Pronounced: “SOW-in” or “SAH-win”
Modern celebrations of Samhain typically tend to begin on the morning of October 31st (Halloween) and can often continue through into the late evening of November 2nd (Day of the Dead) with each individual witch (and/or pagan) deciding for him or herself on the best, or even simply the most convenient day, to host their gatherings and to celebrate!
- 1 What is Samhain?
- 2 What is the Samhain Feast of the Dead?
- 3 Wonderfully Witchy Ways to Celebrate Samhain:
- 4 Final Thoughts:
What is Samhain?
In Celtic as well as most Pagan Lore, the year is equally divided into two distinct halves. First, there is the “Light Half” (Spring/Summer) of the year in which new life abounds, and fresh growth springs forth from the barren Earth to offer its warmth and nourishment to not only our bodies but also our minds and our spirits. It is during this “light half” of the year that we witches and pagans celebrate youth, fertility, and vibrant energy with our magickal festivals of Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, and Litha or Midsummer.
And then, of course, there is the “Dark Half” (Autumn/Winter) of the year in which the chilling fingers of both frost and decay creep and seep into our fields as well as our homes to serve as a powerful reminder that nothing can truly last forever – that without Death there can be no Rebirth – no Life – and that without Life there can be no Death. They are as if two sides to the same magickal coin.
Life and Death, Growth and Decay, Warmth and the Cold, the Light and the Darkness. And so, it is during this the “dark half” of the year that we must learn to honour and to embrace the coming darkness. We must retreat deep within ourselves and rest our weary souls. We must reflect on our past as well as our future growth. This is also when most pagans and many of us witches choose to celebrate the three great harvests Lughnasadh or Lammas, Mabon, and Samhain as well as the longest and coldest night of the year Yule.
Witchy Note: If you are interested in learning even more about the witch’s “Wheel of the Year “and our various other magickal holidays and celebrations definitely consider giving this article about the Magickal Mabon Celebrations a read as well as be sure that you stay tuned to the Mystic Corner or my Instagram @witchymoons because I will be releasing all sorts of awesome articles about each and every one of these magickal holidays as well as an even more in-depth look at the Wheel itself in my future articles soon to come!
Samhain marks the transition from Autumn into Winter and the reaping of the very last of the year’s harvests. Although, many ancient pagans simply viewed this as a time of shifting from the “light half” of the year to the “dark half” and thus they gave it the name “Samhain” which literally translates from old Gaelic into English to mean the “Summer’s End.”
Of course, as I am sure most, if not all, of you lovely witches are aware, Samhain (or as it is more commonly known to the mundane realm: Halloween) is a time of year when the actual “Veil Between Worlds” is at its very thinnest and when magick from all of the realms begins to bleed and leech through into our own. Do note, that I have made sure to refer to this as the “veil between worlds” and not simply the “veil between the living and the dead.” This is because on this one very special night, the magickal barrier of pure cosmic energy that exists to separate our own realm from that of the others – the dead, the fae, the elementals, and other cosmic denizens known only to the universe and our imaginations – begins to ever so slightly flicker and fade and it is within these few truly magickal moments during Samhain that our world is so full of intense magickal energies even the least sensitive of us and some non-believers are able to sense or even catch a glimpse of what lies in the astral planes beyond! As an active and practicing witch, I truly adore this magickal time of year when it seems even the very air itself has come alive – humming and buzzing with incredible spiritual energy – there is absolutely nothing like it!
Some other common names for Samhain in today’s modern world are: Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve (All Holy Eve), All Saints Day (Adopted by the Catholic Church to honour Saints who did not have their own dedicated feast day in an effort to relate to and eventually indoctrinate their pagan subjects), All Souls Day, and even Dia de Los Muertos (Mexico’s Day of the Dead) which shares some incredibly similar spiritual meanings and magickal traditions as Samhain.
Why is Samhain called the “Witch’s New Year”?
As I mentioned above, Samhain is a time of reaping that which has been sown. This not only goes for our physical crops but for our magickal manifestations and personal goals as well. All throughout the year, we witches seed and cultivate our hopes and dreams through the use of our magick spells and focused willpower. The dark half of the year, such as during Samhain, is a time for reflection on which of these goals or intentions have actually come to fruition and which have not or perhaps more importantly – why they have not. Samhain is the time for self-reflection, for restful meditation, and preparation as we seek to physically and spiritually steel ourselves against the coming darkness and the bitter cold. It is the true turning point when the nights grow longer and the days grow short. It is a time of quiet contemplation, of shadow work and inner-child work, and of honouring all who have come before us – our Ancestors.
Samhain is often referred to as the “Witch’s New Year” because to most pagans (and many witches) the year begins its start in the Winter season rather than the Spring. Samhain represents the cool dark Earth into which we withdrawal to rest and to rejuvenate – to wait. Like a caterpillar into its chrysalis or small seeds into the frozen soil we turn to look deep within ourselves and to give our spirit time to heal from old wounds, to wander throughout our own minds, and to discover our own inner voice and strength before we proudly burst forth in the Springtime – our energy and spirits both fully restored, our souls ever vibrant and just ready to explore! Samhain is, therefore, our witchy equivalent to the typical “new year celebrations” held in January as it is the time during which we choose to reflect on ourselves and the year that has passed as well as to make our vows and resolutions for the one still yet to come!
Why Do We Carve Jack-o-Lanterns on Samhain and Halloween?
Carving faces into seasonal produce dates back to the early 1800s in a Celtic tradition where villagers would scratch and carve out spooky faces in turnips or, in some places, beets. Fast forward a bit, before Halloween was widely celebrated in the United States, young children (particularly those from Irish and Scottish immigrant heritage) decided to take small pumpkins — which were overwhelmingly plentiful during the cold months of September and October — and began to carve scary twisted faces into them. Then, after sticking a small candle inside the pumpkin to light it up, the kids would run around in the dark trying to frighten people with the spooky-looking objects as a prank just as the Poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) describes in his famous poem “The Pumpkin”: “When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin, / Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!”
But just where exactly does the name Jack come into all of this? Well now, that story is a rather tricky one! It is an ancient Celtic myth, one which has several different iterations and can even be traced back to as long ago as the year 1551, about a man named “Stingy Jack”. Anyways! As the story goes, Stingy Jack, was a drunk and a scoundrel who lived on the edge of his village and late one night, as he was wandering back to his home from the local tavern inn, he happened upon the devil, who had come to claim his scuffed-up soul. Now our Jack was a clever one, in spite of being well and truly inebriated, and through various shrewd tricks, he was able to completely dupe the devil on not one, not two, but three occasions and escape his eternal torment. But then, when Jack died, God would not allow him into the gates of Heaven and the Devil was so annoyed that he locked him out of Hell as well leaving poor Jack with only a single hot ember of coal to light his way, which he placed inside of a carved out turnip fashioning himself a makeshift lantern. Soon folks began to refer to old Stingy Jack as “Jack of the Lantern” which of course they soon shortened to “Jack o’ Lantern”. And so, Stingy Jack wanders the wilderness alone to this day with only his lantern to keep him company and on some foggy nights, you can still his light, shining eerily bright, giving people a fright!
Why Do We Wear Costumes and Masks on Samhain and Halloween?
In Celtic lore, as well as many modern pagan beliefs, Samhain marks the time of the year when the veil between worlds is at its thinnest and therefore the spirits of the dead may once again return to walk amongst us in the land of the living. Because of this, our ancient traditions dictate that we not only leave small offerings of food, treats, and drinks on our doorsteps in order to appease any haunted spirits and our ancestors but, also, that we carefully disguise ourselves in ghostly or ghoulish costumes whenever we leave our homes on this spooktacularly magickal night in an effort to “blend in” or co-exist with these wandering spirits and the walking dead.
It was actually the Irish immigrants, who brought this unique practice over with them to the Americas along with the carving of Jack-o-Lanterns. However, it was not fully embraced until the 1950s when Halloween became hugely commercialized, turning it into the family-friendly holiday that we know and love today.
The Samhain Bonfire (Bone Fire):
On the eve of Samhain, ancient Celtic Druids would construct huge bonfires in their town or village’s centre to serve as the heart of the evening’s Samhain festival. Throughout the celebrations, villagers would feast together by the light and warmth of the fire – honouring the hard earned bounty of their last harvest as well as their ancestral land and the spirits. Then, later on in the evening, after all of the feasting and drinking was done, each villager would approach the bonfire and toss into the flames any bones, mementos, or other material belongings which to them spiritually symbolized the releasing of their ghosts and their burdens. Each person would add something to the flames to burn, whether it be a symbol of their worries or unfulfilled wishes, a recent loss, or anything else which they felt was weighing them down.
The point of this fire ritual was to fully unburden one’s mind and spirit of all troubles so as to prepare oneself to better endure the coming darkness of the cold winter nights. In fact, it is from this ancient pagan ritual that our modern bonfires derive their name with the term “Bonfire” originating from these ancient “Bone Fires.” And lastly, as the night’s festivities finally drew to an end, each family from the village would carefully pluck a branch or scoop some hot embers from the sacred fire to carry with them safely back into their homes where they would use it to re-light their own hearths and serve as protection from both the chilly night air and any angry spirits that may be lingering there.
What is the Samhain Feast of the Dead?
For many Pagans and Witches alike, death is not a thing to be feared. Old age is valued for its wisdom and dying is accepted as a part of life equally as necessary and welcome as Birth. It is for this very reason that most witches and other pagans choose to always celebrate the season of Samhain by remembering, honouring, and communing with their dead – often even going as far as to welcome them back home, lavish them with gifts of their favourite things from their life, and inviting them to partake in the evening’s feast alongside the living (complete with a place setting of their own as well as a large mug of mead) in what is most often referred to as “The Feast of the Dead” or a “Dumb Supper” if the living participants remain completely silent throughout the entirety of the meal.
Wonderfully Witchy Ways to Celebrate Samhain:
🎃 Invite friends and family over to participate in a Bonfire or “Bone Fire” Ceremony.
🎃 Take advantage of the thinning veil to commune with the spirits of your ancestors or even your spirit guides and guardians.
🎃 Practice some kitchen witchery and host a large feast of the dead or dumb supper for your friends and family to attend and enjoy.
🎃 Construct and/or maintain a special ancestral altar to honour all those who have come before you and maybe even try your hand at a bit of ancestral magick if you can!
🎃 Guise yourself and your family in costumes or masks and go trick-or-treating or throw a party!
🎃 Carve Jack-o-Lanterns out of pumpkins, gourds, beets, or turnips to spookily dawn your porch and lawn.
🎃 Perform a Lantern or Candle ritual and reminisce about good memories with family and friends.
🎃 Spend the night in the natural world by going camping and sleeping under the stars!
🎃 Tell Ghost Stories and Tall Tales around a camp or bonfire.
🎃 Host/Go to a Masquerade or Costume Party and dance the night away!
🎃 Spend the day decourating your home and altars with all the bounty and symbols of the season such as pumpkins, fallen leaves, bare branches, and acorns.
🎃 Craft your own Besom (Witch’s Broom) for Samhain rituals and spell circles.
🎃 Spend the day canning and preserving your own version of the last harvest with fruits, vegetables, and delicious homemade jams!
🎃 Go for a walk in a Cemetery and very respectfully gather some graveyard dirt for your next big spell or ritual. (I may write an article on this offering more details in the future but for now, just remember to show respect, ask for permission, and if at all possible make sure that you leave an offering as thanks such as a copper coin at the grave or gate).
🎃 Harness the power of the thinning veil to enhance and practice your divination skills by scrying with a black mirror, reading tea leaves, reading Tarot cards, or casting some runes and bones.
🎃 Craft or Renew witches bottles and Talismans/Wards for protection during these long winter nights.
🎃 Make some bubbly witch’s brew or actual magickal potions to enjoy and share with your witchy friends!
🎃 Sit in quiet contemplation – meditating on the year that has passed and your magickal goals and intentions for the one still yet to come.
🎃 Gather and dance under the light of the moon with your coven mates, family, or friends!
🎃 Add to your Grimoire or Book of Shadows or maybe begin a new one altogether on this Witchy New Year!
🎃 As with all things in this life and in magick, the possibilities are endless! Embrace the changing of the seasons and learn to honour the many cycles of life as the Wheel of the Year yet again begins to turn!
And there you have it my dears! The second of many Witchy Holiday and Seasonal Guides to come for my little Mystic Corner! I hope that each of you enjoyed this week’s article as well as learning a little bit more about the history behind Samhain and some of its more traditional celebrations!
As always, if you ever have any questions or if you would just like to know more about today’s topic or the Wheel of the Year, please do feel free to reach out to me here on the website or even directly via email at email@example.com! Also, check out my Instagram @witchymoons for more witchy goodness and magickal tips! Don’t be shy! I love getting to hear from each and every one of you and I am always happy to answer any questions that I can. Oh yes! And definitely do not forget to have a little wander through my lovely new spells page where I offer a variety of powerful spell castings and custom rituals each cast with my own time-tested methods, rare magickal materials, and years of experience! (Castings typically performed within 24 hours of ordering). Don’t see a particular spell or service that meets your needs? Try a [Custom White Magick Spell Casting] or send me an email for a free consultation today!
Until Next Time my lovelies!
Merry Samhain Blessings & Happy Halloween!
~ Naia Moonbrook