Samhain is the beloved Witches’ New Year, as we welcome the harvest celebration and remember the coming of winter. It’s the time of year where the past, present, and future, are equally accessible. We can examine our past via memories and celebrate our ancestors. We can rejoice in the boon of the final harvest in the present. We can divine what is to come in the year ahead! The veil thins. With it we gain easier access to the spirit realm. We get easier access to our ancestors.
It is a time of feasting, merriment, and celebration. We honor the old year and look for blessings in the new! It’s a great time of year for the witches’ ball and costume parties too!
Time suspends on All Hallows Eve.
Ancestral spirits join us in feasting and sacred rites.
The veil thins,
the boundaries dim,
the living and the dead walk together again.
We honor our ancestors of old,
look forward to the year anew,
and with the sunrise, bid our ancestral spirits adieu.
No, we shall not mourn their passing.
But know them all as journeying spirits.
When Helios reigns the short-lived day, our loving relatives we do not forget.
But, the ending of our sweet Samhain celebration we do regret.
With acceptance and gratitude, look forward to the year brand new,
Rejoice in this one promise we know to be true,
The wheel of the year continues to turn,
Celebrate the seasons as pagans and witches do,
Attune to the cycles of the Mother Earth, Moon, and Sun,
Until Samhain comes around again, and we reap blessings of the harvest hard won.
Touching on the History of Samhain
Celebrated by the following cultures throughout history:
Samhain and celebrations like it have been honored for hundreds of years. For example, in Brittany in Kalan Goañv and in Cornwall in Kalan Gwav similar festivities were held. The traditions honored on Samhain were also celebrated in Wales in the Brythonic Calan Gaef, with the festival occurring annually. In addition to Scotland and Ireland, Samhain was honored annually in Celtic lands and in the Isle of Man.
Samhuin or Samhainn (Scottish Gaelic), Satin (Manx Gaelic), Samana, Third Harvest, Old Halloween, Old Hallowmas, All Hallows Eve, Halloween, The Witches’ New Year, Martinmas, Vigil of Samoan, Strega, Shadowfest, and Day of the Dead. Mi na Samhna (Irish) Mee Houney (Manx) Oiche Shamhna (Irish) Oie Houney means Samhain night (Manx), and if referencing the day, it’s Laa Houney. La Samhna is the Irish and Scottish Gaelic reference for the festival as well. The day is a celebration of the the final harvest for the year.
A bit of Pronunciation Trivia
In ancient Ireland and modern pronunciations, the word Samhain is “Sow-in.” In Scotland, the word is “Sav-en.” In Wales, the word is “Sow-een.”
Samhain is a holiday with a fascinating history. Wiccans and other witches and pagans today celebrate Samhain as one of three harvests festivals in the year. It is the final or third harvest celebration. Crops that were still in the field after the final harvest celebration were left to the nature spirits as the Celts saw these crops as off limits.
The holiday has been honored by the Gaels, Scottish, and Irish. The Manx have celebrated the festival as do Wiccans, pagans, Celtic neopagans, and the Unitarian Universalists. Even those who have no interest in magick, witchcraft, or the occult celebrate Samhain, but for perhaps some different, commercialized reasons. You see, the same day that proves the Witch’s New Year is Halloween! Yes, Samhain and Halloween are one and the same, although honored for different reasons.
Samhain is one of the Greater Sabbats of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, Samhain falls on October 31 to November 1. In the Southern Hemisphere, when those of us in the North are celebrating Beltane, the practitioners and pagans living in the South are honoring Samhain instead on May 1 and 2. Some practitioners consider it a two-day festival running from October 31 to the end of the day on November 1. The festival lands almost midway between fall equinox and the beginning of winter, or Yule.
In ancient times, there is some evidence suggesting the Celts were among the first to honor the land. There are several natural sites where the Celts celebrated Samhain including the Hill of Tara and Dumha na nGiall or the Mound of Hostages in County Meath, Leinster, Ireland. These sites are designed in such a way that they align with the sunrise on Samhain.
The ancient Celts were attuned to the natural cycles of life, the earth, and the seasons. They saw this time of year as the time for reaping the final harvest. It was and remains a time for preparing for the long cold winters ahead. In ancient Irish cultures, Samhain marks the time when they slaughtered livestock in preparation for the winter months. The celebration involves the setting of bonfires for cleansing and protection.
Samhain is the time when the veil between this world and the world beyond are at their thinnest. It is this liminal period, when divination is easier, as is communication with the spirit world. It also means the fae and ancestors (as well as other spirits) can cross over into the mundane or physical. These spirits include the Aos Si nature spirits. The ancient Celts would appease the deities and nature spirits by giving them offerings. Doing so was to ensure making it through the harsh winter months.
The Celts would engage in wearing costumes and going from one house to another. This was in the hopes of keeping negative spirits from recognizing them. Often, they would dress in disguise if walking out at night. This action is the ancient roots for trick or treating. The goal was to trick spirits and to confuse them so the Celts would remain safe. The idea was to keep baneful spirits at bay.
At the same time, they would invite ancestor spirits home once more by having rituals, lit candles lighting the path home, and dumb suppers where they set out a meal for the deceased ancestor. Offerings were made outdoors. The offerings were for the deities which consisted of giving the essence of food and drink. The idea here was to welcome loving ancestor spirits a temporary return visit with family and loved ones.
Samhain Feast Ideas
The foods suitable for Samhain are those that stem from the harvest. Consider any of the following for your Samhain harvest celebration:
- Warm apple cider with cinnamon sticks for flavoring
- Granola trail-mix and candy corn mix
- Witches’ conical hat cookies
- Pentacle cakes
- leaf sugar cookies
- hot chili
- Beef stew
- Salads and fruits of the final harvest for vegan practitioners
- Foods fresh from the final harvest including root veggies, pumpkins, and yellow/green squash
- dark colored breads including wheat, multigrain, and pumpernickel or rye
- Harvest food such as pumpkins, squash, root vegetables
- Nuts and berries, dark breads
When decorating for Samhain all the exciting and fun Halloween décor for sale makes it easy to choose commercialized décor. Things like replica skulls, while scary, really represent the seat of the soul, the human intellect, and the vessel of a spirit. Spider webs are a reminder of the intricate web of life and that everything we do influences everything else around us. It is nature’s sign symbolizing that we indeed reap as we have sown. It is like a small version of the Universe’s networking vibrations. Crow and Raven imagery is reminiscent of when children would chase crows around to watch their flight pattern as a means of divining the future to come.
Multicolored leaves representing the glorious splash of colors appearing right before the wintry slumber of the Goddess.
Acorns are promises of the future and all the good things to come when the light and spring welcome the rebirth of all of nature.
Wreaths made of wheat, corn stalks, autumn leaves, acorns, and pine cones. They are lovely symbols of the harvest but also promises of tomorrow as acorns and pine cones are seeds/seed vessels.
Colors for the altar
and other décor include browns, golds, reds, burgundy, purple, black, earth tones, scarlet, deep yellow, and orange. Altar room decoration and décor inside/outside the home can follow the same color scheme.
includes fruits of the harvest, gourds natural and decorated, skulls, apples, pomegranates, nuts, and seeds. If you put the fruits of the harvests and gourds together in a lovely layout demonstrating the outpouring of a Cornucopia, it makes a beautiful center decoration for any altar top.
Now is a good time to sweep out the magickal energies that grow stagnate or negative energies accumulating in and around the altar space or home. The besom is just the tool for the task! Take it up and think of banishing all negative as you swing the broom back and forth the clear the air.
Since this is a great time for divination, it’s also a spectacular time for you to consecrate a magick mirror or make one of your own. It’s as easy as spraying black paint on side of a piece of glass and creating a decorative framework.
A Few Samhain Correspondences for You
Sage, dragon’s blood, frankincense, myrrh, mugwort, wormwood, and sweetgrass.
Stones and crystals for healing and divination
Bloodstones, carnelian, onyx, obsidian, jet, Smokey quartz, and hematite.
Persephone, Bast, Baba Yaga, Crone Goddess Aspects, Cerridwen, Earth Goddesses, Hecate, Dark Goddesses like Kali and Hel
The Horned God, Cernunnos, Hades, Pluto, Osiris, Anubis, Loki, and Trickster Gods
Rituals involve honoring Underworld deities for obvious reasons. Hades and Persephone are common patron deities from the Greek pantheon. Pluto and Proserpina are the patron deities in the Roman pantheon. Some magick practitioners work with the funerary deities in the Egyptian Pantheon as well. Gods and Goddesses associated with divinatory arts, like Apollo or Carmenta, are also honored during this time.
Ritual work might involve divination following or during the rite. The ritual itself would note the blessings of the final harvest but also encourage a journey inward for self-assessment. The practitioner examines their own spiritual and personal growth while making plans for the year ahead for further growth and improvement. Divination methods might include scrying in fire, water, or pendulum use. Crystal balls and tarot readings are also common.
Final harvest rites give thanks for all the blessings of the past year while seeking protection during the darker time of year. The rite also seeks the blessings of the Divine as we, in turn, honor the God and Goddess concepts we are most comfortable identifying with during the rite. During the ritual, we also pay special recognition to the turning of the wheel and the natural cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth.
Samhain Traditions Mundane and Magickal Activities
Apples are in season this time of year so they make wonderful Samhain treats. But, cut one of the apples in half and what will you find? A five-pointed pentagram with a seed at each corner. This is a sign of protection, but also of magick, the cycles of life, and the essence of all there is too. The five seeds are a reminder that we all carry within us the seeds of creativity and destruction.
Hiking and spending time out in nature allows us to attune our heart, mind, and soul to the vibrations of nature and the Earth mother. It is a good time to take in the fall foliage, brilliant colors, cool air, and the remaining warmth you can partake of before the wintery season arrives. If you are up with the birds you can watch the sunset. If you miss the sunset you can set your watch to watch the sun go down instead.
Gourd Painting and making Jack-o-Lanterns are still very much a modern tradition that stems from the old practice of carving turnips. There are beautiful things you can do with gourds including painting, elaborate carvings, and drilling out patterns so they light up the night with stunning designs. Don’t be afraid to get totally creative with your pumpkins!
Hay rides and haunted rides are fine daytime activities, but so is bobbing for apples, making candy apples, roasting pumpkin seeds, and consuming fresh pomegranate seeds too. Making masks and corn dollies is another fun activity for the holiday.
Writing a letter of gratitude to the Universe is something that will help you explore your blessings in full. Write it in your journal, Book of Mirrors, or your Book of Shadows.
Divination with crystal balls, pendulums, tarot, and other divinatory methods are common all throughout the day. Today is a great time to map out the months ahead with a card a month reading, zodiac layout, or a year and a day layout. Don’t forget to meditate on your readings for additional insight.
The bonfire was at one time called bone fires. The bones of slaughtered livestock were burned in the fire. Before burning the bones, people put their names on them. This was a measure of good luck. But, it was also a form of divining what was to come for the person in the New Year.
If you have a place where you can have a safe bonfire, then it is a great activity for Samhain. If weather permits, outdoor ritual near the bonfire can prove memorable. The blazing fire will remind you of the promise of the Sun and light to return to strength in spring. It’s the perfect way to celebrate the final harvest of the year. After the ritual, you can use the fire for spell casting and fire scrying too. Make sure you meet all the guidelines in your area and adhere to the laws in your vicinity when it comes to burning fires. If you must forgo the bonfire, you can rely on candles for fire scrying and burn spells in the cauldron indoors safely.
Talking of your ancestors
Whether around a bonfire, before a dumb supper, or when standing in the circle following ritual, share a story that relates something memorable about some of the ancestors you miss. Bask in their memory and “re-member” them. It is a way of honoring them every time you conjure them in your mind.
Giving back to Mother Earth
Hearth fire and bonfire ashes once cooled, were put into the fields. This is an ancient practice for blessing the land. It was performed to ensure good luck with the next harvest and New Year. Once the ashes are cooled down and are no longer a threat for starting an unattended or unintentional fire, you can put them outside in your yard or garden. Think of the unity the ashes signify as you do so. Also, know these ashes are representative of the physical body once the spirit releases itself from such a vessel. Putting the ashes into the earth is akin to releasing the physical connection with ancestors who have passed with the promise of honoring the ancestral and spirit connection.
Celebration with a Dumb Supper
A dumb supper is the practice of having a feast and setting out one or more plates for the ancestors who have passed. It is an invitation for the spirits to join you in the feasting and merriment. The idea is to sit and enjoy the meal while remembering time with the ancestor. If you have some silent time (referencing the “dumb” or “silence” in the practice) it allows you to hear the voice of the ancestor once more. Listen closely to take in the messages they have for you now. If you put food on the plate for the relative, consider it an offering. You are giving up the essence of the food to them. The physical essence of the food remains and can be buried outside.
A memories box can be as small as one of those decorative shoe box size boxes you can buy for little expense at a craft store. (If you have a shoe box and a creative eye, you can decorate the box yourself too). Or, you might have a hope chest you can turn into your lifelong memory box. Here you can use the day to go through old photos and memories of the ancestors in your life. Write poems, letters, or add mementos that remind you of your passed loved ones. You can add to the box each year and make it a family heirloom.
Establish an altar of honor for deceased ancestors
Set up a small altar area and place photos of the ancestors you want to welcome into your magickal area if you so desire. If you have any belongings that were at one time your ancestor’s belongings, you can place them on the altar as well. Use purple candles (representing Akasha and the veil beyond) and white candles (purity and positive vibrations as well as the air element). When you light the candles, do so with the intention of honoring your ancestors and lighting the way home for them again.
If there are things left unsaid between you and your deceased ancestors, write out a thoughtful letter with all the things you might want to say to that relative. You can save the letter in a memory box or burn it in the cauldron. When cooled completely free the ashes into the wind on the night of the next full moon.
Use this time to assess how far you’ve come in the past year and to establish your physical and spiritual goals for the year ahead. Map out your future with the power of your intentions empowering your plans. Samhain brings you full circle. With the close of the year, honor who you were, who you’ve been, and rejoice in the evolved spiritual being you are becoming. Do not set resolutions, but resolve yourself to completing your objectives in the coming year. Resolve yourself to living a full life and fulfilling all your dreams!
Happy Samhain and Blessed Be!