Samhain, commonly known as Halloween, is an exciting time of the year for many people. Costumes, candy, and carving Jack-o-lanterns are American traditions enjoyed by many. But have you ever thought about the origins of where Halloween came from, or how it is celebrated in modern times?
Samhain/Halloween is not to be confused with All Saints Day, All Souls Day, or Dia de los Muertos. Samhain, the origin of Halloween, is attributed to the Celtic cultures. It is currently celebrated on October 31 on the Gregorian calendar. It is believed that the Celts celebrated the end of the farming and harvest season, getting ready for winter around this time of year. Many people believe that the Celts were the first to annually celebrate Samhain. There are have been many offshoots and variations in traditions regarding Samhain in Europe.
For those that follow certain Wiccan and occult traditions, this date carries a lot of significance. The first significance is that this is the last of the three Harvest Festivals. This Harvest Festival is known as the “Meat Harvest”, as it is said that this is the time of the year when the ancients would slaughter and cure animals for the long winter months. This is why traditionally in some covens and temples meat dishes are served to honor the harvest.
The second importance is the honoring of ancestors. Though some sects do ancestor worship, this is more about honoring our ancestors and how they have shaped our current situations. This is also a time to honor those that have died in the last year and help them crossover. This holiday honors the grieving process, and teaches us to let go and show gratitude for those loved ones that have passed on. It also connects us to our lineage, as we realize all the decisions our ancestors made previously have greatly shaped who we are today.
This also known as the “Witch’s New Year”. This is the time the Wheel returns to the beginning of the yearly cycle. The God has died and has journeyed safely to the Underworld. This is considered a time of rest for both the God and Goddess (Lord and Lady). The Goddess is heavy with child, that will be born on the Winter Solstice, and She is preparing for birth. Alternately, the God is resting and preparing for His rebirth as the “Sun King” on Winter Solstice. The God is completing the last task in the cycle of rebirth.
Lastly, it is one of the times when the “Veil” is thinnest; Beltane (May 1) being the other. The actual date for the Veil being the thinnest varies. However, Samhain is generally thought of the date it is the weakest. The Veil actually starts thinning between the end of September and beginning of October, and continues until it reaches its weakest point (usually around the week of Samhain). However, like this year, it does vary. The Veil didn’t start thinning until four days before Samhain this year. That means the Veil will be thinnest around mid to end of November, probably around the Night of Hekate (November 16) or later.
Even with the late weakening of the Veil, the energy put behind Samhain will still allow for successful communications with spirits and other entities.
There are many traditions that stem from not just Samhain, but other European traditions for the dead. We are familiar with Jack-o-lanterns and wearing costumes, but where did these traditions come from? Understanding them and honoring these traditions are another way to connect with our ancestors.
Here is a brief rundown. I’ll include links at the the end of the article for more in depth information.
Jack-o-lanterns: The original Jack-o-lanterns were carved from turnips, not pumpkins. They were thought to keep away evil spirits, or even represent certain spirits. This tradition originates from Ireland. To find out more go here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack-o%27-lantern
Trick-or-Treat and Costumes: Trick-or-Treating is a newer American tradition thought to originate from the Irish immigrants. They would go house to house asking for candy or money, similar to modern traditions. There were also pranks played on this night. Originally Halloween was celebrated in more of a party and community environment, and eventually spread to include neighborhoods. To learn more about Trick-or-Treating and costumes from the Celts, Middle Ages, and modern times, go here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-history-of-trick-or-treating-is-weirder-than-you-thought-79408373/
Divination and Spirit Communication: Divination with the dead and entities is an ancient Samhain tradition. The ancients believed that they could foretell the future through spirit divination. This was a way to plan for the future and their survival.
During the Victorian Age, it was popular around this time of the year for young women to divine and use spells to help them find a suitable marriage match. You can find out more at the sites listed at the end of the article.
In modern celebrations and witchcraft, divination is traditionally used to contact spirits and entities. A popular form of spirit divination is using Spirit boards, or Ouija boards, to receive messages from the Otherside. Tarot, pendulum, channeling, and summoning spirits is another form of divination that modern celebrants use. Divination is used for entertainment and for serious fortune telling.
Bonfires: Fire festivals were popular with the ancients, as it represented life. Fire was used for food, warmth, and protection. The sacred bonfires of Samhain are speculated to have been created for sacrificing animals and burning crops as offerings. It is from these fires that the Celts would relight their hearth fires, which they extinguished earlier in the evening. Go here for more information: Https://www.theceltictimes.com/index.php/ancient-origins-of-halloween/samhain-bonfire
Dumb Supper: This is a tradition that I feel is worth mentioning. I haven’t been able to find the origins for this (please contact me if you have any reliable sources of information). I know there are supposedly several cultures that celebrate this when honoring ancestors. I have done this on Samhain, like other witches. The dinner is a way to the harness the energy of the thinning of the Veil, and to connect with ancestors and the dead.
Dumb is an ancient word meaning “silent”. During a dumb supper you call in your ancestors and then eat in silence with them. It is a ceremony meant to not only respect the dead, but to also contemplate on the gifts your lineage has given you. It is traditional to write names of those who have passed in the last year in a book. Sometimes, ancestors are just invited to the dinner and then helped to crossover in peace, if they haven’t yet.
You can serve traditional Samhain or Fall foods at the supper. However, I would also suggest you make the deceased’s favorite food, especially if they passed in the last year. I also suggest serving the dead’s favorite drinks, too.
You may set up an altar with pictures, written memories, gratitude written to those that passed, the ancestors’ favorite foods and/or items, and candles. Be creative while keeping in mind the symbolism of Samhain. You may also place one plate of food and drink for offerings on the altar. However, it is more traditional to leave a seat empty at the head of the table. This is a place of honor for the dead to “sit” and commune. You may keep the plate empty, or serve your ancestors as you would everyone else (I prefer the latter). You may alternatively allow each guest an extra plate and cup to serve their ancestors. You may make the ritual as simple or complicated as you wish.
Offerings to the Dead: There are many traditions that also give offerings to the dead. These offerings can include paper money, the deceased favorite items including flowers, food, etc. Around this time of the year on All Souls Day, and Dia de los Muertos, soul cakes are offered. Some covens have borrowed the idea of soul cakes to offer their ancestors on Samhain. There is more information about these practices below.
For more information on Samhain/Halloween traditions, read these links:
However you celebrate Samhain/Halloween, have a safe and wonderful holiday!
October 29, 2017; 1:39 P.M.