Samhain: Halloween, Winter Nights, All Hallows Eve – October 31st
Samhain (*Note: Samhain is pronounced sowen, soween, saw-win, saw-vane or sahven, not sam-hayne)
Halloween, Winter Nights, All Hallows Eve – October 31st
Other names for Samhain include Samhuin, Samain, Saman, Oidhche Shamhna, Hallowe’en, Halloween, Hallows, Hallowtide, Shadow Fest, Allantide, Third Harvest, Harvest Home, Geimredh, Day of the Dead (Feile na Marbh), Feast of the Dead, Spirit Night, Candle Night, November Eve, Nutcrack Night, Ancestor Night and Apple Fest.
Christian names for it include All Hallows Eve (although some churches fix that as November 7), Hallows Eve, Santos, Devil Night and Mischief Night. It is also called Martinmas, but that is properly the name for the actual cross quarter day which occurs when the sun reaches its power point in Scorpio. Some church calendars fix November 11 as Martinmas.
Samhain (Summer’s End) is one of our four Greater Sabbats, the highest holy day of witches. It is a cross quarter day, situated between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice. Samhain is a major festival with several aspects. It is New Year’s Eve for witches, as well as our third and final harvest festival. Samhain inaugurates Winter, is the final chance to dry herbs for winter storage, and a night when fairies supposedly afoot working mischief. It is also the Day of the Dead for us as it was for the Celts, Egyptians and ancient Mexicans, the night when we remember our loved ones and honour our ancestors. We also celebrate reincarnation and note the absence the Sun (the god), who will be reborn at Winter Solstice as the Child of Promise. Astrologically, Samhain marks the rising of the Pleiades.
Late October was the nut harvest for Celts, and the time for salting winter’s supply of meat. Scholars disagree on this, but many fix this date as the Celtic New Year. November 1 is the actual date of Samhain but like other Celtic derived festivals it is celebrated on its eve. November 1 is New Year’s Day for witches, as it was for the Babylonians.
One of the four greater Sabbats, of the Wiccan/pagan year. For the Celts, Samhain was the feast of the dead in Pagan and Christian times, its arrival signalled the close of harvest and the start of the winter season. Fairies were imagined as particularly active at this season. Also called Feile Moingfinne (Snow Goddess). The Scottish Gaelic Dictionary defines it as “Hallowtide. The Feast of All Souls. Sam + Fuin = end of summer.” Eliade’s Encyclopaedia of Religion states as follows: “The Eve and day of Samhain were characterized as a time when the barriers between the human and supernatural worlds were broken… Not a festival honoring any particular Celtic deity, Samhain acknowledged the entire spectrum of nonhuman forces that roamed the earth during that period.”
Samhain is the Wiccan New Year. This is the time of year when the veil between the world of the dead and the world of the living is said to be it’s thinnest. Spirits and souls of loved ones are said to have more power and ability to visit us. This is the time of year for remembering and honouring our dead, and many people will leave a plate of food and a glass of wine out for wandering sprits. (This is often called the Feast of Hecate) Samhain is also a time for personal reflection, and for recognizing our faults and flaws and creating a method for rectifying them.
In the Celtic Tradition, the year begins at Samhain, this is the most powerful night of the year to perform divination. Divination is done in many forms but all seek to establish a look ahead, whether the answer appears good or bad. Samhain is also considered to start the reign of the God or the dark time of the Year when the Sun goes lower each day and begins to weaken.
Decorate your altar with photographs of dead loved ones, pumpkin lanterns, oak leaves, apples, nuts and sage. Incenses associated with this festival include nutmeg, mint and sage, and the colours black and orange.
Samhain is celebrated as the Dia de los Muertos in Mexico (Day of the Dead–usually held on November 1) and All Saints Day (also on November 1) by the Catholic Church.
Ritual for Samhain by Scott Cunningham
Place upon the altar apples, pomegranates, pumpkins, spuashes and other late autumn fruits. Autumn flowers such as marigolds and chrysanthemums are fine too. Write on a piece of paper an aspect of your life which you wish to be free of: anger, a baneful habit, misplaced feelings, disease. The cauldron or some similar tool must be present before the altar as well, on a trivet or some other heat-proof surface (if the legs aren’t long enough). A small, flat dish marked with an eight-spoked wheel symbol should also be there. (On a flat plate or dish, paint a large circle. Put a dot in the centre of this circle and paint eight spokes radiating out from the dot to the larger circle. – A symbol of the Sabbats, a symbol of timelessness.)
Prior to the ritual, sit quietly and think of friends and loved ones who have passed away. Do not despair. Know that they have gone on to greater things. Keep firmly in mind that the physical isn’t the absolute reality, and that souls never die.
Arrange the altar, light the candles and censer, and cast your circle.
Recite The Blessing Chant:
May the powers of The One,
the source of all creation;
all-pervasive, omnipotent, eternal;
may the Goddess,
the Lady of the Moon;
and the God,
Horned Hunter of the Sun;
rulers of the elemental realms;
may the powers of the stars above and the Earth below,
bless this place, and this time, and I who am with You.
Invoke the Goddess and God. (in your own way)
Lift one of the pomegranates and, with your freshly-washed white-handled knife, pierce the skin of the fruit. Remove several seeds and place them on the wheel-marked dish.
Raise your wand, face the altar and say:
On this night of Samhain I mark your passing,
O Sun King, through the sunset into the Land of the Young.
I mark also the passing of all who have gone before,
and all who will go after. O Gracious Goddess,
Eternal Mother, You who gives birth to the fallen,
teach me to know that in the time of the greatest
darkness there is the greatest light.
Taste the pomegranate seeds; burst them with your teeth and savour their sharp, bittersweet flavour. Look down at the eight-spoked symbol on the plate; the wheel of the year, the cycle of the seasons, the end and beginning of all creation.
Light a fire within the cauldron (a candle is fine). Sit before it, holding the piece of paper, gazing at its flames. Say:
Wise One of the Waning Moon,
Goddess of the starry night,
I create this fire within Your cauldron
to transform that which is plaguing me.
May the energies be reversed:
From darkness, light!
From bane, good!
From death, birth!
Light the paper in the cauldron’s flames and drop it inside. As it burns, know that your ill diminishes, lessens and finally leaves you as it is consumed within the universal fires.
If you wish, you may attempt scrying or some other form of divination, for this is a perfect time to look into the past or future. Try to recall past lives too, if you will. But leave the dead in peace. Honour them with your memories but do not call them to you. (Many Wiccans do attempt to communicate with their deceased ancestors and friends at this time… if you must do this… make sure you know how to handle the energies and only do this if you are VERY experienced.) Release any pain and sense of loss you may feel into the cauldron’s flames.
Works of magick, if necessary, may follow.
Celebrate the Simple Feast.
The circle is released.