Samhain is easily one of the more popular holidays out of the Wheel of the Year. Celebrated by those of us in the Northern Hemisphere from October 31st-November 1st, Samhain is a time meant for reflection and meditation as one year draws to an end and the new prepares to begin.
Samhain marked the new year for the Celts. The name "Samhain" is pronounced one of three ways, depending on where you hail from. The Irish (and actual) pronunciation is Sow-in, the Welsh pronounce it as Sah-vin, and the American as Sahm-Hain.
Regardless of pronunciation, Samhain is celebrated during the midpoint of Fall and Winter- most commonly from October 31st- November 1st. Most typically know this time as Halloween and celebrate it on October 31st. Many of the original Samhain traditions have survived into modern times and are still celebrated today.
Unsurprisingly, there are many connections between Christian holidays and their pagan roots.
The Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was created on May 13, 609 A.D. by Pope Boniface IV, in honor of all Christian martyrs, known and unknown. This feast was later expanded to include saints, as well as martyrs, and the celebration was moved from May, to November 1st.
By 1000 A.D., the influence of Christianity had spread into what had once been predominantly Celtic lands, and with it came the rise of conversion. November 2 became named by the church as All Soul's Day, a day of honoring the dead. As the church grew in power, it is a widely considered belief that the church was attempting to convert followers through the creation of their own sanctioned festivals that fell near, or on, the same days. It is believed that many Pagan holidays share dates with Christian festivals for this reason.
The Celts marked Samhain as the most significant of the four quarterly fire festivals. During this time, hearth fires were left to burn out while the harvest was gathered.
Once the harvest was completed, celebrants would join the Druid priests in the lighting of a community bonfire. Using a wheel that created friction and sparks, the bonfire was created. The wheel was considered a representation of the sin and was used along with prayers. Cattle were often sacrificed and the celebrants would each take a flame from the bonfire home to relight their hearth fires.
Early text shows Samhain as a mandatory celebration that lasted three days and three nights. Failure to participate was believed to result in punishment from the gods, usually in the form of illness or death. The militant aspect of Samhain in early Ireland saw anyone foolish enough to commit a crime or use their weapons during the celebration was faced with death.
The Celts believed that during this time, the barrier between worlds was especially thin, and able to be breached by the Fair Folk and other creatures. Offerings were left outside the villages and fields for the Fae, or Sidhs.
The shapeshifting Pukah was believed the receive harvest offerings from the field.
The Lady Gwyn is a headless woman dressed in white who was believed to chase night wanderers and was accompanied by a black pig.
The Dullahan, most commonly known as headless horsemen would appear, sometimes as imps, sometimes as headless men on horseback who held their heads aloft as they rode. Their flame eyed horses and ghastly appearance was a death omen to any who had the misfortune of encountering them.
A group of hunters known as the Faery Host were also known to haunt the lands and kidnap people. Similar to them are the Slaugh, who came from the West to enter houses and steal souls from those within.
Samhain throughout the Ages
As the Middle Ages progressed, Samhain became more personal and less community based. Smaller fires were lit near farms, said to protect the families from witches and the fae. Jack-o-lanterns appeared in the form of carved turnips tied to strings and embedded with coal. Later, carved pumpkins would take their place.
The "Dumb Supper" tradition began to appear at around this time. Food would be made for a dinner and the family would only consume the meal once they had invited their ancestors to join.
Children would play games to entertain the dead while the adults would share the year's news. As the night wore on, doors and windows were left open so that the ancestors could come and go as they pleased and partake of the cakes that had been left for them.
Trick or treating is believed to have been derived from Irish and Scottish practices of mumming. Traditionally, mumming was the practice of putting on costumes, going door to door, and singing songs to the dead. Cakes were typically gives as payment. Halloween pranks also find their origins here, where tricks were often blamed of faeries.
For many, Samhain is a time to look back at your life, honor your ancestors, and give thanks and love to them. It is also a time of reflecting on the year that has passed, and all things yet to come. Samhain's connection with death is connected with nature as well. The end of Harvest is upon us and plants and animals begin to rest, awaiting the return of Spring.
If you're a follower of the God and Goddess, this is the time when the Horned God dies, and the Goddess- in the form of the Crone- mourns him for the next 6 weeks. He is born again at Yule and the cycle begins again.
No matter how you choose to celebrate, Samhain is a wonderful time of reflection for you and your family. Spend a moment sharing thanks for those in your home and send love to those who have left us. Set your intentions- magical or otherwise- for the upcoming year and enjoy the time with some dancing, fire, and tasty food!
Or, just curl up and watch your favorite movie with some popcorn and have fun! (Practical Magic and Hocus Pocus fans unite!)
Anastasia & Loren
Wait To Panic Podcast
Wait To Panic is a true crime and paranormal podcast where two friends take turns telling stories that just might make your skin crawl.