The beliefs of our ancient forebears

I have read in certain books on prehistoric Britain that ancestor worship did not exist. I would refute that claim most strongly. It is quite clear from the evidence we have to date, that the dead of the people, the ancestors, our ancient forebears, were greatly revered and as such, worshipped.

Great barrow graves were erected to accommodate the bones of the dead. The construction of these structures, some of which were huge was linked to the new notion of land ownership and to being rooted to a certain spot. This new way of thinking arrived at the same time as agriculture to these shores. The bones of the ancestors attested to the right of the people to exist on that land, to possess it and to till the soil.

The ancestors were a direct and tangible link to the past. People would enter the barrows to commune with the ancestors and seek their help and advice and to ask for favours, in much the same way that people of today enter a church and offer up prayers to the Christian God. The raw essence of spirituality never changes, only the method of worship does.

As well as being revered the dead were also feared. The pagan sabbat of Samhain which is celebrated on the 31st October is a time for the dead. It is thought by some pagans that at Samhain, the barrier between the realms of the living and the dead becomes gossamer thin and that the dead can cross into the realm of the living and possess the living, if they open a portal to the realm of the dead by falling asleep. The state of being asleep is sometimes referred to as 'the little death', a fleeting shadow of the Reapers scythe.

During the sabbat of Samhain, people will light communal bonfires and stay awake all night chatting and socializing, in order to prevent the souls of the dead from inhabiting their physical bodies. Samhain also marked the end of the harvest, the end of the "lighter half" of the year and beginning of the "darker half", when the onset of winter would cover the land in frost and snow. A time when Jack in the Green would give way to Jack Frost, who would strike the ground with his frigid cane.

It can clearly be seen how the onset of winter must have seemed like the death of summer. The days grew shorter and colder, the nights were long and the weather bitter. Nature appeared to go into hibernation and who knew if it would ever wake up again, if Jack in the Green would again oust Jack Frost and strike the ground with his cane of new life? In the depths of the darkest mid-winter, summer would have seemed a long way off.

Prehistoric standing stones at Stonehenge

Before the coming of Christianity, the pagan peoples of these islands revered not only the dead but water and the other elements, along with various astronomical phenomena. The great henge's were constructed as astronomical observatories. The people were tied into the rhythms of the seasons and would try to ensure that the deities were mollified and content in order to ensure their own survival. In a particular spell of inclement weather and a disruption of the seasons, when the very survival of the people was threatened, this mollification could even extend to human sacrifice.

When Christianity arrived it was extremely pragmatic and adopted many of the pagan festival days, which it turned into saints days or other Christian celebrations. The two most obvious pagan celebrations that became Christian are Christmas - the pagan Yule and Easter- the pagan Ostara or Spring Equinox. Samhain became All Saints Day and later, All Souls Day. 

Regrettably, in the modern world, Samhain has morphed into the ridiculous charade of Halloween, a monetized travesty of what it should be, and an insult to pagan belief. In modern Wicca, Samhain forms a segment of the eight part Wiccan Wheel of the Year, and is considered as perhaps the most important Sabbat of them all.

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ęCopyright - James of Glencarr