We celebrate Samhain as the Sun is about a week into its sojourn in the Constellation of Scorpio. At this sabbat, we encounter the Crone Goddess Ceridwen, Bringer of Death, Stirrer of the Great Cauldron of Regeneration. Let's look at the traditional and modern ways we celebrate Samhain, one of the most powerful pagan sun festivals.
What is Samhain?
Samhain is the late fall festival in the pagan wheel of the year sabbat cycle. Originally it was experienced as the end of the summer, it is a celebration of death, transformation, and rebirth. It marks the end of the growing season and a time when the veils between this world and the next are thin. The perfect time to develop mediumship to connect to those we have lost this year. As we celebrate Samhain, we build our connection to the spirit world.
The days are darkening, the nights are longer, decay and death are on the ascendancy. Ceridwen is the Crone, the dark goddess, the Hag, the ancient reaper. She prepares us for our journey to the underworld to meet the beloved souls of our dead and our shadow selves.
The light of the days is six weeks from its lowest ebb. Nature is dying all around us, animals gorge on fruit and store nuts and other food preparing for hibernation. The air is cold and as we wrap in warm clothes to protect our bodies’ temperature. We notice the carpet of fallen leaves from the trees and bushes begin to rot on the land we’re walking. Oranges, reds and browns carpet the roads and countryside. They slowly blacken as they return (like all once living things eventually do) to the earth as nutrients…
Samhain has arrived, the old sun cycle is complete, a new one waiting to begin! Thus is the nature of the Law Rhythm. Everything flows from one state to another. The sap rises in the trees and plants at Beltane and descends again at Samhain, the cycle is complete.
The Celebration of Samhain and the Myths of Avalon
In many of the Avalonian goddess myths, the Lady is accompanied by animals and particularly birds. Ceridwen the dark goddess, reaper and bringer of death is associated with the hawk that hovers still in the eye of the storm. Nolava the goddess of Avalon is accompanied by ravens. The nine mythical Morgen (priestess) sisters of the Summerlands were often seen as crows. At Samhain many of the visiting fowl have left for warmer climes. But the starlings and the crows remain flying low in large flocks over the land and retreating to Avalon’s marshlands at dusk. Small birds feast on berries growing in the gardens (or backyards for you Americans) and sleep in the trees near the houses.
In the Avalonian tradition that I trained as a Priest within, Ceridwen was honored as the crone goddess at Samhain. She was the outcome of the four states of goddess, maiden, lover, mother, crone. The crone goddess is an amalgamation of all of them. So let us first look at the essence of Samhain and then the mythology of Ceridwen.
Samhain and the Pagan Calendar
Samhain is the first of the pagan festivals which celebrates the Earth, nature, and seasons as sacred and as a representation of divinity. This sabbat is focused around descending into the underworld. It is an experience of death, regeneration, healing, and rebirth. The rituals and sacred symbols used at this time reflect the journey of the Sun and the response of nature and the land.
The pagan calendar is governed by the spiritual laws of vibration and rhythm. We see these in the phases of the moon, changes of the seasons, and movements of the sun and stars. None can intuitively doubt that humanity is affected by the moon, her tides of the ocean, her affects on our psyches, our emotions. (We love the moon, check out our blog on the 7 Magical Phases of the Moon.)
So it’s also true of other planetary bodies and their relationship to the physical, emotional and spiritual experience of humankind. The sabbats particularly focus on our relationship with the movement of the sun.
What is the magical and spiritual experience of Samhain?
The spiritual experience of ancient pagan Northern Europe was (and is) represented as the dark goddess. With her scissors and sickle, accompanied by her toad, sow and hawk, she is gathering up those souls ready to depart. She appears in a black hooded cloak as an old skeletal like woman, wise and magically powerful. All those who are ready to die are taken. The remaining people who walk the spiritual path with her are led to the Underworld. Here they will meet their recent dead, their ancestors and their shadow selves.
Samhain, for me, is the most powerful of the sun festivals. It is the direct connection to spirit, it is the experience of spiritual transformation and empowerment in the dark places in the underworld. In some traditions, they celebrate Samhain as the pagan new year. There exists a myth that the period of time between Samhain and Yule (December 21st) was literally no time. It is a reflection of the internal isle of the dead. In this period of stillness is the deeper spiritual experience. Through stillness, meditation and magic your inner self, shadow self and/or inner child can be transmuted into spiritual and magical power. This is the work of this phase in the cycle before you enter the bardo of Yule waiting for rebirth.
The Myth of the Crone Goddess Ceridwen
Ceridwen is the goddess of death who stirs her cauldron of magical herbs, vegetables and other plants. She slowly cooks the nectar of eternity. The potion will dig deep into your soul and transform the metals of your personality and character into the gold of your soul. Ceridwen is the archetypal representation of those older women of the ancient tribes who had reached their second Saturn return at 56 years old. At this age they can be crowned as crones. These wise women sat on the ruling councils of the tribes as joint ruler with the other elderly women.
Ceridwen, ancient goddess of the lands of Britain bore a very ugly son. She reasoned that his life would not be at its best unless she intervened. Ceridwen employed Gwion Bach, a lad from the local village to be responsible for stirring her cauldron for her while she went foraging. She would gather herbs, plants and vegetables to make a magical potion that would bring her son not only beauty but also great wisdom.
Gwion Bach was accompanied by an elderly blind man responsible for keeping the fire alight. Both were under strict instructions not, under any circumstances, to taste the brew under pain of death.
For a year and day Gwion stirred the cauldron of transformation, grumbling a little I’m sure but loyal to the goddess to a fault. All day and all night for one whole revolution of the Earth around the sun and one day more, he stirred Cerdiwen’s cauldron faithfully. As time progressed he could hear whispers coming from the contents of the cauldron. They were testing and teasing him to taste the brew but Gwion resisted, determined to see out his sacred mission to the very end. There was also that rumor about a danger in dosing the potion. The first three drops would bring wisdom and gorgeousness but any more was poison and gave the taster certain death. Gwion didn’t fancy that fate.
Time wore on......
Day after day, night after night, he stirred this blessed cauldron. He had only the blind old man tending the fire, and the rare visits of Ceridwen with more ingredients, for company. His fatigue and restlessness were great as the final night approached. Gwion became distracted with the thought that soon he’d escape this cauldron and could live out the rest of his life as he chose.
The cauldron was bubbling with the heat of the fire and was forever accompanied by those wicked voices tempting him. They grew more aggressive teasing him, and yes verbally abusing him for not tasting the brew. As the fire became hotter and hotter the cauldron spat a tiny portion of its mixture onto Gwion’s hand. Without thinking the boy put his hand in his mouth to alleviate the sudden pain of the burn. The moment the potion touched his tongue, hey presto he found he knew all the secrets of the universe.
He knew the laws of magic and creation, the sorcery of soul journey and shapeshifting. He understood the magic of his voice, his intentions and how to manipulate his vibrations to create whatever he chose into material reality. At that moment, quite unfortunately, Ceridwen arrived and within a wink of time realized that the boy had tasted the potion. She screamed like a Banshee and Gwion fled in terror.
The Chase: A Journey of Transformation
Gwion instinctively transforms himself into a Hare and races away over the fields of corn. Ceridwen shapeshifts into a hunting dog and chases after him. Realizing that the hound was getting a little too close for comfort, Gwion dives into a river and transforms his body into a salmon. Ceridwen in her fury shapeshifts into an otter and proceeds to hunt the Gwion salmon down. In his terror Gwion leaps from the river and transforms himself into a raven with the intention of flying to freedom. Ceridwen was having none of it and shapeshifted into a Hawk and attacked Gwion from the air. Quickly Gwion descended and landed in a corn field, transforming himself into a seed of corn. Ceridwen with all of her guile shapeshifted into a hen and devoured the seed of corn.
Within a month, Ceridwen realized that she was pregnant. She was left with a dilemma. Should she destroy the unborn babe to rid herself forever of the cursed Gwion or to give birth to the child. Ceridwen decided to allow the babe to live. Following the birth she wrapped him in swaddling, put him in a basket of reeds and sent him flowing down the river. The basket was pulled along by the current and traveled downstream for miles. Eventually it got caught up in some reeds on the far bank of the river.
The baby is found
A young woman, barely twenty years old found the little one. She was startled to hear a hungry baby cry on the banks of the river near her family home. She returned to the family with the infant and this kind family adopted the boy child. As the years rolled on, it became apparent to the girl’s family that this was no ordinary child. The reincarnated, transformed Gwion was a magician and sage beyond his youth and beyond any other person they’d ever met.
This is also the story of how the Taleisin, or otherwise known as the Merlin was born. The great wizard was born out of the body of a divine goddess, the dark goddess of the underworld.
How to Celebrate Samhain With Ceridwen Bringer of Death
The story of Ceridwen and Gwion is a map of spiritual transformation. In the cauldron you stir the deepest parts of your soul. When you taste the nectar what’s within, although it may be perilous, your journey to death, regeneration, healing and rebirth begins. As you move towards this mecca of regeneration, it may be necessary to alter your soul. You may need to shapeshift your perceptions until you enter the divine womb and are reborn into your godlike magical power and knowledge.
We celebrate Samhain as an opportunity to look inward. A chance to realize the knowledge you have gained this year and the transformation you will create in the year ahead. It is a time to celebrate that which has passed away, both loved ones, and parts of self you have grown out of. In this time of shedding and falling away the veils are thin between our world and the spirit worlds.
Join us in a Transmutational Meditation where we will lead you on Ceridwen's Journey to the underworlds. We will show you the magic of Samhain. As we connect to those we have lost this year we, and they will be able to continue our magical and spiritual journeys.
To connect more deeply to your spirit guides and your dearly departed we have more materials available. Check out our book Spirit Guides Mediumship and Moon Magic here:
Samhain is the fall festival in the pagan wheel of the year sabbat cycle. It is a celebration of death, transformation and rebirth. It is a time when the veils between this world and the next are thin. The perfect time to develop mediumship to connect to those we have lost this year and build our connection to the spirit world.
The Crone Goddess represents the final phase of life of the triple goddess maiden mother crone cycle. At times the Goddess is understood in four phases; maiden, lover. mother, crone. As crone, she is the wise old woman. At Samhain one of her representations is as the goddess Ceridwen, the Bringer of Death.
In the Avalon traditions Ceridwen the dark goddess, reaper and bringer of death. She is connected to the pagan festival of Samhain. She collects the souls of those ready to die and leads them to the underworld. The living are also able to join her procession and visit those they have lost.