Folklore of Samhain

Wiccans recognize the God at Samhain as Jack-o’-Lantern.

Folklore of Samhain.

     Copyright © 2009 Ashleen O'Gaea
Samhain (October 31): Last Harvest

Samhain’s god is Herne the hunter, the Horned One, who is both slayer and slain. He is the god of the hunt, and not only the “Priest-king” of the herd, but the leader of the Wild Hunt, a powerful manifestation of all the spirits of the dead. Herne’s form—the stag-headed man—manifests the God’s animal aspect; but of course, He has a vegetable aspect as well. Because Samhain’s counterpart is Beltane, joyfully represented by the Green Man, a corresponding way Wiccans recognize the God at Samhain is as Jack-o’-Lantern.

Jack-o’-Lantern is best known to many non-Pagans in Washington Irving’s story about the Headless Horseman. Certainly there are Wild Hunt associations with Samhain, and with Herne and Jack, but the popular culture’s versions overemphasize the threatening aspects of these symbols. For too many people, Samhain—Halloween—is all about death and our fear of it; but Wiccans don’t fear death, because our Goddess and God are not vengeful and we know death to be followed by rebirth. Ghost stories might be entertaining, but most Wiccans know ghosts as beloved ancestors rather than as fearsome devils. 

Pumpkins, as you may know, are not native to the British Isles. There, Jacks were originally carved from hollowed out turnips. Some say they were carried to frighten away witches and ghosts, but I’ve heard that these poor-man’s lanterns were carved as faces for companionship on long night’s journeys—as well as to shed light on the road and make a traveling party merrier. I know there weren’t Wiccans in the old days, but I do believe that the correspondence of “Jack of the Lantern” to Summer’s “Green Man” was obvious to everyone. The Green Man’s lit from outside, by the Sun; the Jack’s “sun” is inside, as a candle or a glowing coal.

Jack’s light is inside, and hidden by the uncarved back of the pumpkin, just as life’s spark is hidden by Winter’s apparent death. “Jack” is an Underworld aspect of the God, too; but remember, for the Celts from whose beliefs Wicca developed, the Underworld was not a dreadful place.

The Celtic Underworld—an aspect or realm of Wicca’s Summerland—is the fabulous land beneath (inside) the fairy mounds. One of Jack’s aspects is the King of the Underworld, the King of the Fairies. Powerful and dangerous He is, surely, and stern; sometimes ruthless—but not “evil” or cruel.

This and more can be found here:

Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara.

Unique among books about the Wiccan Sabbats, Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara takes a different approach to explaining the holidays by taking an in-depth look at half of the Wheel of the Year. Rather than dissecting each holiday, Ashleen's goal is to take a broader look at them, explaining how and why we celebrate each, along with how the celebration of one leads to the next.

The first of two new titles from Ashleen offers a vision of the holidays we celebrate from October to March. This book covers each holiday by first giving us its history and original customs, then explaining its place in modern life. Stories are shared for each Sabbat to reconnect us with our lore and bring new meaning to current practice. Ashleen includes ideas for rituals that are ideal for practicing solitaries, covens, or Wiccan families, with special sections on what children of various ages are ready to learn about these holidays.

Celebrating the Seasons of Life. Lore, Rituals, Activities and Symbols - Samhain to Ostara by Ashleen O'Gaea.

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