What is Samhain?

How do you celebrate Samhain?

October 31st , a day of spooky costumes, candies, and trick or treats, it is also known as Halloween for most people. However, in paganism, October 31st is called Samhain- a festival of the dead. It marks the end of the harvest season and the start of winter; both Wiccans and Druids celebrate this Sabbat. Samhain, pronounced as sow-een, is an old Irish word that means “Summer’s End”. It is one of the biggest festivities for most pagans, and is a time to celebrate not only with people who are living but also those who have passed on; it is the easiest to talk to the departed ones during this time. 

Also known as the Witches’ New Year, Samhain is also a time of letting go of our negative energies, and the start of planning for a fruitful new year. Basically, you reflect on yourself and find out what beliefs or habits you would like to remain and remove for the better. It is a spiritual new year for witches- it is an opportunity to start anew.

Samhain started from the Celts in ancient Europe. It is a Celtic fire festival and was the most important among the four festivals. In addition, Celts believed that the veil between life and dead is the thinnest; thus, this day is the easiest for priests to help for divination. The bonfire in ancient Celts celebration partook a great importance; it is both considered sacred and a helpful tool in protecting them and keeping them warm during the cold season.

In modern times, during Samhain, pagans feast on the food of the final harvest as a way to honor the death of the God, and to thank the deities for the help and guidance during the year. They also welcome the spirits of their loved ones and those who wander, and invite them to join in a meal called the Feast of Hecate. Today, witches also take this time to start afresh as the new year comes.

Samhain, Halloween, and Christianity

Contrary to Yule, from the day onwards since the celebration of Samhain, the night grows longer as each day passes. Similar to how Christmas had a lot of its traditions come from pagan roots and yule, so does Halloween. The act of leaving offerings for ancestors became the modern trick-or-treating, and the practice of putting a lit candle inside vegetables became the well-known jack-o-lantern. However, these two festivities are completely different in terms of its main purpose. While both is a day of celebration, Samhain is focused mainly on honoring the dead; unlike Halloween which has become a public celebration of just having fun and is more family-focused. 

Having heard of this tradition, Christianity adopted Samhain and have set two dates for honoring the Christian saints and the departed ones- November 1 and November 2, respectively. In the 5th century, Pope Benefice appointed May 13 as a day of honoring saints and martyrs. However, as Pope Gregory took the position, he has moved the date to November 1 and 2. 

Different Ways to Celebrate Samhain

Make an Ancestors Altar to honor the dead. Place photographs and other items that remind you of your ancestors on the altar. Light candles and thank them individually for being with you.

Holding a Samhain Dumb Dinner is one of the most common traditions during this sabbat. People call this practice as dumb supper as no one in the table should talk during the entire banquet; silence shall envelope the entire duration of the meal. You begin by preparing a meal for your family and close ones. Traditional foods in this celebration include: fruits, vegetables, meat, and rye. Do not forget to put a piece of each of the food and beverage on the altar for offerings, and invite your ancestors and deceased love ones to join you. 

Take a Samhain Nature Walk and meditate. It is an opportunity to take time and observe autumn. As the leaves turn brown and fall, reflect on death and that you, as well, is part of nature.

Seek Guidance through divination. Use your tarot cards, runes or other divinatory tools on this day. It is the easiest to talk to the other side and is the most powerful for divination; use this opportunity to seek guidance for what is to come.

Hold a Candle Ceremony for Your Ancestors. Prepare the following for the ceremony: a lot of small candles, heat proof containers or a place to put your candles safely. Place one candle in the center of the other candles.  Begin by turning off the lights and starting the ceremony in darkness. Call upon the presence of your ancestors and light the center candle by saying,

“We welcome our departed loved ones into this home and honor your presence amongst us”

Mention each of your departed loved ones’ names and a memory you remember them by. As you say this out loud and reminisce them, light one candle for each person from the candle in the center. Lighted candles will fill the darkness. End by giving thanks and leaving the candles to die on their own.

Honor the Deities and leave an offering to Hecate, the Crone goddess. During Samhain, The Crone Goddess mourns for the God, the Sun King, until he comes back during Yule. She is one of the three Goddess: the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. She goes by many names-  from Hecate to Cerridwen. 

She can go to any of the three world: the earth, heaven, and the underworld; she serves as the tie to the spirit realm. The Crone Goddess is responsible for assisting us in transitioning from life to death and vice-versa. Offer her honey or wine at 3AM as you stand at a crossroad. 

Decorate Your Home and Altar. You may decorate your home and altar with various seasonal symbols and colors- orange and black, candles, pumpkins, acorns, besom brooms, wreaths, and apples.

Start a Bonfire and burn bad habits. Write a habit you would like to end on a piece of paper and throw them into the fire. This symbolizes the end of unwanted routines and practices and the start of a new life. Move around the bonfire clockwise as you reflect and start afresh.

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