Samhain, (pronounced SOW-in, SAH-vin, SOW-een, or SAM-hayne) means literally “the end of summer” and is the third and final Harvest. Other names for Samhain are Samana, Day of the Dead, Old Hallowmas (Scottish/Celtic), Vigil of Saman, Shadowfest (Strega), and Samhuinn. Also known as All Hallow's Eve, (that day actually falls on November 7th), and Martinmas (that is celebrated November 11th. Samhain is the Witches New Year, a time for revelry and introspection. It is a night for divination and honoring our ancestors.
At Mabon the God journeyed to the Underworld and the Earth began to settle in for winter. At Samhain the Goddess longs for the God and in Her grief opens the gateway between the worlds to be with Her husband. This opening or thinning of the veil means that the laws of time and space are suspended and communication with the spirit world can be achieved.
Samhain was originally the Celtic "Feast of the Dead" when offerings of food were left on altars and doorsteps for the wandering spirits. Single candles were lit in windows to guide the spirits of loved ones home, and places were set at the dinner table and near the hearth to honor the dead and make them welcome. Apples were left along roadsides to provide for the spirits who had no loved ones to provide for them.
At Samhain cattle and other livestock were slaughtered for eating during the ensuing winter months. Any crops still in the field on Samhain were considered taboo, and left as offerings to the Nature spirits. Bonfires were built, (originally called bone-fires, for after feasting, the bones were thrown in the fire as offerings for healthy and plentiful livestock in the New Year) and stones were marked with peoples names. The next day the stones were retrieved from the ashes and the condition of the stones was used for divining the future.
On Samhain night the Faerie folk are believed to be very active and delight in playing tricks on humans. If you're near a faerie mound, be very careful not to be drawn inside, else you may disappear for a few hundred years. The Fey enjoy gifts of food and drink and pretty baubles, so be sure to leave treats for the Faeries so you won't be tricked! In order to fool the Nature Spirits, our pagan ancestors would dress up in costumes if they had to travel about on Samhain night. They would dress all in white, like ghosts, make disguises of straw, or dress as the opposite gender. I suppose that the Faeries were so busy laughing at the costumes they forgot to play any tricks!
Another school of thought regarding dressing up at Samhain has a much more spiritual basis. Dressing as a ghost or skeleton could be seen as a form of "sympathetic magick" allowing us to experience what it could be like to be on the other side of the veil.
Once Christianity took hold in the British Isles, our pagan ancestors had to make their way secretly to the great Sabbats which were held in lone places outdoors at night. On Samhain night, spirits of the dead are able to walk among the living, and though we know that the spirits of our loved ones are benign and loving, the Church taught that spirits were evil and malignant manifestations of the devil. The clever witches managed to use this misinformation to their own advantage. On Samhain night, the Christian townspeople locked their windows and doors and drew their shutters closed for fear of seeing an evil apparition. The witches carved turnips with ghoulish faces (there were no pumpkins in Britain at the time) and lit them with candles. Dressed in black cloaks they were nearly invisible in the night, except for the leering faces of the carved turnips. Anyone peeking out the window on Samhain night would be frightened out of their wits, thus leaving the way clear for the witches to proceed to their Sabbat.
Samhain is a night for divination, the veil between the world of the living and the dead is at it's thinnest making this the best night of the year to find out what the future has in store. Pull out your crystal ball, scrying mirror, Tarot, runes, stones or bones, don't miss this opportunity to see into the future.
To Celebrate Samhain Today
Create an Ancestor Altar - Create an ancestor altar using a collection of photographs, displaying your various relatives, ideally going back a few generations to illustrate and show respect for your history. Besides photos, you could also decorate your altar with any other items that belonged to your relatives or even just things that remind you of them. Jewelry, clothing, or other heirloom items could all be used. What matters most is that these items mean something to you and represent your past.
Dumb Supper - Lay an extra plate at your table on Samhain Eve, this is called a "dumb supper". In this case "dumb" means silent, once the food is served silence is observed throughout the dinner. By remaining quiet, you will open your heart and mind to those who have crossed over. You may feel a ghostly touch, detect a scent of perfume, hear messages, or even witness physical manifestations of spirit energy. It is traditional to serve the "dumb supper" backwards, so the dessert would be eaten first.
Build a Bonfire - Write personal prayers on parchment and cast them into the fire along with objects symbolizing your wishes for the new year. If you have any old herbs or bits of magick laying around your house burn them up in the Samhain bonfire, it's time to start a fresh new year.
The Apple and the Mirror Divination - Before the stroke of midnight, sit in front of a mirror in a room lit only by one candle or the moon. Go into the silence, and ask a question. Cut the apple into nine pieces. With your back to the mirror, eat eight of the pieces, then throw the ninth over your left shoulder. Turn your head to look over the same shoulder, and you will see an image or symbol in the mirror that will tell you your answer.
(When you look in the mirror, let your focus go "soft," and allow the patterns made by the moon or candlelight and shadows to suggest forms, symbols and other dreamlike images that speak to your intuition.)
Apple Divination - Peel an apple all in one long ribbon, then throw it over your shoulder while asking a question. Divine the answer by the shape of the peel.
Hazelnut Divination - Carve questions into the shells of hazelnuts and place them near a fire. If the nuts pop the answer is "no", if the nuts remain intact the answer is "yes".
Witches Processional - In the spirit of the witches who lived before, on Samhain night dress yourself up in a black cloak, carve a small pumpkin and put on a handle so that it may be carried as a lantern. Ghost about your neighbourhood, with your hood drawn up and your pumpkin lantern lit. Hopefully the neighbours won't be able to tell that it's you!
Visit Graves of Loved Ones - Leave them offerings of jack- o'- lanterns, candy, nuts, apples or special treats that they enjoyed in life. Don't forget to light a stick of incense and leave a small votive candle burning in the pumpkin. Lay a branch of Yew upon the grave to reassure your departed loved ones that death is but a moment in the transcendence of the human spirit on the journey to rebirth.
Symbolism of Samhain
Jack-O'-Lantern : The tradition of carving a lantern started in the UK and was traditionally carved from a swede or a turnip. They were carved on All Hallows' Eve and left on the door step to ward off evil spirits.
Trick or Treating : The tradition of trick or treating can be traced back to the ancient Celts, who not only left an offering of food for the dead, but also as part of holiday revelry went begging from house to house. Both children and adults would knock on doors and give some sort of performance and would be given money, food, or drink as payment.
Bonfires : Bonfires were originally built to burn the bones after feasting on the animals slaughtered for winter.
Black Cats : Because cats are for the most part nocturnal and can sneak about relatively unseen at night, they have long been associated with mystery, witchcraft and the occult. It was believed that witches could turn themselves into cats at will. Once Christianity took hold in Europe, witchcraft was declared evil along with all symbolism since they attributed cats to witches, cats were deemed evil by proxy.
Pitchfork : The pitchfork in modern times is associated with the devil, but before Christianity the trident was a male fertility symbol and the "key to the Holy Door".
Scarecrows : The scarecrow contrary to popular opinion, is not really for scaring birds away from crops. A scarecrow is a magickal symbol used to guard the crops from failing.
During the paleolithic era and early Europe, skeletons and or skulls of loved ones were preserved, painted,and dressed, then displayed prominently during clan gatherings. Body-less heads were consulted and used as oracles, with offerings being given for their advise. Mexican culture celebrates "The Day of the Dead" on October 31 which is a conglomeration of Celtic, Catholic and Aztec mythos. On Oct. 31 the souls of the dead return to Mexico with the return of the monarch butterflies. They celebrate with parades, feasts, and dress up as skeletons, mummies, ghosts and ghouls and even have special edible treats shaped like skeletons and skulls.
Skulls : In Celtic culture the skull was believed to be the seat of power and the house of the soul. Skulls were tossed into sacred wells as offerings, perhaps to cleanse the soul or to receive divine clarity and renewal of the soul. Skulls decorated doorways and sacred Celtic halls as a symbol of warning and protection. Celtic culture revered openings, doorways, and gateways. It is thought that the Celts held the skull symbol as an oracle, perhaps in the depths of meditation or trance the eyes and mouth would open, serving as gateways into etheric knowledge.
Skulls are used in magick concerning:
Ghosts : Samhain is associated with the dead, and it is believed that on October 31 loved ones who have passed on may re-enter the world of the living and visit with their ancestors. Offerings are left for the spirits, special suppers are laid out for them and the spirit world is given honour.
Witches: The witch is a central symbol of Halloween. The name comes from the Saxon wica, meaning wise one. At Samhain the Goddess is depicted as an older woman or crone. Hecate and the Cailleach are both examples of crone Goddesses who were worshiped at Samhain Rituals. In order to stop Crone Goddess worship the Christian Church began to denigrate elderly women to remove their authority and knowledge from society. The Crone Goddess became the horrible, mean old hag (witch) that frighted children, cast curses, and poisoned crops and livestock. Many elderly women were tortured and killed simply because they were old.
Bats: When the Samhain bonfire was lit, it would attract lots of insects to the light, which in turn would attract bats to the bonfire who would commence a feeding frenzy. During the dark period of Europe when witches were being burned at the stake, the same principle would apply, the fire attracted bugs which attracted bats. This phenomena caused the belief that witches could turn into bats and fly away.
Werewolves: Many Celtic myths insist that by wearing a wolf skin one can transform themselves into a spirit beast. The term werewolf actually means spirit-wolf and the name was taken up by those who were opposed to Christianity.
Besoms: When setting out for a Sabbath, witches rubbed a sacred ointment onto their skin. This gave them a feeling of flying, and if they had been fasting they felt even giddier. Some witches rode on horseback, but poor witches went on foot and carried a broom or a pole to aid in vaulting over streams. In England when new witches were initiated they were often blindfolded, smeared with flying ointment and placed on a broomstick. The ointment would confuse the mind, speed up the pulse and numb the feet. When they were told "You are flying over land and sea," the witch took their word for it.
Bobbing for Apples: When the Celts were absorbed by the Roman Empire, many rituals of Roman origin began. Among them was the worship of Pomona, goddess of the harvest, often portrayed sitting on a basket of fruits and flowers. Apples were the sacred fruit of the Goddess, and many games of divination involving them entered the Samhain customs.
Witches Hat: The big circle brim symbolizes the magick Circle, the tall pointy part represents the cone of power. The witches hat is traditionally black symbolic of the Crone Goddess, the dark half of the year, and the occult mysteries.
Herbs: Acorn, Angelica, Apple, Broom, Catnip, Deadly Nightshade, Dittany of Crete, Hazel, Heather, Mandrake, Mugwort, Rosemary and Wormwood, Pomegranate, Pumpkin
Foods: Pumpkin pies, Apples, Cakes for the Dead, Bread, Pears, Pork, Red Foods, Beans, Pomegranates, Grains, Beets, Turnips, Corn, Gingerbread, Mulled Wine, Meat Dishes, Hazelnuts, Ale, Cider and Herbal Teas.
Colors: Black, Orange, Purple
Trees: Apple, Beech, Blackthorn, Locust, Pomegranate, Willow, Witch Hazel, Yew
Goddesses: Badb, Banba, Cailleach, Hecate, the Morrigan, Rhiannon, Baba Yaga, Cerridwen
Gods: Arawn, Cernunnos, the Horned God
Animals: Bat, Boar, Cat, Cow, Dog
Samhain Blood Moon
The month of October brings us the Blood Moon. This Moon is also called the Harvest Moon, Shedding Moon, Winterfelleth, Windermanoth, Falling Leaf Moon, Ten Colds Moon, and Moon of the Changing Season.
The Blood Moon falls just before Samhain and brings a change in energy that invites us to begin to draw within ourselves, to begin the long contemplative months of the coming winter.
The October Blood Moon takes it's name from the ancient custom of killing livestock before winter arrives.
It is a time of letting go of that which no longer serves you. It is a powerful time for meditations of Karma and reincarnation, inner cleansing and inner harmony. Magick workings about justice and balance are particularly relevant during the Blood Moon.
The Blood Moon is a good time to purify your home, to remove unwanted energies or entities. If you're having bad luck, little accidents or feeling uneasy in your home, then the chances are good that that you need to thoroughly cleanse your house.
Blood Moon Correspondences
NATURE SPIRITS: Frost Faeries, Plant Faeries
HERBS: Pennyroyal, thyme, catnip, uva ursi, angelica, burdock
COLORS: Dark blue-green
FLOWERS: Calendula, marigold, cosmos
SCENTS: Strawberry, apple blossom, cherry
STONES: Opal, Tourmaline, beryl, turquoise
TREES: Yew, cypress
ANIMALS: Stag, jackal, elephant, ram, scorpion
BIRDS: Heron, crow, robin
DEITIES: Ishtar, Astarte, Demeter, Kore, Lakshmi, Horned God,
All Hallow's Eve Cakes
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 4 Ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups sifted cake flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup confectioner's sugar
In a large bowl, mix the vegetable oil, chocolate,and sugar. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition Mix in the vanilla. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the oil mixture. Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of dough into a ball. Coat each ball in confectioners sugar, rolling until covered. Place the balls about 2 inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes. The cakes should be soft and the edges should be firm. Do not over bake, they burn easily.
Apple Sauce Loaf
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 3/4 cup flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. soda
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 cup applesauce
- 1/2 cup. nuts
Cream together shortening and sugar. Add eggs and mix well. Sift together dry ingredients and gradually add to mixture. Stir until well mixed and add applesauce and nuts. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. Mix together 1/2 cups powdered sugar and 1 tbsp. water and pour on cake while still warm.
- 3/4 cup natural bran
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup mashed or canned cooked pumpkin
- 2 eggs (unbeaten)
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup plain yogourt or buttermilk
In bowl, combine bran, flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt and raisins; toss to mix. Add pumpkin, eggs, oil and yogurt; stir just combined.
Spoon batter into paper-lined or nonstick muffin tins. Bake in 400 degree F oven for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch. Makes 12 muffins.
Butternut Squash and Apple Casserole
- 1 small butternut squash (about 2 to 2 1/2 lbs)
- 2 tart apples
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
- 4 tablespoons butter, cold
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Butter a 2- to 2 1/2-quart baking dish. Heat oven to 350°. Peel, seed, and cut squash into small slices. Core the apples, peel, and cut into thin slices. Toss squash and apples together. Transfer squash and apple slices to the prepared baking dish.
Combine brown sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; cut in butter with fork or pastry cutter until crumbly. Sprinkle crumbs evenly over sliced squash and apples. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 350° for 50 to 60 minutes, or until squash is tender.
Twas the night before Samhain
Marjenna Gittings 1993
Twas the night before Samhain and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, except for my spouse.
The incense, it burned in our cauldron so black,
For Witchcraft and Magick we'd a wonderful knack.
The circle was drawn with the athame of power,
The guardians were called to each quarter tower.
The Lord and Lady attended our rite,
In wonder and glory and power and might.
The dearly departed came as our guest,
To live once again, after their rest.
We bid them goodbye with a tear in our eye,
Such a lovely presence of loved ones so nigh.
The candles danced in the flickering light,
With the Great Rite we bid them all a good night.
The guardians, thanked, have all sped away,
The Lord and Lady, thanked for the day.
The night before Samhain, Gods bless this house,
A circle of wonder 'round me and my spouse.
Fire red, summer's dead
Yet it shall return.
Clear and bright, in the night,
Burn, fire, burn!
Chant the rhyme at Hallows-time,
When the fire's burning.
Fire glow, vision show
Of the heart's desire,
When the spell is chanted well
Of the witching fire.
Chant the rhyme at Hallows-time,
When the fire's burning.
Fire spark, when nights are dark
Makes our winter's mirth.
Red leaves fall, earth takes all,
Brings them to rebirth.
Chant the rhyme at Hallows-time,
When the fire's burning.
Fire fair, earth and air,
And the heaven's rain,
All blessed be, and so may we,
at Hallows-tide again.
Chant the rhyme at Hallows-time,
When the fire's burning
Halloween - Silver Ravenwolf
Book of Shadows - Rowan Morgana
Incense Oils & Brews - Scott Cunningham
The Wicca Cookbook - Jamie Wood and Tara Seefeldt
Chalice Centre Website