It’s October, that can only mean one thing. My favourite festival is upon us! The end of this month is Samhain (Pronounced Sowen).
The origin of Halloween comes from the Pagan festival of Samhain. This pre-dates Christianity, however later on it was Christianity that changed Samhain into Halloween. (Christianity also assimilated Yule and Easter). After Samhain was Christianised, eventually it evolved into the popular holiday it’s known as today.
When you think of Halloween, what do you think of? Children in costumes knocking on doors and asking for sweets, pumpkins, bonfires and all things spooky. Apple bobbing, haunted houses, decorations and scary stories.
Okay, so where did it all begin? And what’s this festival of the dead all about? Is it really as spooky as it sounds?
Firstly we have to look at the date of Samhain. There are eight Pagan sabbats (festivals) within a year; Winter Solstice, Imbolc, Spring Equinox, Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lammas, Autumn Equinox and Samhain. The solstices and equinoxes are the quarterly festivals and the fire festivals are the cross-quarterly ones. You will notice Samhain is the last sabbat of the year, before the Wheel of the Year starts turning again. This is what makes it special.
Like all Pagan sabbats they are based on seasons, the position of the sun in the sky and harvests (Just to name a few). Samhain is the time when we are completely entering into the darker half of the year, giving thanks for the final harvest – the one that will see us through the winter but not only that, the day after Samhain is the Celtic New Year.
Samhain is the time between the old and new year, where the veil is believed to be the thinnest. This allows the worlds to connect, the spirits to walk the earth, the fairies and other mythical beings to appear.
What are the traditions of Samhain?
I’ll start with the more obvious one – Pumpkins.
Before the introduction of pumpkins from North America to Europe (Paganism originated from Europe) turnips were the choice of vegetable to use. These vegetable and fruit lanterns are carved out and a candle placed inside, displaying this outside your home will ensure that the fire inside the lantern 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.
Costumes and Trick or Treating.
The point of dressing in spooky costumes 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.
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 and apple bobbing.
Apples are sacred to the harvest and are seen as a divination tool, they represent life and immortality. They are also seen as a fortune telling tool.
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.
Apple bobbing comes from an old tradition. Whoever was the first one to bite an apple, would be the first one to marry in the upcoming new year.
Witches and cauldrons.
A witch is a visual representation of “The Crone”. The Pagan Goddess has thee 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.
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.
Samhain decorations can be found here.
Some of the other traditions include setting a place at the table for a deceased one, placing altars in the home, performing rituals and dancing around the bonfire.
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. 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(