On a walk in the oaken woods behind our home today, my daughter and I felt the electricity of a world on the brink- nature senses the portals opening at this time of year and seems to be vibrating in resonance with that magic. We found mushrooms, bones, and acorns, and threw together a little makeshift altar in honor of this potent season once we returned home.
The following is taken from the incredible book Herbal Rituals by Judith Berger, which I happened to come across at a used bookstore years ago and fell in love with before I even picked it up. I've since learned that it only went through one printing and is valuable and hard to find (peep the prices on that link!). I posted about it on my first blog Nourished Mother long ago and soon after received an email from Judith herself. It was such an honor (this was before she had a website and I had been unable to find anything about her online). The book and its teachings are sacred to me, especially her wisdom about the thinning of the veil between the human realm and the spirit realm that happens at this time of year...
During the time when all humans participated in gleaning subsistence from the earth, the last day of October marked the shift from the agriculturally fertile seasons into those months where hunting served as the people's most immediate source of food. In the Celtic lunar calendar, this month was the last of thirteen moons; the eve of the newborn year was called All Hallow's eve, or Old Years night. Foods that continued to grow after Halloween were left in the fields; farmers relinquished control of the land, releasing their claim on the fruits of the autumn harvest, offering all that flourished beyond this day into the divine domain of the goddess and god as well as the ancestral dead for these forces to use in their own way.
The countryside folk held to the belief that through the whole month of October, as the lush face of the land faded into somber hues of grey and brown and much green life became skeletal, the veil which separated the spirit world from the corporeal realm became thinner and thinner. On Halloween night, this transparency peaked, allowing the spirits of the dead to slip through the boundaries that screened them from the world of matter and fly over the earth.
Halloween also marks a momentous turn on the wheel of the year. The twenty four hours of October 31st, and midnight especially, hang between the old and the new year, noosed by a slender tether to calendars calculated by those of rational mind. The day and eve of Old Year's night belong neither to the land of the living nor to the land of the dead, both to the time of endings and the time of beginnings, suspended outside of human-made concepts and laws. Intentions, declarations, wishes, and desires spoken at this time carry great power, for both the secular anchors which fix our sense of time and the elemental laws by which we are bound are relaxed. On this night, what we ask, invoke, and name reverberates throughout all time and all worlds, initiating vast changes in our lives.
As the old women of the villages once did, on All Hallow's eve we may wrap ourselves in the long cloak of night, huddle around a warm fire, and keen and moan to our ancestors for all we have lost. On Halloween night, it is the crone and the lord of the shadows who act as guardians as we pass through the pain of our losses. Releasing our grief, we make room for joy to abound in the new year. And on this night, we return the land to the arms of the elder gods and goddesses, passing through the threshold from the season of activity to the season of contemplation.