Samhain (pronounced Sowen) or Halloween is one of the four cross-quarterly festivals in the Wheel of the Year (Pagan calendar). It takes place on the 31st October (but can last until 2nd November) and marks the last of three harvest festivals, the other two being Lammas and Mabon. This day is also known as All Hallow’s Eve, The Feast of the Dead or the Witches New Year.
This festival marks the celebration of Summer’s end and how we are now deep into the darker half of the year. Samhain is all about embracing the darkness, for you cannot have light without dark. It’s about honouring the dead, as both death and birth is a part of the cycle of life. This time of year is about saying goodbye to the old and embracing the new, it’s about rebirth, new beginnings and starting new chapters in your life.
This festival is known as the Witch’s New Year because Samhain is known as the Celtic New Year. With it being the last sabbat of the year, before the Wheel of the Year starts turning again makes this the most special and most important festival of the yearly calendar. The veil between the worlds is thinnest at this point (the opposite festival being Beltane at May where the veil is also thin too). This allows the worlds to connect, the spirits to walk the Earth, the faeries and other mythical beings to appear.
Black, orange, red, green, purple and white.
Cinnamon, mugwort, rosemary, sage, rue, allspice, mandrake, deadly nightshade, nutmeg, mint, cloves, lavender, heather, patchouli, ginseng , garlic, bay leaves and tarragon.
Apples, pumpkins, squash, corn, root vegetables, turnips, nuts, seeds, grains, cider and wine.
Carnelian, Obsidian, Black Onyx, Smoky Quartz, Jet and Bloodstone.
Pumpkins, pine cones, black cats, witches, broomsticks, cauldrons, coffins, faeries, ghosts, skulls, scarecrows, skeletons, tombstones, bells and masks.
Changes, courage, death, rebirth, renewal, new beginnings, decisions, spirit contact, honouring the dead, transformation, knowledge, wisdom, truth and divination.
At this sabbat your altar can be changed to represent Samhain. Orange, black and red candles, decorate it with pumpkins and leaves, place skulls or any other death themed object there. This is also the time to get your old family photos of loved ones who have passed and leave their photographs on your altar and leave food offerings too – apples are best for this.
Samhain shouldn’t be passed by without having a little fun also, by decorating your home. Carve pumpkins and leave them on your doorstep, decorate the outside of your house in a spooky theme, create a graveyard in your own garden if you want to. It’s also customary to leave a white candle burning in your window, this is said to protect against negative energies, help guide family members home and give comfort to lost souls.
Before the introduction of pumpkins from North America to Europe (Paganism originated from Europe) turnips were the choice of vegetable to use. However turnips are extremely hard to carve into and once pumpkins became widespread and readily available, their softness made them the lantern of choice.
To carve a face into a pumpkin is said to have developed from the tradition of honouring the dead by placing a skull on your doorstep or outside your home. To carve a face into a pumpkin is an appeasing way to honour the spirits by giving them a more comforting face to associate with.
Placing a candle inside turns these pumpkins into lanterns and the fire from the candle is a symbol of protection. Displaying these lanterns outside your home will ensure that the candlelight will repel negative and evil spirits. While the innocent, good and lost souls who are wondering the streets on Samhain are said to be guided home by the lanterns.
With the spirits out wandering amongst us on all Hallow’s Eve leaves us susceptible to their trickery and devious actions. Dressing in spooky costumes is to aid you to blend in with them, letting them believe that you are one of them. The purpose is to fool and confused the spirits, tricking them into thinking you are one of them means they can not hurt you or play tricks on you.
Samhain is also known as the Feast of the Dead, where people would leave food on their doorsteps for the wandering spirits to receive as an offering in their memory. Trick or Treating originated from the spirits who made it to your door. Should you find them on your doorstep begging for food, it was wise to offer them something, for should they find themselves empty handed was to unleash a trickster! Offering food to spirits is about honouring their memory and your heritage.
Apples are sacred to Pagans and the harvest since they are often found in abundance at this time of the year. Cutting an apple open you will see the seeds in a shape of a Pentagram, the most sacred of symbols, this is what makes apples so special. Apples represent wisdom, knowledge, protection, life, death, immortality and divination. They are also seen as a fortune telling tool.
There are few ways to use apples around Samhain time. One is to go bobbing for apples – placing apples in water and the first person to catch an apple with their teeth and eat it, is said to acquire knowledge and wisdom straight from the ultimate source. When it comes to apple bobbing it’s also said that the person to catch the first apple will be the one to get married in the upcoming year. Also, to peel all the skin off the apple in one go and throw it over your shoulder to the floor is said that whatever shape the peel lands in will be the first letter of your true love’s name.
Planting apples along the roadside are said to bring comfort to the roaming spirits who have no home or family to go to during Samhain.
A witch is a visual representation of “The Crone”, the death stage of the triple Goddess. The Pagan Goddess has three stages of life; the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. These are the three symbols of birth, life and death. A wise old woman nearing her death, is representing the death of the crops and nature all around as we enter into the cold season.
This wise old hag, who is the ultimate encompass of what Samhain represents, has evolved from a frail old lady to a witch. She represents death, changes, renewal and is the keeper of the spirits. As Samhain was Christianised and slowly developed into Halloween, the figure of the Crone evolved into into a scary witch with warts.
The cauldron is another representation of the Goddess, it symbolises Mother Earth. That when we die our souls go back to the cauldron, meaning we all go back to Mother Nature from where we came so our souls can be reborn again. The cauldron can be seen as the Earth element on an altar.
Spirits and witchcraft, does Satan belong here too?
Simple answer. No.
Satan belongs to Christianity, not to Paganism.
I personally believe after Paganism was Christianised, in order to convert as many people as possible it associated Paganism with fear, negativity and evil. Paganism is a very broad term for many different sub-genres of naturalistic beliefs, some of which include Wicca and Witchcraft. Hundreds of years ago witches were feared and innocent people who were accused of witchcraft were murdered. There are a great many myths and tales on how people should protect themselves from witches, all of which I believe came from misinformed Christians.
So is there light at the end of the tunnel, talking about all this death?
There is a lot of hidden, deep meanings to Samhain if you stop and think about it. Samhain is about honouring and respecting the dead, it’s about saying goodbye to those who have passed in the last year. This teaches us about letting go, about moving forward and about living life again. Death is not to be feared, but to be understood that there is no life without death. Death will happen to us all but we should live life to the fullest and not dwell on the things we can’t change. The cycle of life is inevitable but as the seasons pass; as autumn and winter pass, there can be once again rebirth of life in all its forms.
Samhain is about change, growth and regeneration. About moving on from the past, accepting the present and being hopeful for the future. Make a journal, visit a grave or make that change you have been thinking about the last few months. Just do it. Now is the time.
Blessed Be )O(