Samhain, pronounced sah-win, is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. The year was considered to begin with the dark half so Samhain became the New Year.
Traditionally, it is celebrated from 31 October to 1 November, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset. This is about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.
Like Beltane, Samhain was seen as a liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld could more easily be crossed. This meant the Aos Sí, the ‘spirits’ or ‘fairies’, could more easily come into our world.
The Celtic holiday is described as a communion with the spirits of the dead who, on this date, were authorized to walk among the living, giving people the opportunity to meet with their dead ancestors. To keep the spirits happy and keep the bad ones from their homes, they left food outside, a tradition that evolved into what children do today, going from house to house asking for candy.
Near Samhain it was customary to carve turnips (later pumpkins, due to an Irish tradition ) and light candles inside them. Several centuries later, this tradition has its continuity in the current Halloween celebrations.
⛤ The Wiccan Meaning of Samhain ⛤
In Wicca, Samhain is deemed to be the most important of the four “greater Sabbats” (Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Ostara). Like all other sabbats, this is a time to pay homage to the deities of Wicca: The Lady (or Triple Goddess), and the Lord (or Horned God).
Samhain symbolizes the Goddess’ lament for the death of the God. Metaphorically, the Goddess (in her aspect of Crone) now prepares for the birth of her son, which will happen during Yule (upon the winter solstice in December).
Remember that Wicca is not a fixed belief, so there is some variation between Wiccan groups as to which sabbat corresponds to which part of the cycle. The essence of Samhain is giving an end to the harvest season, because from now on the cold winter will make a dent on crops and animals. Samhain begins the dark and icy era of the year.
A Celebration of Death
Having reached the end of the Wheel of the Year, we dedicate the night of Samhain to the souls of deceased friends and family, and we thank for what we’ve learned and released.
Endings and beginnings are one in the wheel of the year, like death and rebirth. This is a time to reaffirm our belief that death is not the end of our existence. Do not forget that death is a step that every living being must face, and that in order to be reborn we must first die.
What to do on Samhain
Samhain is the season when crops are dying, the nights become cool and dark, and we celebrate life and death. So it is a time to honor our ancestors and interact with the world beyond the veil. The door that separates us from the other world opens so that they can visit us.
- Perform rituals in honor of your deceased and ancestors, honoring and offering gifts. Cast a Spell for a Loved One who Passed Away.,
- Decorate your altar with seasonal fruits such as pomegranates, nuts, grapes or pears. Those same can serve as offerings for the Gods or deceased relatives.
- Some Wiccans also build a separate altar for their ancestors, with pictures, letters, their favorite food and drinks.
- Place black candles on the windows, or decorate them with black ribbons to protect your home from evil spirits.
- Add extra plates and chairs at dinner for the deceased and share old family stories. After the meal, the dishes set to the deceased (with food) are left by the door.
- Light a bonfire or a fireplace, as it is believed that fire calms the disturbed souls of the dead. If you don’t have a fireplace, burn some incense in your cauldron or simply light a candle.
- Light an orange candle on your altar to represent the Goddess as the Crone, and a black candle for mourning the Horned God.
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Samhain Spells and Rituals
Write down on a piece of paper everything you want to let go in your life, for example: bad habits, grudges, enemies, sorrow, and burn it in your cauldron, saying goodbye and releasing it for good.
Cast any spells for protection, banishing, change and renewal.
Make a list of goals or intentions for the year that begins and add it to your Book of Shadows.
It’s a good opportunity for divinations. Use your Tarot deck, pendulum, candles to assess the choices you are facing and to help you in the decision-making process.
Meditate. Reflect on everything that happened during the year. Samhain can be a great time for spiritual catharsis and cleanse. Find Guided Meditations here.
Celebrating Samhain with Children
Invite your children to learn about their ancestors, even if it’s something as simple as asking grandma what her life was like as a child. You can either create a family tree or if you feel really cunning, use that information to make an ancestral altar tablecloth!
Do you have family photos and inheritances? Build an ancestor altar with memorabilia and honor them throughout this month.
If the parents make a bonfire, they can tell the children to burn there what they fear or what they want to forget. For example, if they are afraid of the dark, write it on a paper or symbolize it with a piece of black cardboard and then throw it into the fire to banish it.
Spend the day decorating the house with orange and black balloons, pumpkins, black cats, skulls, brooms, apples. Or do a thorough cleaning of the house and prepare the garden for the winter.
Learn how to make your own candles.
Why do we wear Costumes on Halloween / Samhain?
From at least the 16th century, the Gaelic festival of the dead (Samhain) involved people going house-to-house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting verses or songs in exchange for food. It may have originally been a tradition whereby people impersonated the Aos Sí, or the souls of the dead, and received offerings on their behalf. Impersonating these beings, or wearing a disguise, was also believed to protect oneself from them. It is suggested that the guisers “personify the old spirits of the winter, who demanded reward in exchange for good fortune”
Symbols of Samhain
Death and darkness can be represented with a skull, a piece of bone, a skeleton, the athame, or the color black.
Life and light can appear in the form of a deity, the flame of a candle, cereal, fruits, the color white/orange.
Autumn can be symbolized by the leaf of a tree, a branch, a dried flower, wet earth, or pine cones.
The upright pentacle can be displayed to represent the integration of the four elements of Nature with the spirit, personal evolution and the ascent of the soul towards a higher state.
A circle can represent the wheel of the year that ends tonight to begin again, infinitely.
A pumpkin carved with a grotesque face placed at the entrance of your home will prevent any negative entities from entering on these dark nights.
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Correspondences of Samhain
- Incenses: Lilac, copal, clove, camphor, mint, myrrh, sandalwood.
- Colors: Black, orange, white, red, gold and silver.
- Drinks: Wines, ciders, tea, water.
- Herbs: Mugworth, mandrake, sage, chrysanthemum, wormwood, thistle, thyme.
- Food: Beets, turnips, apples, corn, nuts, pumpkins, gingerbread, pumpkin pie, bread, meats.
- Crystals: Obsidian, black tourmaline, white onyx, labradorite, ghost quartz, amber, yellow jasper, hematite.
In summary, use this time to thank for the year that ends, releasing and closing a cycle. Samhain is not and has never been evil or negative. It is a time to reaffirm our belief in the unity of all spirits (souls of the living and the dead).