What is Samhain?
Samhain is a major sabbat of the wheel of the year. It was originally a Gaelic festival which marks the beginning of the dark half of the year and the end of the harvest season. Samhain means “summers end” and marks the beginning of winter. It is celebrated on October 31st and is celebrated by many as Halloween.
The Pagan Roots of Samhain
Samhain is the start of the Wiccan New Year. It is the highest holy day for Wiccans and is thought of as the most powerful night of the year for divination. For Wiccans as well as marking the start of the new year, it is about marking the end of the previous one. It is about letting go of the old and anticipating what is to come.
Samhain is also the start of the dark time of the year where the nights are longest. It is the third and final harvest festival, and marks the end of the harvest season.
Samhain is known by many cultures as the Day of the Dead. For Wiccans that can mean remembering our loved ones and celebrating our ancestors.
Samhain and Halloween
This time of year is celebrated by many different cultures and religions under many names, including All Hallows Eve, Day of the Dead, All Saints Day and perhaps most famously, Halloween.
Halloween has been heavily influenced by Samhain. One of these ways is in the symbols of Samhain, such as black cats and pumpkins. The Halloween tradition of ‘trick or treating’ is believed to date back to the early celebrations of Samhain, where people would impersonate the spirits or the souls of the dead. Dressing up for Halloween could stem from the Celtic tradition of wearing costumes to celebrate Samhain. However, the Celts wore animal heads and skins rather than fancy dress outfits.
The Gods and Goddesses of Samhain
Samhain is now celebrated by Pagans including Wiccans and Druids. This festival is about celebrating the time of year when the world of the dead and the world of the living is at its thinnest. On Samhain the spirits of loved ones are at their most likely to visit us.
At Samhain the Goddess is in her crone state. She is mourning the Sun King, who is as seed until the Winter Solstice where he is reborn at Yule.
Samhain is the time of year it is believed that fairies are the most active. Celts believed that fairies and goblins would cause mischief.
Cat Sith was a cat from Celtic mythology. He was a black cat with a white spot on his chest. He was believed to be a witch who could transform into a cat and back nine times. It was believed that on Samhain, if you left a saucer of milk out for him, you would be blessed; if you didn’t, you would be cursed.
There are many traditions you are most likely familiar with for this season and the celebration of Halloween. Here are some ideas of how you can celebrate this time of year in the spirit of the original festival Samhain.
- Make an autumnal wreath and hang on your front door.
- Explore your ancestry by visiting the graves of your ancestors, or by researching your family tree. Ask your relatives for stories about their lives to celebrate and feel connected to the relatives you have.
- Take a nature walk and enjoy the last good weather of the season.
- Make seasonal food to share with trick or treaters, your friend and family.
- Have a Samhain party or a masquerade ball. Dress up in costumes, trick or treat and bob for apples.
- This is the time of the year where the world of the living and the world of the dead are at its closest. Why not try A Samhain Ancestor Ritual?
Samhain Blessing and Ritual Ideas
Samhain is a time of year to think about rituals which focus on celebrating your ancestors. Other spells you can focus on are those which celebrate the cycle of birth, life and death. Spell work associated with Samhain include using tarot cards, runes, scrying and meditation.
There are many symbols of Samhain you will be familiar with, such as pumpkins, black cats, waning moon, cauldron, scarecrow, broom and the acorn.
The seasonal colours of black and orange are well known, but not the reasons for them. Black symbolises death and endings, orange for the vitality of life with death.
Samhain Altar Décor
If you have yet to set yourself up with an altar, now is a good time to start. You can use a table, but if you don’t have room, try a shelf. If you are really short of space, you can make yourself a box or basket to be an altar you can put away when not using.
If you have an altar, you may want to use Samhain as a time to change it.
Decorate your altar with pictures of loved ones who are no longer with us. Use seasonal plants of the season, such as pumpkins and squashes or late autumn fruits. Use seasonal colours such as black, brown, purple, orange, or red. Burn incense of nutmeg and cinnamon. Place stones of obsidian and onyx.
Samhain Food and Recipes
Samhain is New Years Eve for Wiccans and the final harvest festival. It is a great time of year to celebrate with food. Below are some ideas.
- Bake gingerbread and shape into cats, bats, moons, or other symbols.
- Make freshly roasted nuts
- Drinks of the season include mead, mulled wine, and cider.
- If you decorate or carve pumpkins use the flesh to create pumpkin soup, pie or toast the seeds.
I hope you enjoy discovering the Pagan roots of this holiday and celebrating what is one of the most important dates in the wheel of the year!
Author: Holly is a writer who enjoys writing about folk tales and paganism. Her magical interests include herbalism and tarot. When not writing Holly works in a museum. Holly loves walking, nature and watching horror films.