In the Celtic wheel of the year, Samhain, or Hallowe'en as most of us now know it, marks the start of the new year and the change from the light half of the year to the dark half.
The pre-christian Irish calendar revolved around the summer and winter solstices (known as litha and Yule) and the spring and autumn equinoxes (known as Ostara and Mabon) between them. Most of the chambered tombs in Ireland are aligned to one of these four dates so that the rising sun fills the interior chambers with light.
Between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice lies Samhain. It is the time of the year when the spirit underworld and human world are closest and so the spirits of our ancestors, as well as evil spirits are able to enter our world.
To ward off evil spirits we disguise ourselves in costumes like theirs, so that they will pass us by unnoticed, and we leave food and light candles for our ancestors.
In the past people in Ireland carved swedes or turnips and placed candles inside. Once the christianised festival of hallowe'en was brought to America by Irish immigrants in the 19th Century, people started carving the more readily available pumpkins and gourds.
These are two that I carved as presents for friends hosting Hallowe'en parties last weekend. And this time of year always holds fond memories for me because my brother was born on Hallowe'en so we grew up having great parties with pumpkins, apple-bobbing, sparklers and ghoulish costumes, and going trick-or-treating.
When christianity came to Ireland, the festival of the goddess Bride was made into St.Brigid's day, yule became Christmas and Samhain became all hallow's eve, when people pray for their dead.
While I'm no pagan, I'm trying to teach myself about our pre-christian history and customs and to understand the movements of the year so that I can have a better connection to the earth.
Happy new year to you all. May light guide your way through the darkness ahead.