The first Samhain celebration
is thought to have been celebrated more than two thousand years
ago by the Celts of ancient England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales
and northern France. Organized around the last harvest of the
year, the word Samhain means end of summer and is pronounced "sow-in"
with "sow" rhyming with cow. It was celebrated from sunset on
Oct. 31 throughout the night until dawn the following morning.
Samhain is one of the fire festivals opposite Beltane. We celebrate
the death of the Oak King. The history of Samhain can be traced
back to our Celtic ancestors. The Celtic feast of Samhain marks
the end of summer and the beginning of winter. Samhain is the
beginning of the year and the cycle of the seasons. It is a time
when we acknowledge the beginning and the ending of all things.
Looking to nature, we see the falling of leaves from trees; the
coming of winter and death. It is a time when we turn to the Gods
and Goddess's seeking understanding of the turning cycles and
life and death. While we are on the threshold of winter we feast
and celebrate. For us, this is a time when the gates between this
world and the next are open, or a time when the veil between the
worlds is the thinnest. It is a time when we communicate with
the spirits of the dead, our ancestors and loved ones. Like the
crisp autumn winds the spirits are free to roam the earth. We
call upon our ancestors to give us guidance and warnings of things
that might come to pass in the coming year.
Samhain is a time of transformation
where the past and present meet with uncertainty of the future
yet to come. Hence, it is a time of divination and magic. The
Kings of Ireland would feast for a week for this purpose alone.
The seers would foretell of coming patterns of farming and hunting,
the times of eclipses, storms and if their neighboring Kings were
plotting war against them.
When Christianity was established
in Britain, Goddess's and Gods fell under the rule of the saints.
All Hallows Day (Nov.1st) known also as All Saints Day celebrates
this. However, in the countryside's of our Pagan ancestors, our
traditional All Hallows Day was not totally forgotten. It lived
on in the guise of Hallowe'en, the eve of all Hallows Day. The
new Christian religion saw the deities of the old religion as
evil spirits. The uncanniness of Samhain was thought of as a time
of danger for the Christian soul. Christians' confused the spirits
of the Otherworld, which were called upon by the Celts, with evil
The Christian religion suppressed
old Celtic celebrations only to replace them with their own festivals.
All Soul's Day (Nov.2nd) is a continuation in the Christian form
of the older Pagan Samhain. All Soul's Day is the Catholic celebration
to visit the family tomb, say prayers for the dead, light candles
and picnic at the graveside just as our Pagan ancestors did. Today
many Pagans in Ireland, the UK and the US continue the Celtic
tradition of "wassailing" apple trees at Halloween. In the old
days, this was done to ensure a bountiful harvest for the year
that was to follow. Candles were placed in windows to guide the
spirits home. The Dumb Supper is a feast that is prepared for
our departed ancestors. These suppers are still done today and
done so in silence.
Samhain/Halloween is celebrated
in most of the world with the exception of Latin America. However
they do believe that the spirits of the dead return this time
of year. On Oct. 31, families with children who have passed to
the next world, set out toys and food for their spirits. It is
believed that the spirit will come back on Nov. 1 to visit.
The yellow marigold is associated
with the dead. It is believed to have magickal properties that
are supposed to protect against the spirits that are evil. People
in parts of Santa Cruz scatter yellow marigold petals from the
gravesite to the front door of the departed.
People of Mexico celebrate
the Festival of the Dead with skulls and skeletons as reminders
of the dead. This is a national holiday in Mexico and is celebrated
with great enthusiasm. Cookies are baked in shapes of skulls and
are sold around the country in bakeries and by street vendors.
Bread of the dead is special bread that is baked and shaped like
animals or people and decorated with brightly colored icings.
The Day of the Dead in Mexico (Nov.2) fairies are believed to
come out of hiding for dancing and playing pranks on humans.
Some Witches in Mexico invoke
the "little children" that have departed to the next world in
their Samhain Sabbat. They believe that these little fairies help
the Horned God and Goddess in the turning of the Wheel of the
In France, the Day of the
Dead is celebrated on Nov. 2nd. Graveyards are filled with flowers
and garlands and churches burn candles, sing funeral songs and
pray for their departed.
In Italy celebrations are
similar. Some people go to graveyards and pencil in their names
on the tombstones of their departed ancestors.
In Ireland a traditional
Irish dish called callcannon is served on Samhain. This is made
from mashed potatoes, parsnips, onions, a ring, a china doll,
a thimble and a coin. The person who finds the ring in their serving
is to be married in the coming year; the person who finds the
thimble will remain unmarried that year; the person who finds
the china doll is suppose to have children and of course the person
who finds the coin is suppose to have good fortune in the coming
year. A similar tradition is to bake a cake with a ring and a
nut. The person who finds the ring will marry and the person who
finds the nut will marry a widow or widower. However if the nut
has been broken or shattered, he or she will remain single and
may never marry at all.
The symbols used today representing
the modern Halloween have roots in ancient Paganism. The cauldron
has been linked to our past since ancient times. Symbol of rebirth
it is most appropriate for Samhain. Its shape represents the Great
Earth Mother and the three legs represent the Triple Goddess,
Lunar phases and the magickal number three. It is the symbol of
transformation and wisdom. The cauldron has been used for cooking,
containing ritual fires, divination and burning incense. The cauldron
is associated with Hecate, Demeter, Persephone, Siris and most
of all The Celtic goddess Cerridwen. It is her cauldron that brought
forth gifts of wisdom, enlightenment, and divination. The cauldron
is linked with the Holy Grail or the chalice that is thought to
have been used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper.
The besom or broomstick
is thought to have been used by Witches at one time to fly to
their Sabbats. Flying ointments made with various poisonous herbs,
soot and grease were rubbed on the Witch's body and her broomstick.
We know now that it was the "acid affect" of the flying ointments
that appeared to give the Witch and her broom the power to fly.
Brooms were used by Pagans and Witches alike to hobble through
the fields of crops to show them how high to grow. Today we use
the broom as a sacred tool in handfastings; circle castings, house
blessings and many of us still place a broom over our doors and
in corners in our homes.
The origin of the jack-o'-lantern
is traced to Ireland where hallowed out turnips were used. Faces
were carved and carried as lanterns to light the way on Samhain
Eve and to frighten away supposedly evil spirits. Eventually the
use of turnips turned into what we know as carved pumpkins. Celts
believed that the face on a pumpkin gave the look of a head. They
believed that the head was the most important part of the body
as it housed the immortal soul. Today we as Witches use the pumpkin
in our rituals, upon our altars and placed at quarters in our
circles. At home, we used them for a light source to welcome back
the spirits of the dead.
There is much information
about our blessed Sabbat Samhain. Far too much to be included
in a report such as this. Today we as Witches celebrate our New
Year much as our ancestors did. We have ritual, feast with food
and drink, and place pictures of our departed who have gone beyond
on our altars. We still light the fires, reflect upon the past
year, and use divination to tell us about the year to come and
always light a candle to welcome home spirits of ancestors.
Cakes for the Dead/Soul
1 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. Vanilla
1/2 cup oil
1/2 tsp. Baking soda
1/2 tsp. Grated orange rind
1 cup granola
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in small bowl. Beat oil,
honey, eggs, vanilla,& orange rind in a separate bowl. Mix dry
ingredients into egg mixture; stir in granola and raisins. Drop
by teaspoon onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 mins.
Stations of the Sun
by Ronald Hutton
Celtic Wisdom by Caitlin and John Mathews
Ancient Ways by Pauline Campanelli
Wheel of the Year by Pauline Campanelli
"Granny Takes a Trip: Drugs, Witches, and the Flight to the Sabbat"
White Dragon No. 30
The Pagan Book of Halloween by Gerina Dunwich