Calan Gaeaf (Welsh), Samhain (Gaelic, neo-Pagan), Samonis (Gaulish), Winternights/Vetrnætr (Norse).
The seeds from this year’s harvest are gathered and protected, ready for planting anew in the spring. Weaker animals from the herds, that might not survive the long hard winter, are slaughtered – the meat not only prepared for this festival but also smoked and/or salted for winter storage. This is the last of the harvest festivals, and the few remaining crops – gourds and other late harvest vegetables – are brought in for the winter. Any crops that remain in the fields after this festival are left as offerings to the Nature Spirits. The life that began at Beltaine, the second of the Cross-Quarter festivals of fire, now ends, its purpose fulfilled.
It is this season when the border that divides our world from the Otherworld seems thinner. It is a time when the Nature Spirits, Gods and Ancestors might come for a visit, and should be shown the hospitality that any visitor should – that of food, drink, and a place to rest. They are honored as the living spirits of friends and loved ones. A common way to honor them is to set an extra place setting at the feasting table with portions of the feast on it.
One neo-Pagan myth is a celebration of the death of the God as the ‘Lord of the Harvest/King of the Hunt’ who sacrifices himself when the bounty of the earth is at its lowest. The Goddess descends into the underworld to search for Him. For the majority of the Indo-European cultures, the primary foci of this festival are the final harvest and the honoring of Ancestors as well as remembrance of recent dead.
Many Heathens celebrate this as the festival of Winter-Nights, or as Álfablót ‘Blessing of the Alfs/Male Ancestors’ or Disablót ‘Blessing of the Idises/Female Ancestors’, which can take place anytime from mid-October to the first part of November. And some myths state that with the darkening of the year, the Wild Hunt begins its ride, and continues until the winter wanes at Eostre.