Tuesday, January 7, 2014

High Day Essay: Fourth Cross-Quarter

The fourth cross-quarter High Day, commonly referred to in the neo-pagan community as Samhain, falls roughly midway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice.  Loosely based on pre-Christian Celtic festivals, most modern observances of Samhain emphasize the honoring of ancestors during this liminal time when the veil between the three realms is perceived to be lifted.  Many reconstructionist neo-pagans also view this as the pagan New Year, although their is little evidence for such a historical precedent.

Many of the more common practices of the modern secular celebration of Halloween do have historical bases in the recorded festivities of the ancient Celts, including those of Brittany, Scotland and Wales.  These include costumed performers traveling door-to-door in exchange for food, fortune-telling, communion with the departed and lanterns made from carved vegetables.

In non-Celtic traditions, such as the Slavic cultures, this time of year contains the festivals known as Dziady and ZaduszkiDziady (literally, "Grandfathers") is an ancient tradition which honors the ancestors and is performed several times a year (the exact number varies by region).  Dziady involves a solemn, evening ritual meal to which the ancestors are invited.  Related to Dziady is Zaduszki, which is the Slavicized Christian observance known as All Souls' Days.  Zaduszki traditions, such as beautifying graves, ritual meals and leaving household items out overnight for the deceased to use, are based upon ancient customs that pre-date the Christianization of the Slavs.

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