The feast of Samhain has passed yet again. This is the feast of the dead, the time when the veils between the worlds are thinnest. In Celtic lore it's a New Year's celebration, marking the end of the turning wheel and the beginning as well. In English we call it Hallowe'en which is a contraction of the words "All Hallow's Even" the night before the Christian festival known as All Saint's Day. Perhaps they felt the need to bring in all of the saints to protect them during this, sometimes frightening time of the year.
The word Samhain (or Samhaign) is often mispronounced. The letter h is not a "real" letter, so I am told, but rather a modifier of other letters (not unlike English's final 'e' which modifies the preceding vowel). In this case it modifies the 'm' creating a word which is pronounced sow-wain. Sow, like a female pig and Wain as in a wheel (alternatively "Wayne"). It is not pronounced Sam Hayn or Sam-a-hain-ee.
Almost every culture seems to have a story wherein a hero or God/dess descends into the underworld in order to confront, and bargain with its master who is Lord of Death in whatever form. In Japan we see Izanagi descend into the underworld to try to save Izanami. In Mesopotamia and Babylon we see Inanna descend into the underworld to confront Erishkagal. The story of Persephone's "abduction" by Hades/Jupiter and the journey of Demeter in order to confront him is generally well known. Even in the Norse we see Hermeod descend into Helaheim to confront Hel for the soul of Baldar. In Egypt (and later throughout Europe) we see Isis in her quest to reconstruct Osiris/Serapis and confronting Nephthys, Queen of the underworld.
In each of these stories there are obstacles to overcome, some are insurmountable, some are not and in many of these stories there is some limited amount of success. Hel agrees to let Baldar go if everyone will weep for him, Hades allows Persephone to leave the Underworld if she swears to marry him and live with him half of the year. Osiris only lives long enough to impregnate Isis with Horus the Younger. On the other hand, Inanna must be rescued in turn by Enki and Izanagi fails to save Izanami and, from his own eye, creates Amaterasu.
For every death there is a rebirth, as many of these stories show us. Even those who are rescued do not return unchanged. Yet when the land is cold and grey, when the veils are thin between the worlds, we are given a gift when it comes to our own beloved dead. Death itself gives us a reprieve. We lay out wine and cakes for those who have gone before us, and in so doing we aid them in their own journey, giving them the opportunity to be with us once again to enjoy the bounty of the harvest.
The Mysteries teach us that, when we die, we do not immediately dissolve the personalities we have formed during our lifetime. Rather we continue to inhabit it for some time until we absorb it into out Individuality, that part of us which continues from life to life like pearls upon a string. During this time we may be comforted by, and provide aid to, our loved ones whom we have left behind. Eventually a time comes, no matter how strong the personality, when it too must dissolve and be reabsorbed into the universe, just as out bodies are reabsorbed into the earth.
This may seem terrifying to some, but the personalities we create while manifest in Assiah are often the result of many outside influences and various psychological experiences. We take what is best of these experiences and absorb them into our true Selves before manifesting once again. This is why we remember, from time to time, people we've known before, or events we've undergone during regression therapy. Often it is those which are most emotionally charged which make the greatest impressions on our eternal Individuality. How long this takes depends on the personality in question. Sometimes it can be done in a few months, sometimes they hold on for decades... and sometimes a personality is so strong that it continues as an empty shell long after the Individuality has moved on. This is often the case with violent deaths and is the result of certain types of haunting.
It is one of the reasons that this time of the year can be so frightening! The thin veils can reveal those lost shells and give quite the startle to an individual. It is for this reason that we have created a holiday wherein we all dress up in frightening apparel, place ghostly and creepy images around our homes... if everyone is doing something a little spooky then the real thing won't even be noticed amongst the festive macabre.
It is also a time when the Folk are active for that veil between our world and the world of Fayrie is also thin. It is a time to give gifts of food and alcohol to the Wee Folk. As children go door to door "trick or treating" we may give candies to our fey brethren, not being able to tell the difference between them and the children dressed in outlandish costumes. Believe me when I tell you that the Fey really mean it when they say Trick or Treat!
It is a good time of year, a time of new beginnings as we move into the Time of Planning where we begin to think on our own futures. It is time to remember those we have lost and, though it is sad, to know that they are not forgotten.