Halloween, Samhain & Beltane in Australia

The following blog is the result of a conversation on Facebook, which I thought was worthy of being repeated here, tweaked and expanded a little and with photos added of course. 😀

My Facebook status update: “Hmm… I’m having a hard time remembering that it’s actually Beltane here. With a rumpus room decorated with scary things from Son 4’s Halloween party yesterday and candles in jack-o-lanterns on the front verandah so the trick-or-treaters know to call here tonight, the ‘feel’ of the season is kinda confused, LOL.”

Comment by friend (from USA): “I was wondering how that all worked when I saw your Halloween pictures and your post about the Beltane bird. Are Samhain and Halloween not the same day down under?”

And I replied…

The names Samhain and Halloween both refer to more or less the same Autumn celebration which started in the northern hemisphere. But in Australia our seasons are offset by 6 months from those in the northern hemisphere and April/May is Autumn so most Pagans here would celebrate Samhain on the evening of 30th April/1st May. If you mention you’re celebrating Halloween in May people look at you as if you’re nuts because everyone knows Halloween is in October, lol. The northern hemisphere date of 31st October has become so wrapped up with the commercial hype of Halloween with lollies/candy being the main focus, plus trick-or-treating, spooky decorations, scary costumes etc that most people don’t have a clue about its origins and the rationale behind the tricks and the masks etc .

Halloween or Samhain is an Autumn seasonal festival held when the days get shorter and the darkness increases. It’s a time for saying farewell to the old year and to welcome in the new and also a time to honour our ancestors and acknowledge that without death, there can be no rebirth (more info here) …all the non-candy related stuff that’s been lost on the majority of the general population. They’ve probably never heard of Samhain (or Beltane [see here and here]) either so that’s why “Halloween” here is celebrated on the traditional date of October 31st by those who don’t know any better (lol) and Beltane — a spring fertility festival — is celebrated by most Pagans here instead. Although, a lot of us also do the Halloween thing for the kids anyway due to all the hype and advertising they’re subjected to and the fact that it’s a lot of fun. Celebrating Halloween in October here also means it’s not cold outside and it doesn’t get dark until quite late, so kids can wander the streets for longer. The Spring weather here is also great for pool parties — a little different to the colder weather of the traditional Halloween.

Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while “some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)”, derived from the Old Irish Samuin meaning “summer’s end”. Samhain was the first and by far the most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Irish and Scottish calendar and, falling on the last day of Autumn, it was a time for stock-taking and preparation for the cold winter months ahead. There was also a sense that this was the time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest and magical things could happen. To ward off these spirits, the Gaels built huge, symbolically regenerative bonfires and invoked the help of the gods through animal and perhaps even human sacrifice.

Halloween is also thought to have been heavily influenced by the Christian holy days of All Saints’ Day (also known as Hallowmas, All Hallows, and Hallowtide) and All Souls’ Day. Falling on November 1st and 2nd respectively, collectively they were a time for honoring the Saints and praying for the recently departed who had yet to reach heaven. By the end of the 12th century they had become days of holy obligation across Europe and involved such traditions as ringing bells for the souls in purgatory and “souling”, the custom of baking bread or soul cakes for “all crysten [christened] souls”. It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints Day, and All Hallow’s Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving onto the next world. To avoid being recognised by a soul, Christians would wear masques and costumes to disguise themselves, following the lighted candles set by others to guide their travel for worship the next day. Today, this practice has been perpetuated through trick-or-treating. [Wikipedia]

Halloween’s never been a big thing in Australia and until more recent years it wasn’t celebrated here at all. Only my youngest has ever gone trick-or-treating. A lot of people here think it’s un-Australian and object to it. In previous years I’ve seen the number of costumed kids trick-or-treating in our area steadily increasing but this year there were hardly any. The one group of older kids that did come to my door (because of my friendly little jack-o-lanterns on the front porch) said they’d had one person yell at them that it was not Australian and then slam the door in their faces! 😦 …some people can be really rude and mean-spirited!

So, having Beltane/Halloween in October and Samhain in May just separates the “real” seasonal festivals or sabbats from the commercially driven candyfest that Halloween has become.

Now, back to my original status update about the ‘feel’ of the season being confused.

Actually, preparation for Beltane started for me when I attended Spheres Of Light’s Beltane Weekend which, due to other bookings of the venue we used, had to be held the week before the traditional Aussie Beltane, on the 21st-23rd October. Everyone who attended had a fantastic time and we had a lot of fun making our masks, wands and staffs (I’ll save photos of mine for a future blog post). But then along came the “calendar date Halloween” and temporarily interrupted the flow (well, for me anyway) with ghouls, ghosts, skeletons, Grim Reapers, spiders, webs, skulls and bats etc all decorating my house for my youngest son’s Halloween pool party.

According to Archaeoastronomy.com the “exact” time for the southern hemisphere Beltane is not until 4:27am on November 8th (2011)**, so maybe by then I will have had time to get all thoughts of Halloween, death, dying and endings out of my mind and be able to tap in to the energies of the Spring Beltane season more effectively and really feel the veils thinning between the worlds in a different way to that of Samhain/Halloween.

Beltane is the twin and mirror reflection of Samhain.  As the veils grow thin at Samhain at the beginning of winter so too do they thin on Beltane.  There is a magick in the air as the days lengthen and the nights get warmer.  Our minds and bodies respond to this, our hearts lighten, we start wearing lighter clothes and mundane work gets harder for school child and employee alike as we all daydream, craving to be doing outdoor activities, basking in the warming Sun’s rays.  In November (in the southern hemisphere) the spirits of nature and the fey peek through those thinned veils, taunting us and teasing us to come out and play and it is tradition to leave an offering of sweets or cream for the wee folk this time of year, particularly on Beltane eve. ~ Adapted from http://www.oakandwillow.org

The traditional calendar date for Aussie Beltane of October 31st is possibly just the start of this time which could reach its peak on November 8th (2011). So, plenty of time to get back into the swing of things! 😀

**(Cross-Quarter moments are interpolated as the midway points between the Solstices and Equinoxes measured in degrees along the ecliptic. Former NASA scientist Rollin Gillespie uses this spatial method rather than simply splitting in half the time interval between a Solstice and an Equinox. — Archaeoastronomy.com)

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8 thoughts on “Halloween, Samhain & Beltane in Australia

  1. Merry meet, and thank you for that wonderful explanation of Halloween and Beltane. It is frustrating to see and hear many ‘Wiccan’ folk who don’t know what these celebrations mean and can’t be bothered to find out.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Merry Meet. I saw this when i noticed a posting on a page i subscribe to on facebook, and thought.. Wow, never gave much thought that Spring is in your hemisphere now.. It would be silly to have Samhain celebrations, and more sense that you celebrate Beltane… but as most of us humans are self-sighted.. I only gave today the ascribed meaning for here. Blessed Beltane. Thanks for reminding me, it is again, about the seasons, and not the date ascribed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is strange. It is as if you do not consider that you are celebrating two interrelated but separate things.

    The Solstices and Equinoxes celebrate the Earth, and the turning of it’s seasons, Samhain and Beltane celebrate the turning of the whole wheel, of all the worlds.

    At Samhain, we say the ‘veil’ is thinnest because all the worlds are at their closest point, all touch in some way, this is when we share in all that we all are, when the worlds reinforce and strengthen each other.

    At Beltane the worlds are at their farthest, the time when each shines with its own, individual light, when each can create it’s own newness, from and of itself, and itself alone.

    These are not affected by axial tilt–because the scope is far greater than one planet. Samhain and Beltane happen everywhere across all the worlds, at the same time.

    Consider, if the ‘veil’ was thinnest at both Samhain AND Beltane, then it would be thickest at Lughnasa and Imbolc. They would cease being threshold times–the correspondence to equinoxes and be opposition points–which, by all lore, they are not.

    At Imbolc, one begins, because it is the first day that the world shines a bit more on it’s own, likewise with Lughnasa, one starts to strengthen, to reinforce, to finish–it is the first day when the nearness of the worlds starts to take precedence.

    It is all a celebration of the larger wheel, of which the Earth is but one small part.

    Liked by 1 person

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