October 31, 2005

'Tis the Day

Samhain (October 31st -Nov 1st)
Also known as: Halloween, ShadowFest, Martinmas, Old Hallowmas

It's time for the Last Harvest. The Earth nods a sad farewell to the God and knows that He will once again be reborn of the Goddess and the cycle will continue. This is a time of reflection, a time to honor the Ancients who have gone on before us and the time of 'Seeing" (divination). As we contemplate the Wheel of the Year, we come to recognize our own part in the eternal cycle of Life.

Samhain Celebration
Tonight, millions worldwide will adorn a witch's hat, cape, and broom or some other outlandish garb, but how do real witches celebrate Halloween? ...and where did the holiday originate?

The basis of Halloween - or Samhain - goes back to the middle ages and before. The holiday is actually rooted in a harvest festival first celebrated in the fifth century B.C. by the Celts who lived in what are now Ireland, Britain, and northern France.

Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year, for the Celts divided the year into two seasons: the light and the dark, at Beltane on May 1st and Samhain on November 1st. Samhain was the more important festival, marking the beginning of a whole new cycle, just as the Celtic day began at night. For it was understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground. Whereas Beltane welcomes in the summer with joyous celebrations at dawn, the most magically potent time of this festival is November Eve, the night of October 31st, known today of course, as Halloween.

The Celtic summer officially ended on the last day of October and the New Year, called Samhain, began on the first of November. On the night between years, the Celts believed that on Oct. 31, Samhain eve, the veil between the living and the dead was lifted, and that spirits would search for living bodies to possess. To frighten the spirits away, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes, making them frigid and unwelcoming, and dress up in ghoulish attire, noisily parading around town in an unruly and destructive manner.

Samhain literally means "summer's end." In Scotland and Ireland, Halloween is known as OĆ­che Shamhna, while in Wales it is Nos Calan Gaeaf, the eve of the winter's calend, or first. With the rise of Christianity, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints' Day, to commemorate the souls of the blessed dead who had been canonized that year, so the night before became popularly known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or Hollantide. November 2nd became All Souls Day, when prayers were to be offered to the souls of all who the departed and those who were waiting in Purgatory for entry into Heaven. Throughout the centuries, pagan and Christian beliefs intertwine in a gallimaufry of celebrations from Oct 31st through November 5th, all of which appear both to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery.

One very common misconception about Halloween (and witchcraft in general) is that it is satanic. This is not so. In fact, witches do not even believe in satan or the devil. Witches are generally peace-loving, caring people who respect the earth and the people they share it with.

While doing a little searching around when writing this, I came across this story. It is about a Baptist minister who befriended a witch and attended a Samhain ritual. If only there were more ministers (or people of all religions, for that matter) like this - it would be a much more peaceful world.

Americanization of Halloween
Although Halloween has its origins in Celtic Britain, until recently the holiday was largely celebrated here in unison with Guy Fawkes Day - the Nov. 5 anniversary of a conspiracy to blow up the English Parliament and King James in 1605.

But, fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes have been overshadowed by the American tradition of dressing children up on Oct. 31 and sending them out to knock on doors for candy.

Communing with the Dead
While the modern American version of Halloween - which has recently been exported back to Britain - is a potluck of Celtic, Roman, and Christian tradition, heavily infused with its own commercial traits, practitioners of witchcraft relate more closely to the original celebration of Samhain.

It's a time to honor the changing season, the dead, those who've passed who had a big impact on our lives.

So, dress up, have fun, but remember to take a few moments to reflect upon those who have passed on and what they have meant to us as well as the year that has passed and your goals for the coming year.

I, personally, will be lighting a candle in my favorite wooded spot, and honoring those who have passed on before me, and I will welcome the new year that is before us. It's been a very rough year, and I will focus as much as I can on a positive start to the new year in hopes that it will be much better.

Happy Halloween!


  1. I'm teaching Rick about Samhain tonight. It's my only day off this week, so we'll be spending it together, but I've already told him we're going to walk through Central Park and leave apples for the ancestors. And then I'm going to read runes. He's been curious about Wicca, and tonight I'm going to give him a small taste of it. :)

  2. Happy Halloween...and here's to hoping for a better year for ya.

  3. Cool! It was like a lesson from ghoul school.

  4. Very informative post, I think my heads about to explode with all that new stuff jammed in there! hehe !!!!

    Have a cool and fun holiday sweetstuff!!! *hugs*~!!!!!!


  5. As a kid growing up in the UK we always celebrated Guy Fawkes or Bonfire night - our families would get together to set off fireworks in the garden. But we never did halloween - of course, as you say, the american version, trick or treating, has now taken over there.
    Its interesting how different cultures celebrate this time, related to the harvest, around the world. We just got back from a Diwali celebration, the biggest day of the hindu (my wife is) calendar (this year its on Nov 1 - it coincides with the phase of the moon). It also celebrates the return of Lord Rama from exile. And of course in latin countries there's the day of the dead. More evidence of our interconnectedness.
    Happy Samhain!

  6. Bright blessings for a wonderful New Year... Happy Samhain

  7. Thanks again for the Samhain primer, Celti! I've really been in an introspective mood today, reflecting on things that have happened in my life until now, and for some reason today has been a combination of examinations of beliefs, beginning today with an NPR article dealing with Hinduism and a Krishna sect's beliefs, and ending with reading a wonderful article regarding a Pagan's celebration of Samhain with a Baptist minister as her guest. I want to write more, but I think it's more fitting for a post at RFG rather than hogging the comment space here.

    Happy Halloween, and blessed be!

  8. Boo to you! I never see you around anymore...

  9. HEP - you too!

    Jamie - Aaaaeeeiiiiieee! lol

    Julz - awesome! Hope he liked the taste of it. :)

    Mike - you too! I sure hope so!

    Pete - ha ha! Cute. Thanks.

    Se7en - Nah, you've got room. ;) thanks & you too!

    Cali - nice! I love looking at how various cultures view something they have in common. It's all intertwined whether we see the links or not. You too!

    Nanner - thanks, sweetie. same to you.

    Spc - it's a good time to reflect on those kinds of things. I'd love to read that NPR article if you have the link. Perhaps you have it posted. I'll have to check out that post. Blessed be to you too!

    Brighton - Boo! Yeah, something really dinged my spirit and made my "rounds" a bit sad. I try to avoid sad. I'll be around, just maybe a bit quieter.

  10. The NPR story is part of a series that Alex Chadwick is doing for National Geographic Radio Expeditions. They ran the second story today. The URL for the series (which is supposedly going to be updated periodically) is:


  11. Very nice post. Jeeze though, every time I read the word, I always hear "sam-hain" in my head. Uhg.