Samhain (pronounced – Sow-win) is one of the more well known pagan festivals. This festival has always been of massive importance hence although the name has changed the festival has stayed with us even after becoming a Christian country with Halloween celebrated by many on the 31st of October and All Hallows celebrated on the 1st of November.
A lot of what we celebrate today has been pierced together through archaeological finds, such as the Coligny Calendar in Gaul and passed down through generations within families and communities. Across the UK you will find many different little traditions but the main celebration remains the same. Many modern pagans celebrate Samhain as the start of the new year, some feel this was a mistranslation of the Coligny calendar when it was first uncovered and the Yule is the celebration for the new year. Whichever one you celebrate as the start of your new year Samhain is a special celebration all of its own.
Samhain is the movement from the light side of the year to the dark side of the year, the Celts only had two seasons, light and dark. Dark having a different meaning to which we often ascribe today to an evil time. The Dark side of the year sees the movement into the Crone, often known as Morrigan or The Cailleach. A story in Scotland is that the Cailleach moves through the trees and fields stripping them of vegetation and drawing their life energy back into the earth, like a seed, to be looked after over the winter months. The Crone is a wise spirit looking after the earth and drawing inwards.
During the crossover into the dark side of the year it is thought the veil is thinnest for the next three days and nights between our world and the underworld. This is a time to remember your ancestors and the ancestors of the land you live on. I celebrate by leaving a plate of food and drink out for those who may need and enjoy a big meal with my family. As I also have young children we do dress up for Halloween as well!
Whilst the veil is thinnest we do not suggest trying to contact those who have passed on unless you are experienced or with someone who is experienced. Sometimes a trickster spirit can unintentionally be let through and can cause a bit of havoc – this is the basis for many of the Samhain traditions.
Confusing trickster or unwelcome spirits during this time, masks were made and worn to confuse those spirits as our ancestors and loved ones will recognise us even with these on. So only the spirits you want to be blessed by and give your blessings to would be honoured.
From a simple face covering to more elaborate masks these are fun to make and can be done with children too.
This could also be the reason for costumes we wear today during Halloween.
The harvest should all be in now, anything left in the fields after tonight belongs to the fairies until the light side of the year. Traditionally anything can be left, some people leave food for loved ones, Gods and goddess they want to worship, sprites and fairies, even pets and familiars that have passed on.
Do not be upset or think your offering has not been touched if the food is still present the next day as those of the spirit world partake the spirit of the food differently to us who are still here and the essence is said to be transferred.
Making offerings to fruit trees of cider or apples as thanks for the food over the year, thanking the environment around you for supporting you through the past year and to continue to support you over the next year. Looking after our natural world is now more important than ever with the damage that has been done by industrialisation and pollution.
Important food for Samhain;
Apples are symbols of immortality and life, burying apples in the ground as offerings to ancestors or souls waiting to be reborn.
Used less as food in modern times, Acorns were ground into flour to make bread and special food for Samhain.
Acorns are incredibly important and the oak one of the most sacred trees of the forest. Carrying an acorn through Samhain or having one on your alter for luck and fertility in all your endeavours.
Again a seed from the sacred Hazel tree, hazel nuts are eaten to bring on divination. Grind hazelnuts into food for health over the year.
Samhain is a fire festival and as such bonfires are lit for purification, writing down and burning in your fire anything the no longer serves you will carry you forward unburdened for the next part of the year.
Carrying a candle around your property whilst setting your inventions to rid your home of negative energy looks to protect you into the new year.
As with Beltane if you feel nimble jumping over the fire or walking between two flames acts as a purification and blessing.
Turnips were traditionally carved with fierce looking faces to protect the home, as pumpkins arrived in Europe from the Americas we have used them for the same purpose (being much easier to carve!)
Carving a face and using a tealight protects the entryway and hearth. Each year I have pumpkins on my doorstep and fireplace to protect and light my home.
We would love to hear of other traditions that you may have as everyone has personal traditions for Samhain/Halloween!
Much love, hugs and little bit of sparkle,
The Crow and The Unicorn.