Samhain/Halloween window display
As the seasons change we change our window displays to reflect the different seasonal festivals. The next festival is on October 31st and is known by various names, to many witches it is Samhain and to a lot of people it is Halloween, our window display tries to represent these two similar but different approaches to the night.
Here are some of the texts and images displayed in the window display.
The Wheel of the Year
The Ancient Festivals
The year can be divided into eight major festivals which mark the passage of the Sun through the year and relate directly to the agricultural cycle. This is significant to many people (including witches) The current festival is:
Halloween or Samhain
Samhain is the most important of the cross quarter days celebrated by witches. It marks the beginning of winter, and is the eve of the Celtic New Year. On this night the Veil between the Worlds of life and death is at its most thin and the ancestors return to feast and celebrate with their living kin.
Of all the old pagan festivals, it is the most popular; children dress up as ghosts and witches and spooky fun is enjoyed by all. The origin of Trick or Treat may be to do with the Lord of Misrule, as boundaries dissolve mischievous spirits play havoc on mortals.
The Christian Church calls it All Hallows Eve or All Souls Eve. In the Midlands, Soul Cakes were baked and parties of “ Soulers” would go from house to house begging for these cakes in memory of the dead.
Celebrate Samhain by honouring the return of the Dark, for within it are the seeds of rebirth. Send love and blessings to those of your family and friends who are dead, tonight they are near.
Simon Bleaken, a Friend of the Museum, who celebrates Samhain on October 31st each year explains the importance of this festival to him:
“Samhain for me is one of the most important and meaningful of all the celebrations. As the world grows colder and darker outside, there is nothing more magical than standing in the warm glow of a candlelit room, holding the dark night at bay and watching incense smoke coil around the flickering flames.
For me, it is a time of honouring those I love who have passed over, to invite them back inside to share the night with me as the veil grows thin. To this end, I normally always finish include a dumb supper in my Samhain celebrations, setting a place for the dead and eating in silence as I reflect on memories of the times spent with them, or looking back over old photo albums.
Another important part of my Samhain celebrations is the setting up of an ancestor altar. This holds the images of family members, and also includes people who have inspired me or otherwise hold a special place in my heart. It is a time for speaking their names, honouring their memories, and giving thanks for the love and inspiration they have given.
Divination also plays a role in my Samhain rituals, mostly through the use of Tarot or oracle cards, as I look back over the harvest of the past year, and plant the seeds of things I wish to grow in my life in the coming year. It is also a time for letting go of those things which no longer serve any purpose in life, just as some trees let go of leaves that no longer have a use for them.”
October 31st and Witchcraft
Many people associate October 31st or Halloween with witchcraft. For many practising witches today, October 31st is Samhain and this is usually translated as “Summer’s End”. For some people then, Halloween is one of the silliest nights of the year, for others it is one of the most serious.
We also encounter this dissonance in the image of the witch represented here. We have lots of fun witches, the Halloween witch, the witch of the popular consciousness made for mass consumption and then we have a painting entitled ‘Samhain Witch’ by Vivienne Shanley, this is a more sombre representation which explores the complexity of witchcraft and the way in which witches approach the night of October 31st yet shares much of the symbolism of the more commercially made images (animals, bones, cauldrons etc.)
“This witch is depicted as bent with age working in a cave at night to represent the turning of the year into the darkness of winter. The skull is there to remind us of the thinning of the veil betwixt the living and the dead, especially our connection with the ancestors at this time of year. The Owl and the books indicate the accumulated wisdom of age, particularly the wisdom of the Goddess, represented by the moon reflected in the pool. The witch herself is deep in thought as she stirs her magical brew, cooking up a spell to effect some change- who knows what? Perhaps the toad who is a symbol of transformation. In years gone by, when Wisewomen were persecuted and demonised , the image of an old hag flying through the night on her broomstick with her familiar black cat was used to terrify good god-fearing folk -hence the inclusion of the little fellow spying in horror!” Text by the artist, Vivenne Shanley.
The wonderful thing about October 31st is that it is a night of contradictions, a night of inversions, a night for plastic witches (and real ones!)
“…the tug of war between glitter and grave dust, the sacred and the profane, order and lawlessness, the mainstream and the marginalized…Halloween is a holiday that refuses to play by anyone’s rules.” From David J Skal, Death makes a holiday: a Cultural History of Halloween.
Stag’s Head by Artist Marti Dean
Of the animals connected with witchcraft and magic, the stag is closely associated with the Horned God of Witchcraft. With roots set in the pagan histories and traditions of Europe, the symbolism of the stag has been represented in a variety of ways, from the Neolithic painting of the antlered ‘Sorcerer’ within the cave Trois-Frères in France, to the Gundestrup Cauldron, a piece of Iron Age silverwork depicting the Celtic antlered god Cernunnos.
For some modern witches, the stag–god Cernunnos is recognised as the horned god of nature and magic, and thus is celebrated in the rituals, art, and magic of modern witchcraft. This anthropomorphic sculpture of a green stag with branch-like antlers symbolises the magic of the regenerative force in nature. The objects hung on the antlers will be changed throughout the coming year.
For Samhain, the stag’s antlers have been decorated with various items to do with Halloween.