Halloween, , a time when black cats, orange pumpkins, costumed kiddies and of course winter begins to occupy our thoughts. This is the final harvest ritual of the Pagan year, when the ripening apples and nuts are gathered and prepared for meals and future use. The last of the canning and preserving of summer’s proceeds draws to a close as the weather grows colder and the nights grow still longer. In farming communities this also marks the time to thin the herds so there will be enough food for the livestock through the winter months.
Samhain, or Halloween, marks one of the four Great Sabbats celebrated by Witches and Conjurers and Rootwokers, and is the dark counterpart to the more passionate Sabbat of Beltane. Samhain, contrary to what some believe, is not a Celtic god of the dead. Instead, it is a Celtic word meaning “summer’s end.” The Celts, like many other cultures, saw the dark of the year as the beginning. Thus their days began at sunset and the winter half of the year, starting on November 1st, was the beginning of their new year, just as it is for many Wiccans or Pagans.
The Celts were a pastoral people as opposed to an agricultural people. The end of summer was significant to them because it meant the time of year when the structure of their lives changed radically. The cattle were brought down from the summer pastures in the hills and the people were gathered into the houses for the long winter nights of storytelling and handicrafts. According to the Druidic calendar, this was the time when the veil between man and the supernatural were thinnest. Fires were lit to honor the descending sun god. On the eve of Samhain, th
e gates of the Abyss were unlocked and spirits from below flew free. Human souls that had been trapped in the bodies of animals were released by the Lord of the Dead and sent to their new incarnations.
With the coming of Christianity, the early Church in England tried to Christianize the old Celtic festival by making the 1st of November “All Saints Day,” and making October 31 “All Hallow’s Eve” or more commonly “Hallowe’en.” The reason many Christians associate Hallowe’en with Christianity is that in the eighth century Pope Gregory III established November 1st as the Roman Catholic feast day honoring the dead. Then, later in the ninth century, Pope Gregory IV decreed that the day was to be universally observed by the Roman Catholic Church which, at that time, held the greatest influence among the Christian populous because of its political strength. But the attempt to discourage the Pagan celebrations were so unsuccessful that the holiday was eventually banned from the Church of England’s calendar until its reemergence in 1928.
Halloween represents the threshold between the world of the living and the realm of the spirits, and is a time when the veil between the worlds is very thin. The acknowledgment of the nature spirits that walk the earth on this eve can still be seen in the observance of children, and some young-at-heart adults, wearing masks and costumes and “trick or treating,” a time honored ritual many of us have done, and probably more than once. The spirits are represented by the children as they walk the earth in their many guises celebrating, albeit unknowingly, the ancient tradition of this Sabbat.
In honor of Halloween, many Witches, Conjurers and Rootworkers offer a plate of the harvest fruits to the Spirits in attendance, along with a goblet of wine. Candles are burned in remembrance of loved ones who have passed on. Apples and pomegranates are eaten to represent the opposites of life and death. (Try cutting an apple cross-wise to see the pentagram of seeds within!) Many feel that this is the best date of the year to perform scrying, either with crystals, fire, or a bowl of water, especially in the moonlight. For some, Halloween is the time when the Wicker Man, created and charged at Beltane, is ritually burned in the Sabbat fire, sending him to Tir na N˜g for rest and renewal. As the gates open for him, the other spirits then cross over to visit; other traditions burn the Wicker Man at Lughnasadh. Fire jumping is usually done at this Sabbat, and is seen as a purifying act, although it can be dangerous if not done properly. Our focus at this time of the year is turned inward, and activities begin to move indoors, becoming centered around hearth, home, and family.
Ideas for Samhain are:
- Finish any incomplete projects and pay off lingering bills (if possible) to close out the old year and begin the new year afresh.
- Leave food out for the birds and other wild animals.
- If you don’t have a wicker man left from Beltane, make one from dried grass or grains of some kind. Burn it in your Sabbat fire. If you don’t have a fireplace or firepit, burn him in your cauldron, barbeque grill or hibachi.
- Put pictures of ancestors who have passed on your altar for your Sabbat rite. -Light a special candle for them, to show them the way to return and celebrate with you.
- Visit the graves of your ancestors or, if this isn’t possible, the nearest cemetery.
- Be still here, and listen for the voices of those who have passed. Leave offerings of food and drink for them, and for the animals.
Symbols used to represent Samhain are: jack-o’-lantern, balefire, besom, masks, cauldron, Waning Moon.
Foods in tune with Samhain are: apples, pumpkin pie, beets, turnips, hazelnuts, corn, gingerbread, pomegrantates, cider, herbal teas, pork dishes.
Plants & herbs associated with Samhain are: mugwort, allspice, sage, gourds, catnip, apple trees.
Incense and oil: any of the following scents, either blended together or alone: frankincense, basil, yarrow, lilac, ylang-ylang, clove, camphor.
Colors associated with Samhain are: black, orange, red, brown, golden yellow.
Stones associated with Samhain are: obsidian, onyx, carnelian
Animals and mythical beasts associated with Samhain are: bats, cats, dogs,
Appropriate Samhain Goddesses are all Crone Goddesses, Underworld Goddesses. Some Samhain Goddesses are: Hecate (Greek), Carlin (Scottish), Edda (Norse), Pamona (Roman), Crobh Dearg (Irish), Lilith (Hebrew), Psyche (Greek), the Morrigu/Morrigan (Celtic).
Appropriate Samhain Gods are all Death Gods, Aged Gods, Underworld Gods. Some Samhain Gods are: Arawn (Welsh), Dis (Roman), Kronos/Cronus (Greco-Phoenician), Xocatl (Aztec), Woden (Teutonic), Pluto (Greco-Roman), Hades (Greek), Nefertum (Egyptian).
Altar decorations can consist of: small jack-’o-laterns, foods from the harvest, photographs of your loved ones who have departed this world, statue or figurine of the Goddess in her Crone aspect.
Traditional activities during Samhain consist of: divination, past-life recall, spirit contact, drying of winter herbs.
Taboos on Samhain are: travel after dark, eating grapes or berries
Spellwork can be for: protection, neutralizing harm, banishing, transformation, completion
As winter approaches and the Crone makes her appearance, we now look forward to Yule and the rebirth of the Sun. And, so the Wheel turns…