Samhain, also known as the Witches New Year, is a hugely important time when the Wheel of the Year has turned to the final of the three harvests. It’s a time to honour the earth and all she has given us through the summer months in terms of sustenance and it’s also when we would begin reflections on our year and looking at what did or didn’t work so that we can make changes in our personal and professional lives in order to have a more fruitful life in the coming year. Today, Samhain and Halloween are celebrated on the same day – October 31st, but in ancient times, this was different. Read ahead to learn more about this holiest of pagan festivals and how you can celebrate this upcoming Sabbat with your friends and family while honoring the season as well as your ancestors.
Samhain is taken from the ancient Celtic tradition and is a time when the veil between worlds is thinnest, helping us to easily contact ancestors and the dead who walk the world at this time. In ancient Celtic tradition, people would dress in costumes to help blend in with the spirits that walk the earth to avoid the tricks that they were sometimes known for playing on humans. Likewise, gourds such as squashes and pumpkins would be carved and then lit with candles and placed in windows or on doorsteps of homes to help the dead of that particular family to find their way home.
Various activities that feature the dead would be prominent at this time, such as a traditional ‘Dumb Supper’, during which seasonal dishes are made and then eaten in perfect silence to honor the dead person or people visiting the home. While today many Halloween traditions are taken from Samhain, Halloween is typically only one day long whereas Samhain can be about a week long. Likewise, the veil between worlds is thin for around a week both before and after Samhain, around 3 days on each side of the actual date. Another interesting point to note is that ancient Samhain was celebrated around November 6th, whereas today it’s celebrated on October 31st to coincide with All Souls Day, which happens on November 1st, a common change made by the church in the past to help pagans convert to Christianity.
Deities Associated With Samhain
There are a number of deities that can be associated with Samhain, many of which would be considered harvest or ‘dark’ deities. If you’re new to paganism and witchcraft, the aspect of dark deities may seem unusual and perhaps scary, but it’s simply a description meaning that they are more focused to the dark times of year. Some of these deities represent death, but it’s important to remember that in representing death, they also represent life.
The sister of Leto, Hekate was known in Greek antiquity as a goddess that was primarily worshipped in Athenian households. As a protectress of the home, she was known to bless Athenians in their daily lives. While not one of the main goddesses worshipped in Greece, she was sometimes found being honored in the temples of other gods in other areas of the country. A goddess of the crossroads, she could help with endings and new beginnings as well as magic and witchcraft. She could be vengeful, but also loving and so it was imperative to treat her well and make regular offerings.
One of the most mysterious goddesses from Celtic tradition, the Morrigan is often referred to as a queen of sorts. With her ravens that foretell deaths, she’s a goddess of death and fate and was prominent in the Celtic story of Cuchulainn, a Celtic hero of sorts who refused to believe the Morrigan’s warnings of his impending death on the battlefield, instead believing that he would be victorious.
Ruler of the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn is a darker version of the Welsh God, Gwyn ap Nudd, ruler of the fair-folk and part of King Arthur’s war band. Arawn is known in the story of Pwyll, King of Dyfed in Wales, when Pwyll mistakenly stumbles into a wounded stag and goes to take it with him, realising it was Arawn’s hunt. Arawn then makes an agreement with Pwyll for a period of time to take each other’s places, an agreement that would create a deep bond between the two as when Pwyll was in Annwn in Arawn’s form, he never once touched Arawn’s wife.
Foods For Samhain
For good reason, foods associated with Samhain include mainly those that can be found at the final harvest or even some of those foods that are harvested at Mabon. Corn, pomegranates, pumpkins, gourd vegetables, beets, nuts and animal products from the likes of chickens, boars or pigs can be considered Samhain foods. Baking using fruits and nuts is a great way to honour the season, including making pumpkin or apple pies. Consider using any of these foods in your own festivities for Samhain, such as cooking a dumb supper for family and friends.
Correspondences can be used to help bring you more in line with the energies of the season, and as a result, here are correspondences specifically attributed to Samhain:
- Colors: Brown, black, yellow, gold and orange.
- Deities: The aforementioned deities of Arawn, Morrigan and Hekate are great deities to work with but you can also work with Anubis, Thoth, Hades, Persephone, Demeter, Coyote, Cerridwen, Cailleach and any of the Dark aspects of both the God and Goddess.
- Herbs: Nightshade, yarrow, rue, devilsbane, mandrake, oak, mint, sage, sunflower and mugwort.
- Animals: Dogs, wolves, cats (especially black) and owls are all associated with Samhain.
- Crystals: Carnelian, onyx, turquoise, hematite, jet, bloodstone and beryl.
- Incense: Opium, wormwood, mugwort, dragons blood, amber, frankincense.
Honouring the dead and ancestors and turning within. You can create scrying mirrors to help divine messages from the ether, as well as make a meal with seasonal vegetables for family and friends. Create an ancestor altar, carve gourd lanterns and call on the ancestors for help and guidance in the coming months.
Samhain is a wonderful time of year that can help you get in touch with yourself as well as honor those who came before you. It can be a fun time as well, with many different great festivities happening such as trick or treating, carving pumpkins and eating great comfort food that helps warm you against the cold of the autumn months. If you liked this blog about Samhain, stay tuned for our next one – all about Yule!