Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. Dressing up and pretending to be someone else for a night was appealing to me and, I can’t lie, so was the candy. Not only that, but I’ve always loved a good spooky film, going to haunted houses, carving pumpkins, and basically everything else that comes with celebrating during the Halloween season. I have always felt that there was something special about this time of year.
As a teenager I discovered the world of witchcraft and Paganism (Pagan simply referring to any religion other than Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). Little did I know, these practices had nothing to do with darkness or evil. As I learned what these beliefs were really about, it instantly attracted me. It felt right. I spent years questioning everything I was taught in Catholic school and exploring other spiritual options. But when I stumbled upon the ancient, Earth-based religions, I knew I was in the right place. This is when I learned that many Halloween traditions actually derive from Pagan customs.
So, here’s a bit about one of the most important seasonal festivals – the half way point between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice – Samhain!
Samhain (pronounced SOW-en) is one of the major Sabbats throughout the Pagan Wheel of the Year. It began as a Gaelic folk festival, celebrated by Pagan farming communities from October 31st through November 1st. It was a time to honor the cycle of life and death, marking the end of the harvest season. The Celtic society, which was normally quite structured and organized, turned to chaos during Samhain.
The Celts knew there was something special about these days – they marked the time of year when the veil between worlds was at its thinnest. People spent this time honoring their ancestors and communicating with the spirit world. They lit bonfires, held “Dumb Suppers,” bobbed for apples, and dressed in costumes. Children went from door to door reciting verses in exchange for treats. Seers were often sought out for fortune telling sessions.
As Christianity grew and spread, Samhain became a time when Christians celebrated All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. It was essentially the same concept – honoring the lives of the dead, including saints, martyrs, and fellow Christians. Over time, this branched off and evolved into what is now celebrated as Halloween.
Ways to Celebrate
It is important to honor your ancestors, realize all that you have accomplished in the past year, and set intentions for the coming year during Samhain. Celebrating can be as simple or as complex as you would like. Here are some ideas for your Samhain celebration:
- Take a walk in nature. Observe and meditate upon all that is around you. Take in the Autumn colors, the scents, and sounds. Reflect upon life and death as it relates to nature surrounding you.
- Visit passed on loved ones. Take a trip to the cemetery and reflect on the memories you have with the deceased. Leave a special offering behind for them.
- Create a Spirit Candle. Anoint a white candle with patchouli oil while chanting “With this candle, by its light; Welcome spirits this Samhain Night.” Place the candle inside your jack-o-lantern and light it. This will guide spirits through our world.
- Decorate your altar. Use pumpkins, Fall flowers, leaves, and other Autumnal items. Sit out skulls and ghosts, a cauldron, and orange or black candles.
- Make Resolutions. Write down your goals and aspirations, or things you would like to improve over the next year. After writing them, burn the paper in the flame of a black candle.
- Divination. Using Tarot, runes, or whichever divination tools you prefer, seek guidance for the year to come.
- Host a family feast. Prepare a meal with the Autumnal foods of your choice, and have a plate set out for your ancestors. Reflect on the time spent with your deceased loved ones as you enjoy your meal.
As you can see, there are many ways to celebrate Samhain, and none of it involves summoning demons or hailing Satan…unless, of course, that’s what you want to do, I guess. There’s really nothing too scary about it, actually. It’s just a time to let loose a little, reflect on the past year, let go of things that are no longer serving you, and honor your ancestors. I hope this shines a little more light on Samhain and what it’s really all about.
For further reading, I recommend checking out these articles:
Regardless of which holiday you choose to celebrate this time of year, I hope you have a wonderful and safe time with your friends and family!