows’ Day”, which is now also known as All Saints’ Day. Irish and Scottish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America in the nineteenth century. Other western countries embraced the holiday in the late twentieth century. Halloween is celebrated in several parts of the Western world, most commonly in Ireland, the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom and occasionally in parts of Australia and New Zealand. (Quote from wikipedia.org). Ruth Edna Kelley (8 April 1893 – 4 March 1982) was an American librarian and author. She is chiefly remembered for The Book of Hallowe’en (1919), the first book-length history of the holiday.

Markale, Jean. The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: Celebrating the Dark Half of the Year. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2001. From the Publisher: “A comprehensive examination of the rituals and philosophies of the Celtic holiday of Samhain, the inspiration for Halloween. Presents the true meaning of this ancient holiday and shows how contemporary observances still faithfully reflect the rituals of pagan ancestors. Explains why this holiday, largely confined to the English-speaking world Happy Samhainsince the advent of Christianity, has spread throughout the rest of Europe over the last two decades. One of humanity’s most enduring myths is that the dead, on certain nights of the year, can leave the Other World and move freely about the land of the living. Every year on October 31, when the children of the world parade through the streets dressed as monsters, skeletons, and witches, they reenact a sacred ceremony whose roots extend to the dawn of time. By receiving gifts of sweets from strangers, the children establish, on a symbolic plane that exceeds their understanding, a fraternal exchange between the visible world and the invisible world. Author Jean Markale meticulously examines the rituals and ceremonies of ancient festivities on this holiday and shows how they still shape the customs of today’s celebration. During the night of Samhain, the Celtic precursor of today’s holiday, the borders between life and death were no longer regarded as insurmountable barriers. Two-way traffic was temporarily permitted between this world and the Other World, and the wealth and wisdom of the sidhe, or fairy folk, were available to the intrepid individuals who dared to enter their realm. Markale enriches our understanding of how the transition from the light to the dark half of the year was a moment in which time stopped and allowed the participants in the week-long festival to attain a level of consciousness not possible in everyday life, an experience we honor in our modern celebrations of Halloween.”

Trick-or-Treat Movie

Trick-or-Treat Movie

Morton, Lisa. Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween.  London: Reaktion Books, 2012. From the Publisher: Every year, children and adults alike take to the streets dressed as witches, demons, animals, celebrities, and more. They carve pumpkins and play pranks, and the braver ones watch scary movies and go on ghost tours. There are parades, fireworks displays, cornfield mazes, and haunted houses—and, most important, copious amounts of bite-sized candy. The popularity of Halloween has spread around the globe to places as diverse as Russia, China, and Japan, but its association with death and the supernatural and its inevitable commercialization has made it one of our most misunderstood holidays. How did it become what it is today? In Trick or Treat, Halloween aficionado Lisa Morton provides a thorough history of this spooky day. She begins by looking at how holidays like the Celtic Samhain, a Gaelic harvest festival, have blended with the British Guy Fawkes Day and the Catholic All Souls’ Day to produce the modern Halloween, and she explains how the holiday was reborn in America, where costumes and trick-or-treat rituals have become new customs. Morton takes into account the influence of related but independent holidays, especially the Mexican Day of the Dead, as well as the explosion in popularity of haunted attractions and the impact of such events as 9/11 and the economic recession on the celebration today. Trick or Treat also examines the effect Halloween has had on popular culture through the literary works of Washington Irving and Ray Bradbury, films like Halloween and The Nightmare Before Christmas, and television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Simpsons. Considering the holiday in the context of its worldwide popularity for the first time, this book will be a treat for any Halloween lover.

Olsen, Karen I.  Halloween/Samhain/Dia de Los Muertos/Feast of the Dead. Webpage. Created: June 20, 2001. Accessed October 30, 2004. http://www.angelfire.com/folk/karivox/samhain.html. Contains many good links on the antecedents and current practices of the Season.

Rogers, Nicholas. Halloween: from Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. From Publishers Weekly: “If America is a melting pot, then Halloween is the stew that simmers in our national cauldron. In this fascinating study, Rogers shows how the holiday is a hodgepodge of ancient European pagan traditions, 19th-century Irish and Scottish celebrations, Western Christian interpretations of All Souls’ Day and thoroughly modern American consumer ideals. At its heart, he says, Halloween is a celebration of the inversion of social codes-children have power over adults, marauders can make demands of established homeowners and anyone may assume a temporary disguise. Canadian professor Rogers is a fine cultural historian, who carefully sifts through complex social and religious data to tease out meanings and trajectories. One excellent chapter

Samhain Altar

Samhain Altar

illuminates Halloween and Hollywood, while a chapter entitled Border Crossings discusses Halloween observance among non-Anglo populations in North America, including Mexico’s “Dia de los Muertos.” From the Publisher: “Boasting a rich, complex history rooted in Celtic and Christian ritual, Halloween has evolved from ethnic celebration to a blend of street festival, fright night, and vast commercial enterprise. In this colorful history, Nicholas Rogers takes a lively, entertaining look at the cultural origins and development of one of the most popular holidays of the year. Drawing on a fascinating array of sources, from classical history to Hollywood films, Rogers traces Halloween as it emerged from the Celtic festival of Samhain (summer’s end), picked up elements of the Christian Hallowtide (All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day), arrived in North America as an Irish and Scottish festival, and evolved into an unofficial but large-scale holiday by the early 20th century. He examines the 1970s and ’80s phenomena of Halloween sadism (razor blades in apples) and inner-city violence (arson in Detroit), as well as the immense influence of the horror film genre on the reinvention of Halloween as a terror-fest. Throughout his vivid account, Rogers shows how Halloween remains, at its core, a night of inversion, when social norms are turned upside down, and a temporary freedom of expression reigns supreme. He examines how this very license has prompted censure by the religious Right, occasional outrage from law enforcement officials, and appropriation by Left-leaning political groups. Engagingly written and based on extensive research, Halloween is the definitive history of the most bewitching day of the year, illuminating the intricate history and shifting cultural forces behind this enduring trick-or-treat holiday.”

Santino, Jack, ed. Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994.  Contents: Festivals of Death and Life / Jack Santino — 1. Harvest, Halloween, and Hogmanay: Acculturation in Some Calendar Customs of the Ulster Scots / Philip Robinson — 2. “Safe” Spooks: New Halloween Traditions in Response to Sadism Legends / Bill Ellis — 3. Halloween Pranks: “Just a Little Inconvenience” / Steve Siporin — 4. Bonfire Night in Brigus, Newfoundland / Catherine Schwoeffermann — 5. Trick or Treat: Pre-Texts and Contexts / Tad Tuleja — 6. Carnival, Control, and Corporate Culture in Contemporary Halloween Celebrations / Russell W. Belk — 7. Day of the Dead: The Tex-Mex Tradition / Kay Turner and Pat Jasper — 8. Adult Halloween Celebrations on the Canadian Prairie / Michael Taft — 9. The Seasonal Context of Halloween: Vermont’s Unwritten Law / A. W. Sadler — 10. Wishes Come True: Designing the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade / Jack Kugelmass — 11. Things That Go Snap-Rattle-Clang-Toot-Crank in the Night: Halloween Noisemakers / Carl R. Holmberg. 12. Halloween Imagery in Two Southern Settings / Grey Gundaker. From Amazon.com: Halloween is many things to many people; we do not celebrate the day in any one way.” So Jack Santino writes in this first ever collection of essays dedicated to the study of Halloween and related festivals. Thirteen folklore and culture scholars examine the evolution of Halloween from its Celtic origins through its adaptation into modern culture. Essays on holiday customs describe harvest and autumnal rituals in Scotland, new Halloween traditions in response to legends about contaminated candy, the custom of “pranking” (more popular in some areas of the U.S. than trick-or-treating), England’s Guy Fawkes Day and a parallel Bonfire Night in Newfoundland, and the development of American trick-or-treating in the years 1940-1990. Also covered are the sociopolitical meanings of carnival celebrations and attempts to control them, the Tex-Mex tradition of el Dío de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and community approaches to Halloween in such diverse locales as the Canadian prairie, rural Vermont, and Greenwich Village in New York City. A final section looks at the history of Halloween noisemakers and unusual imagery (including the decoration of graves) in two Southern settings. In several of the essays, the authors examine the ironic, even disturbing, implications of such a popular holiday being based on images of death, evil, and the grotesque. Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life is written with a lively balance of scholarship, anecdotes, and enthusiasm, with ample black-and-white illustrations. Whether you’re interested in Halloween as a scholar or simply a celebrant, this is the book you need. –Fiona Webster

Old Castro Hallowe'en, San Francisco

Old Castro Hallowe’en, San Francisco

Skal, David J. Death Makes a Holiday: a Cultural History of Halloween. New York: Bloomsbury, 2002. Contents: Candy man’s tale — Halloween machine — Witch’s teat — Home is where the hearse is or, how to haunt a house — Devil on Castro street and other skirmishes in the culture wars — Halloween on screen — September 11 and October 31.

Enjoy the Feast!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutoring, Editing and Consulting

Welcome Autumn!

1 Comment

The Beginning of Autumn

The Hapgood Pond Recreation Area of the Green Mountain National Forest displays its fall foliage splendor.

The Hapgood Pond Recreation Area of the Green Mountain National Forest displays its fall foliage splendor.

Contrary to the popular misconception in the United States, the Seasons do not begin with the Equinoxes and Solstices. Those are the mid-points, the high-points or quintessence of each Season. In the old European Tradition, for the latitudes that Europe and North America occupy in the Northern Hemisphere, the circle of the year looks like this:

  • Oct 31-Nov 2 Samhuinn                  The End of Autumn, the Beginning of Winter
  • Ca. Dec 21      Winter Solstice          The Depth of Winter
  • Feb 1-2           Imbolc                           The Beginning of Spring
  • Ca. Mar 21     Spring Equinox          The High-Point of Spring
  • May 1             Bealteinne                  The Beginning of Summer
  • Ca. June 21    Summer Solstice        The Height of Summer
  • July 31-Aug 1 Lughnasadh               The Beginning of Autumn
  • Ca. Sept 21     Autumn Equinox       The High-Point of Autumn

(Two notes: I am using the traditional Old Gaelic spellings for the Fire Festivals that come between the Solar Festivals, because that’s how I first learned them. There are many variants in the other Gaelic languages, and in other European languages. I am also setting Samhuinn [pronounced: Sow-wain, as in a female pig followed by a Hay Wain] as the beginning of the year because that is commonplace today. There is scant-to-no evidence that ancient Celts viewed Samhuinn as New Years.)

If one reflects on the feel of the Seasons, this schema makes much more sense than the really rather silly notion that Summer officially begins on June 21, etc.

I am in the process of completing a book on the ancient and modern correspondences of this circle of the year, and I wanted to give you a preview with some reflections on August 1, the Beginning of Autumn.

Ancient Lughnasadh

Three Headed Lugh on an  Altar at the St. Remi Museum in Reims.

Three Headed Lugh on an
Altar at the St. Remi Museum in Reims. Photo by QuartierLatin1968.

In many parts of the Celtic world, August 1 marked the first of three Harvest Festivals (followed by the Equinox and Samhuinn), and was named for the God Lugh (modern: Lú). It is also commonly known as the English Lammas and the Season as Lammastide. It has given its name in modern Gaelic tongues to the day/festival and the month. For example, August 1, and August are

Irish Gaelige:  Lúnasa

Scottish Gàidhlig: Lùnastal

Manx Gaelg: Luanistyn

Interestingly enough, in Wales, August 1 is called as Calan Awst, from the Latin Kalendae Augusti, The Calends of August. You will recall this from our previous discussions of the Roman Calendar, with its Calends, Nones, and Ides.

Lughnasadh itself means the Assembly of Lugh, and is the Festival associated with this date. There are modern festivals that descend from this, and also re-created Lugh Festivals. These usually include athletic contests, arts, first fruits of the harvest, etc. There seems to be a resonance here with the Greek Pythian Games, held at Delphi, which included contests in both athletics and the arts. The Pythian Games were probably held in August as well. Lugh and Apollo are not dissimilar figures, as we will see.

Lugh is said to have instituted the Festival in honor of the death of his Mother or Foster Mother, the Goddess Tailtiu, an agricultural Goddess who exhausted herself making the crops fertile. We’ll come back to this later.

Floor inlay in the Cathedral of Siena Russian: Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, contemporary of Moses, on the left pages of the book

Floor inlay in the Cathedral of Siena Russian: Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, contemporary of Moses, on the left pages of the book.

So who is Lugh? He is the Celtic God of the arts, magic, and skills. He is a trickster, and may also be a solar or lightning God, as the Proto-Indo-European root *leuk-, means “flashing light.” Since Victorian times, this has prompted scholars to link him with Apollo, because the Greek, Ἀπόλλων, that is, (λω), and the Latin Apollo both have this lu/lo root.

Historically, however, Lugh was associated with Mercury, which brings him into alignment with Hermes, and with the Egyptian (and Esoteric) Hermes Trismegistus / Thoth (Djehuti). Hermes is also a trickster, and Thoth is a God of Arts, Knowledge, Writing and Skills. Hermes, Lugh and Thoth are sometimes thought of as Culture Heroes, those who bestow the skills necessary for human culture.

The alignment of one Divinity with another—a specialty of Hellenistic Culture—is not an absolute science, as it is clear that Lugh has other attributes that resemble Zeus and Thor.

Lugh holds this assembly to honor his (Foster?) Mother, who sacrificed herself for humanity’s good, just as the corn, wheat, and other products of the harvest offer themselves for sacrifice for our good. Thus the Festival has a sense of Self-Sacrifice, of service to humanity, and also of Light, the Light that was born at the Winter Solstice.

The Correspondences of Autumn

As in so much spiritual and mystical work, the Season of Autumn corresponds to many other notions. In the directions, it is the West, centered on the Autumnal Equinox, in Life it is Mature Adulthood, the period of generativity. Here are some other correspondences:

  •  Kabbalah:
  • Sephirot:       Malkuth (Kingdom)
  • Oppositions:   Wealth and Poverty
  • Path:               Intelligence of Conciliation, Rewarding Intelligence of those who seek
  • Divine Name Letter:      Vav
  • World:                        Yetzirah: World of Formation
  • Tarot:                          The Wheel of Fortune, Kaph (a Curve)
  • Tarot Suit:                  Cups
  • Tarot Court:               Knight
  • Personality:                Emotion
  • Consciousness:          Rotation
  • Planet:                            Jupiter
  • Alchemy:                    Tin
  • Body:                          Solar Plexus ganglion, Manipura Chakra.
  • Week:                         Wednesday
  • Book of Humanity:    10th Page  (Martinism)
  • Martinist:                   Manifestation
  • Element:                     Water
  • Druid World:             Faerie
  • Christian:                   The Kingdom of Heaven; The Exaltation of the Cross
  • Esoteric:                     The Imaginal World

With all of these, one can meditate for a great while on how these all fit together, during the Season of Autumn.

Correspondences of Lughnasadh

Since Lughnasadh is the doorway to Autumn, half way between the High Point of Summer and the High Point of Autumn, its correspondences are about 45 degrees off from Full Autumn:

  • Direction:                   Southwest
  • Life:                             Middle Age: generative period
  • Kabbalah Path:        Imaginative Intelligence
  • Tarot:                          Death (Nun) (a Fish, to Sprout, Grow)
  • Consciousness:         Motion, change, liberation, transformation, imagination, visualization
  • Zodiac:                        Scorpio
  • Alchemy:                    Watery
  • Body:                          Reproductive organs, waste organs, nose
  • Christian:                   Transfiguration, Dormition, St. Ignatius Day, Maccabees, Procession of the Cross

As one can see, this is a variation on the major themes of Autumn, influenced by the thematics of Summer. It has to do with the implementation of change and transformation, and is dominated by the power of the mind (imaging, visualization for manifestation).

Lughnasadh Today

The Festival has come down to us in many ways.

Croagh Patrick Pilgrim Sunday the ascent of the Holy Mountain. Photo by Alan James, (c) 2007.

Croagh Patrick Pilgrim Sunday the ascent of the Holy Mountain. Photo by Alan James, (c) 2007.

First, there are direct survivals. In Ireland, it is still common to make pilgrimages up mountains on is Reek Sunday—the yearly pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in late July. Holy Wells were also visited in both Ireland and Scotland, and the pilgrim would walk around the well sunwise, and leave offerings. Although Christianized, the Pre-Christian origins are quite clear.

Blessings of the Fields at Lughnasadh is an established custom in the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland, connected to the ancient harvest festival. Wikipedia also reminds us of another popular observance:

Puck Fair in full flight in this photo with King Puck (An Puc Rí) installed on his "throne," 1900. National Library of Ireland on The Commons.

Puck Fair in full flight in this photo with King Puck (An Puc Rí) installed on his “throne,” 1900. National Library of Ireland on The Commons.

“The Puck Fair is held each year in early August in the town of Killorglin, County Kerry. It has been traced as far back as the 16th century but is believed to be a survival of a Lughnasadh festival. At the beginning of the three-day festival, a wild goat is brought into the town and crowned ‘king’, while a local girl is crowned ‘queen’. The festival includes traditional music and dancing, a parade, arts and crafts workshops, a horse and cattle fair, and a market”[1]

The custom of a Fair around August 1 has spread to many other locations in Ireland now. Modern Neo-Pagans, including Druids and Wiccans, have varying celebrations for Lughnasadh or Lammas.

Second, as is the case at every point on the wheel of the year, Christianity, both Eastern and Western, has Feasts which correspond to the themes and spirit of the holiday. Most importantly, both Eastern and Western Christianity have two major feasts in the first half of August. They are feasts of light, feasts of transformation and theosis, and a feast honoring the death and transition of the Mother of God.

In Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine/Greek Catholic) Christianity, August is the last month of the Church Year, and is the summation of the cycle of Salvation History.  What has been taught in the whole year is now summed up in these two Feasts. While Western Christianity shares these two Feasts, their emphasis is not as clearly understood today.

The Transfiguration of Christ: Part of an iconostasis in Constantinople style. Middle of the 12th century. Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai (Egypt) / K. Weitzmann: "Die Ikone"

The Transfiguration of Christ: Part of an iconostasis in Constantinople style. Middle of the 12th century. Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai (Egypt) / K. Weitzmann: “Die Ikone”

On August 6, the Transfiguration commemorates the vision of Peter, James, and John on Mount Tabor, when they beheld Jesus suffused with the Uncreated Light, and flanked by Moses and Elijah. Although this event is reported in the Gospels during Jesus’s life, it is strikingly outside of time and space, and is transcendent. The whole point of the Church year has been to teach that Divinity and Humanity are compatible, and that humanity, and through humanity the whole cosmos, is destined for the realization of theosis (divinization).

As Athanasius, Pope of Alexandria in the 4th century says “God became human so that humans could become God.” Even earlier, one of the Orphic sayings found on the golden tablets in the Lucania cemetery states—Θεὸς ἐγένου ἐξ ἀνθρώπου—Theos egenou ex anthrōpou— “Through being a Mortal, you have become God.”

“But sure,” you say. “Jesus is the Son of God. He’s special. I’m just a human. How does this affect me?”

Dormition of the Theotokos (Uspenie Bogoroditsy)--i.e., the repose of the Virgin Mary 1392, by Theophan the Greek.

Dormition of the Theotokos (Uspenie Bogoroditsy)–i.e., the repose of the Virgin Mary 1392, by Theophan the Greek.

The Byzantine Tradition responds nine days later with the Feast of August 15, The Dormition of the Theotokos, known in the West as the Assumption. It is the patronal feast of the Great and Mystical Cathedral in Chartres. Some Rosicrucian friends and I visited there on the rainy eve of the Feast in 2007.

If anyone was in doubt that Theosis—Divinization—is the destiny of all the manifested cosmos, the Commemoration of Mary’s death and then translation into Heaven (a symbol for Divinization) cures those doubts. It is not just the Divine-Human Jesus for whom this happens. This is the destiny of all. Westerners are used to thinking of Mary as somehow another exception, but in Eastern Christianity, she is called “the Great Example, not the Great Exception.”

In Eastern Christianity, the term “Original Sin” does not have anything to do with an “inherited guilt of Adam,” as it does in the West. Instead, it is simply the fact that things don’t seem to work right in the world. We are in need of healing, what Martinists would call Reintegration or Regeneration. Therefore, there was nothing for Mary to be preserved from, as in the Western doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. She is the leader of humanity.

Here’s what St. Gregory Palamas, a mystic Hesychast of the 14th century, said about her in his homily for this day:

St. Gregory Palamas. Upload by Lamprotes.

St. Gregory Palamas. Upload by Lamprotes.

“She is a blending of all perfections – divine, angelic and human. A sublime beauty adorning two worlds, lifted up from earth to heaven, and even transcending that. She is the boundary of created and uncreated nature. She has crossed the frontier which separates us from the age to come.” (Homily on the Dormition)

The parallels with Lughnasadh begin to emerge. The Funeral of the Divine Mother, Light, and Self-Sacrifice, all themes of the ancient Feast, are present here, as well as the teaching of the Mystery Schools: our destiny is Divinization.  This is the culmination of one cycle, and the opening of the Season of Autumn, with so many associations.

Besides these two Great Feasts, Byzantine Christians also celebrate the Holy Maccabee Martyrs on July 31, and the Forefeast of the Procession of the Cross (Aug 1). Both image the theme of Self-Sacrifice.

St. Ignatius Loyola, by Peter Paul Rubens (1600s).

St. Ignatius Loyola, by Peter Paul Rubens (1600s).

Western Christians, and especially Jesuits—including the new Pope Francis—commemorate St. Ignatius Loyola on July 31, the Founder of the Society of Jesus. This mystic’s life and work was entirely devoted to Self-Sacrifice for the purpose of bringing all things to union with their source and origin, the Divine.  The theme prayer of the day, and of Jesuit Spirituality, is the famous Suscipe written by St. Ignatius and included in the addendum to his Spiritual Exercises, the Contemplation to obtain the Divine Love:

Suscipe, Domine, universam meam libertatem.
Accipe memoriam, intellectum, atque voluntatem omnem.
Quidquid habeo vel possideo mihi largitus es;
id tibi totum restituo, ac tuae prorsus voluntati trado gubernandum.
Amorem tui solum cum gratia tua mihi dones,
et dives sum satis, nec aliud quidquam ultra posco.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty.
Accept my memory, my understanding and my entire will.
All I have and call my own, You have given to me;
to You, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what You will.
Give me only Your love and your grace,
And I am rich enough, and I do not need anything other than that.

Other mystics would see in this the Unitive Way, the complete union of the person’s will with the Divine—Cosmic—Will. The Latin of the Suscipe is not elegant by any stretch of the imagination, but its meaning is transcendent.

 A modern version of this prayer was set to music by Dan Schutte. Another version is by John Foley, S.J. 

Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, the Unknown Philosopher

Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, the Unknown Philosopher

This is what the inspiration for Martinism, the Unknown Philosopher and mystic Louis Claude de Saint-Martin strove for, as he mentions in a letter to his friend, the Baron of Liebistorf:

“…the only initiation I advocate and search for with all the ardor of my soul is the one through which we can enter into the heart of God and make God’s heart enter our own, there to make an indissoluble marriage which makes us friend, brother, and spouse of our Divine Repairer.

“There is no other mystery than to arrive at this holy initiation than to go more and more down into the depths of our being, and not let go till we can bring forth the living vivifying root, because then all the fruit which we ought to bear, according to our kind, will be produced within and without us naturally, as we see occurs with our earthly trees, because they are attached to their particular root, and do not cease to draw up its sap.”[2]

We Enter Autumn

With these reflections, we of the North enter the Season of Autumn, while our brothers and sisters in the Southern Hemisphere are entering Spring, complementary realities at work on our Planet. I hope that some of these thoughts and musings, from ancient Lughnasadh to modern-day commemorations, may resonate with you during this season. I am not an expert on Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other Traditions. If you know parallels to what I have written here in other Paths, please add them in the comments.

The Peace of Autumn!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

[2] Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, “The Way of the Heart,” letter of June 19, 1797 to Kirchberger, Baron of Liebistorf. Published in Pantacle 2 (2002): 24-25 (San Jose, English Grand Lodge for the Americas, 2002).