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Circe by John William Waterhouse
Samhain (AKA Halloween) is almost upon us.  For some this is a fun time of year, filled with imagination and illusion.  For others it is more.

For witches and pagans, Samhain is a connection to our collective past, a time when Halloween wasn't only dress up, and the space between the worlds was magic in the old, full sense of the word.  

The old Celtic New Year of Samhain (literally summer's end) was celebrated because it was the dividing line between the two seasons of the Celtic year - summer and winter.  This division was a liminal space (or threshold) and liminal spaces were meaningful to the Celts.

In the case of the liminal space of Samhain, the veil between the living (summer) and the dead (winter) was paper thin and anyone who really wanted to could peer through it and see the otherside.

In our own less focused era, the secular holiday of Halloween is strongly (if lightheartedly) associated with witches - as well as with the dead.  But this association shouldn't be in any way surprising.  Talking to the departed is an age old practice of the craft.

Ancient texts confirm this connection, linking spirit communication with witchcraft over and over again.  Sadly, however, even in the earliest literate times, witches were already being deliberately (and negatively) misrepresented - so it's hard to say exactly how early witches communicated with spirit or what those long dead practitioners were really like.

But there are glimpses.  

One such glimpse is the biblical witch of Endor summoning the spirit of one king for another.  Another is my personal favorite the daughter / priestess of Hecate we know as Circe.

Circe appears in the writings of Homer not as a frightening old woman but as a beautiful enchantress ruling over animals and men, directing Odysseus to the land of the dead and helpfully telling him what to do once he got there. 

Thought by some to be a Goddess (her magic is natural as opposed to practiced and her parents were divine), Circe probably had a good deal in common with other ancient practitioners of the craft.  One very likely similarity was that both witches and Goddesses understood the mysteries of the otherside - which was a plus in ancient times.

In the ancient world the dead were thought to be a very reliable source of information, possessing special knowledge not ordinarily available to those who were alive.  Communicating with the dead was an important practice, witches were a resource, and - among the ancient Celts - Samhain was the perfect time.

What a incredible testament to the power of the ancient practitioners of our craft that, over two thousand years later, this  very special holiday still persists!

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