Samhain (pronounced SOW-in); Also known as Halloween/Hallow’een – Hallowmas Eve – Allhallow’s Eve – November Eve – Mischief Night – Guy Fawkes Night – La Toussaint – Oidhche Shamhna – El Dia de los Muertos – All Saints’/Souls’ Day (eve)
Also known as Shadowfest, Martinmas, or Old Hallowmas. This is the Witches’ New Year and the last Harvest. It is a time when the veils between the worlds are thinnest. This allows us to communicate with our loved ones who have passed on and our ancestors. We invite them to take part in our celebrations. Spirits and souls of loved ones are said to have more power and ability to visit us. This is the most powerful night of the year to perform divination. This is the time of year for remembering and honoring our dead, and many people will leave a plate of food and a glass of wine out for wandering spirits. (This is often called the Feast of Hecate) Samhain is also a time for personal reflection, and for recognizing our faults and flaws and creating a method for rectifying them. Samhain is celebrated as the Dia de los Muertos in Mexico (Day of the Dead–usually held on November 1) and All Saints Day (also on November 1) by the Catholic church. Witches gather to celebrate the final harvest with family and friends. We leave out offerings of food for our passed on kin. Today, we see this custom carried on as the giving of treats to children dressed as spirits. Black candles are used to ward off negativity. Jack-o-lanterns, gourds, cider, etc. can be used to decorate the alter and in ritual. It’s also a good time to buy your new house broom. At dinner it is a nice gesture to set an empty place for those who have departed who were dear to us. This is a powerful magical time. It is a time to release the incorrectness in our lives and project for a future of balance, harmony, joy and health.
The turning of the wheel brings us to Samhain (pronounced ‘Sow-in’), a time when black cats, orange pumpkins, and of course winter begins to occupy our thoughts. This is the final harvest ritual of the Celtic year, when the ripening apples and nuts are gathered and prepared for meals and future use. The last of the canning and preserving proceeds as the weather grows colder and the nights grow still longer. In farming communities this also marked the time to thin the herds so there would be enough food for the livestock through the winter months. Often the ones chosen for butchering were the weakest, the least likely to survive the cold.
Samhain, or Halloween, marks one of the four Great Sabbats celebrated by Witches and many other Pagans, and is the dark counterpart to the more passionate Sabbat of Beltane. Samhain, contrary to what some believe, is not a Celtic god of the dead. Instead, it is a Celtic word meaning “summer’s end.” The Celts, like many other cultures, saw the dark of the day or year as the beginning. Thus their days began at sunset and the winter half of the year, starting on November 1st, was the beginning of their new year, just as it is for many Wiccans or Pagans. The Celts were a pastoral people as opposed to an agricultural people. The end of summer was significant to them because it meant the time of year when the structure of their lives changed radically. The cattle were brought down from the summer pastures in the hills and the people were gathered into the houses for the long winter nights of story-telling and handicrafts. In the Druidic calendar, this was the time when barriers between man and the supernatural were lowered. Fires were lit to honor the descending sun god. On the eve of Samhain, the gates of the Abyss were unlocked and spirits from below flew free. Human souls that had been trapped in the bodies of animals were released by the Lord of the Dead and sent to their new incarnations.
With the coming of Christianity, the early Church in England tried to Christianize the old Celtic festival by making the 1st of November “All Saints Day,” and making October 31 “All Hallow’s Eve” or more commonly “Hallowe’en.” The reason many Christians associate Hallowe’en with Christianity is that in the eighth century Pope Gregory III established November 1st as the Roman Catholic feast day honoring the dead. Then, later in the ninth century, Pope Gregory IV decreed that the day was to be universally observed by the Roman Catholic Church which, at that time, held the greatest influence among the Christian populous because of its political strength. But the attempt to discourage the Pagan celebrations were so unsuccessful that the holiday was eventually banned from the Church of England’s calendar until its reemergence in 1928.
To Witches and Pagans, Samhain is the Festival of the Dead, and for many, it is the most important Sabbat of the year. Although the Feast of the Dead forms a major part of most Pagan celebrations on this eve, it is important to remember that nearly all Pagans consider the disturbance of the dead immoral, and at Samhain only voluntary communications are expected and hoped for. The departed are never harassed, and their presence is never commanded. The spirits of the dead are, however, ritually invited to attend the Sabbat and to be present within the Circle.
Halloween represents the threshold between the world of the living and the realm of the spirits, and is a time when the veil between the worlds is very thin. The acknowledgement of the nature spirits that walk the earth on this eve can still be seen in the observance of children, and some young-at-heart adults, wearing masks and costumes and “trick or treating,” a time honored ritual many of us have done, and probably more than once. The spirits are represented by the children as they walk the earth in their many guises celebrating, albeit unknowingly, the ancient tradition of this Sabbat.
In honor of Samhain, many Wiccans and Pagans offer a plate of the harvest fruits to the spirits in attendance, along with a goblet of wine. Candles are burned in remembrance of loved ones who have passed on. Apples and pomegranates are eaten to represent the opposites of life and death. (Try cutting an apple cross-wise to see the pentagram of seeds within!) Many feel that this is the best date of the year to perform scrying, either with crystals, fire, or a bowl of water, especially in the moonlight. For some, Samhain is the time when the Wicker Man, created and charged at Beltane, is ritually burned in the Sabbat fire, sending him to Tir na N˜g for rest and renewal. As the gates open for him, the other spirits then cross over to visit; other traditions burn the Wicker Man at Lughnasadh. Fire jumping is usually done at this Sabbat, and is seen as a purifying act, although it can be dangerous if not done properly. Our focus at this time of the year is turned inward, and activities begin to move indoors, becoming centered around hearth, home, and family.
Colors traditional on this Sabbat are red, orange, gold, brown, black. Favorite decorative touches can include pumpkins and other late fall fruits, corn stalks and Indian corn, a scarecrow or wicker man, cauldron, crystals, candles. Foods and libations commonly used this night are apples, pomegranates, pumpkin, nuts, apple cider, mead, beer. As winter approaches and the Crone makes her appearance, we now look forward to Yule and the rebirth of the Sun. And, so the Wheel turns…