October 31st may be Samhain on the calendar, but for those in the Northern Hemisphere who follow the cycles of the Sun, the Moon, the planets, and the constellations, Samhain actually begins between November 7th and November 8th. That is when the Sun enters 15 degrees Scorpio, marking the beginning of Solar Samhain. Lunar Samhain begins when the New Moon enters 15 degrees Scorpio on November 11th. 15 degrees Scorpio marks the exact midpoint between the Autumn Equinox (0 degrees Libra) and the Winter Solstice (0 degrees Capricorn), making Samhain one of the cross quarter days of the year. The more familiar date of October 31 as Samhain came about because, around 1000 years ago, the Pleiades star cluster would reach its highest point, and the Sun would enter 15 degrees Scorpio, on or very near October 31st in the old Julian calendar. Nowadays, most of the world is on the Gregorian calendar, but the October 31st date remained the designation of the holiday Christianized as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween. Of course, the Pleiades can still be seen from dusk ‘til dawn, but now that’s in November, and culminates this year on the 21st. Thus, it could be said that the Season of Samhain begins with Historical Samhain (October 31), and ends with Pleiadean Samhain (November 21).
It is said that this is the time when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is thinnest. But why is that, exactly? One theory revolves around the harvest. Now is when we’re picking the last of the garden produce, in a race to beat the first hard frost. All around, leaves are falling, and plants are dying. Farmers are slaughtering the livestock they don’t want to overwinter. Death to nourish life is very much on our minds. This time of year is midway between the abundant life of Summer, and the cold death of Winter. It is a time of transition, of endings and beginnings, a time of between, which makes it magically potent.
For those who follow more ancient paths, Samhain is the end of the year. Many take this opportunity to honor the memories of those who have already crossed over. Some even go so far as to invite the departed to join the festivities, but like anything dealing with the otherworld, such steps should be taken with caution. In this time of endings, it is a good idea to take stock, look inward, and think about where you’ve been and where you’d like to go.