Reviewing the mystic and his role in our history
Locked away in a darkened room dimly lit by candles, reading from a book written in an eldritch language, a bearded old man stands in a circle laden with odd symbols as he conjures forces from a dark and unknown realm. This image of a mystic comes to us from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s influential classic, Faust. Quite often this Faustian image stirs the imagination when people speak of mystics and their mysteries. However, this picture could not be farther from the truth.
The works of the mystics have always been shrouded in mystery. This is because they sought to push their own level of understanding beyond the restrictions of common knowledge. It is the role of the mystic to discover the limits of human experience and the boundaries of knowledge, and then push beyond these horizons using whatever methods seem appropriate for the situation.
The average person is very comfortable resting in his everyday life, well within the confines of his own known reality. In sharp contrast, the mystic is quite uncomfortable with such restrictions and continuously seeks to reset the boundary between the known and the unknown. It is this very urge that has gotten his kind into trouble time and time again, when their notions clashed with established orders of thought.
Such notable mystics that have clashed with orderly thought include luminaries like as Socrates, Galileo Galilei, William Blake, Isaac Newton, and Emanuel Swedenborg. Today, the works of these men may no longer seem strange and unusual to us because we have grown comfortable with the reality that has been established through their inspirational works. These revolutionary thinkers may no longer conjure the imaginary images of the Faustian mystic, but at one time they did.
To our society, today’s mystics project a far less sinister image. We now call them scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, artists, poets and musicians. All of these people have their own unique way of capturing our attention, stirring our imagination, and pushing the boundaries of what we accept to be truth. Though there is less suspicion cast upon today’s mystics, their alluring power is no less pervasive than that of the mystics of the ancient world. If anything, the mysteries they reveal are the most important mankind has ever discovered to date.
There is no doubt that the wonderful reality we live in comes from the works of mystics of all types and origins. Drawn from the shadows of skepticism and brought into the light of comprehension, mysticism are vital to the continued advancement of humanity. We must understand that there will always be new mysteries of the world, and that we will always have new mystics seeking to illuminate mankind to those wonders just waiting to be discovered.
Samhain Unveiled: Tracing its Origins and Time-Honored Rituals
Samhain is a time-honored tradition followed by witches, Wiccans, ancient druids, and countless other modern pagans across the world, and celebrated as October turns to November. Samhain is a festival of the dead, meaning “Summer’s End,” and though you’re probably tempted to pronounce it “sam-hane,” it’s actually pronounced saah-win or saah-ween.
What is a Samhain Celebration?
Samhain is a sacred and ancient Celtic festival that marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It holds deep spiritual significance as it honors our ancestors, acknowledges the time of year when the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds is thinnest, and embraces the mysteries of life and death. Samhain typically takes place from October 31st to November 1st and involves various rituals and traditions, such as ancestor veneration, divination, bonfires, costume dressing, feasting, and releasing and renewing rituals. It’s also celebrated as the beginning of the spiritual new year for Wicca practitioners, which is also why it’s nicknamed “The Witches’ New Year.” Samhain serves as a time of reflection, transformation, and connection with the natural and supernatural realms, reminding us of the cyclical nature of existence and the eternal bond with our ancestral heritage. If this celebration sounds oddly familiar, it’s because our modern Halloween, although different, originates from this Gaelic tradition. Historically, most American Halloween traditions were brought over by Irish and Scottish immigrants.
How to Celebrate Samhain
Samhain is typically celebrated by preparing a dinner to celebrate the harvest. The holiday is meant to be shared with those who have passed on as well as those still with us. Set a place at the table for those in the spiritual plane, providing an offering for them upon every serving throughout the meal. In addition to those who have passed, invite friends and family to enjoy the feast with you. Typical beverages include mulled wine, cider, and mead, and are to be shared with the dead throughout the meal.
Halloween Similarities & Differences
Despite occurring at similar times and containing similar themes, Samhain and Halloween are not the same holiday. Halloween, short for All Hallow’s Eve, is celebrated on and around Oct. 31 and tends to be more family-focused. On the other hand, Samhain is more religious in focus and spiritually observed by practitioners.
There are some more light-hearted observances in honor of the dead through Samhain, but the underlying tone of Samhain is one of a serious religious practice rather than a light-hearted make-believe re-enactment. Today’s Pagan Samhain rites are benevolent, and although they are somber and centered on death, they do not involve human or animal sacrifices, as some rumors may claim. Another difference between Samhain and Halloween is that most Samhain rituals are held in private rather than in public.
When to Start the Celebrations
If you want to start honoring this pagan tradition, you might wonder when to start. The timing of contemporary Samhain celebrations varies according to spiritual tradition and geography. Practitioners state to celebrate Samhain over several days and nights, and these extended observances usually include a series of solo rites as well as ceremonies, feasts, and gatherings with family, friends, and the spiritual community.
In the northern hemisphere, many Pagans celebrate Samhain from sundown on October 31 through November 1. Others hold Samhain celebrations on the nearest weekend or on the Full or New Moon closest to this time. Some Pagans observe Samhain a bit later, or near November 6, to coincide more closely with the astronomical midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice. Most Pagans in the southern hemisphere time their Samhain observances to coincide with the middle of their Autumn in late April and early May rather than at the traditional European time of the holiday. In the end, it’s really up to you!
Honoring Life, Death, & Nature
Samhain isn’t necessarily a creepy, morbid holiday obsessed with death, as some may conclude. Instead, it reaches for themes deeper than that, tying in with nature’s rhythms. In many places, Samhain coincides with the end of the growing season. Vegetation dies back by killing frosts, and therefore, literally, death is in the air.
This contributes to the ancient notion that at Samhain, the veil is thin between the world of the living and the realm of the dead, facilitating contact and communication with the dead. For those who have lost loved ones in the past year, Samhain rituals can be an opportunity to bring closure to grieving and to further adjust to their being in the Otherworld by spiritually communing with them. However, it’s also a way to appreciate life when you get right down to it.