Samhain - the origin
This is the beginning of the Celtic and Wiccan New Year. Samhain
is Irish-Gaelic for 'the Summer's end', and is pronounced 'sow-in'.
Samhain represented the death of the summer sun god, Lugh.
This festival celebrates Nature's cycle of death and renewal,
a time when the Celts acknowledged the beginning and ending
of all things in life and nature. Samhain marked the end of
harvest and the beginning of the New Celtic Year. The
first month of the Celtic year was Samonios - ‘Seed Fall’.
Two Roman festivals became incorporated with
Samhain - 'Feralia', when the Romans commemorated the passing
of the dead, and
'Pomona', when the Roman goddess of fruit
and trees was honoured.
The Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples is thought to
derive from the ancient links with the Roman fruit goddess,
Pomona, and a Druidical rite associated with water.
Samhain heralds the beginning of Winter
when the world starts to darken and the days are getting shorter
- the 'dark half' of the year and the demise of the power of
triple Goddess - worshipped by the Ancient Britons - is now
in her third aspect of the Crone: the keeper of wisdom and mysteries.
the Scottish Highlands the Crone was personified as the 'Cailleach
Bheur' - the blue-faced hag - the Queen of the Winter.
was reborn on every All Hallows Eve, returning to bring the
Winter and protect animals through the coldest months. She turned
to stone on Beltane Eve.
Summer Time ends today with the clocks going back an hour -
long, dark, velvety evenings arrive.
This festival welcomed the final harvest and the safe storage
of crops for the coming Winter. Anything left on the trees,
bushes or in the fields after this date was considered ruined
by the 'puka', and unedible. The puka or pooka is a mischievous
spirit or fairy from Celtic lore.
is one of the four Celtic fire festivals marking the quarter
points in the year - feasts were held and bonfires were lit
throughout the countryside.
bonfires were to warm friendly spirits and ward off evil spirits,
and also represented the sun which they wished would return,
bringing heat and growth.
It was custom to give an ember from the fires to attending families,
who would then take it home to start a new cooking fire. These
fires were believed to keep the homes happy and free from any
lost evil spirits.
The name 'bonfire' is believed to be derived from the custom
of burning the bones of the cattle which were slaughtered at
this time - a 'bone fire'.
of the Dead
It is believed that the borders between the world of the living
and the dead is thinner on this night - also known as 'Ancestor
night' - so souls of the dead can enter the land of the living.
Spirits roam free to revisit their earthly homes. The Celts
looked to their ancestors to bring them guidance for the coming
year and hoped to commune with the spirits at Samhain.
Samhain is considered a celebration of life over death, and
a time to remember those who have left the world of the living.
Candles would be lit at the graves of loved ones. In Mexico
family members light many candles around the graves of their
loved ones and lay out special feast foods for the spirits,
and remain there all night.
Halloween originates from the ancient Celts' celebrations
and is based on their 'Feast of Samhain'. The Catholic church
attempted to replace the Pagan festival with All Saints' or
All Hallows' day, followed by All Souls' Day, on November 2nd.
The eve became known as: All Saints' Eve, All
Hallows' Eve, or Hallowe'en. All Saints'
Day is said to be the day when souls walked the Earth. In early
Christian tradition souls were released from purgatory on All
Hallow's Eve for 48 hours.
order to protect themselves from any roaming evil spirits the
Celts would appease them by offering them treats. The custom
of wearing costumes on Halloween is thought to derive from the
Celts disguising themselves at Samhain, so the spirits would
think that they belonged to their own company. They could then
communicate with the spirit world, known as 'souling'.
Traditions and Beliefs
is considered a time to eliminate weaknesses - our Celtic ancestors
slaughtered weak animals that were not likely to survive the
winter and their meat was salted and stored for the dark months,
this has evolved into the custom of writing your own weaknesses
onto a piece of paper then burning them.
It was customary at Samhain to leave an empty chair and a plate
of food for any dead guests, so that they would not be offended.
At the stroke of midnight - believed to be the hour the dead
visited - all remained silent in respect.
custom of trick-or-treating may have originated from an old
Irish custom of going door-to-door to collect bread, cheese,
nuts and apples in preparation for the feasting at Samhain.
When a candle flame flickers on Halloween night it is being
touched by the spirits of dead ancestors.
Those born on All Hallows Eve are believed to have the gift
of second sight.
If you catch a falling leaf on Samhain before it touches the
ground it will bring you good luck and health for the coming
Rituals and Games
with a personal mark were thrown into the fire. These had to
be retrieved from the ashes to ensure luck for the coming year,
if your stone was missing or damaged it was considered a sign
of forthcoming bad luck.
Also known as 'Nutcrack Night', because it was a popular custom
at Samhain to throw nuts on the fire - if a nut burned brightly
it meant that the thrower would be alive in twelve months time,
and if it flared up brightly it meant marriage within twelve
see if a relationship will last, place two hazelnuts side by
side and burn them over a fire. If they stay together as they
burn then the couple will last, but if the nuts burst apart
the relationship will break up.
Baked cakes were offered up for the souls of the dead. All the
family would eat the festival Soul cakes - known as 'barnbrack'
cakes in Ireland - which often contained lucky or unlucky tokens
: a coin for fortune, a button for remaining unwed, a ring for
marriage, a wishbone for your heart's desire, a pea for poverty.
The Ivy Leaf predition: everyone in the house places a perfect
ivy leaf into a cup of water and then leave them undisturbed
overnight. In the morning if a leaf is still perfect and has
not developed any spotting, this predicts that the person who
placed the leaf in the cup will enjoy 12 months health until
the following Halloween. If not...
In Scotland the fishermen would wade into the sea at Samhain
and pour out a bowl of ale into the waves for the 'Shoney' -
a sea serpent-like being, to ensure a good catch for the coming
At Balmoral on Halloween night, during Queen Victoria's time
a bonfire was lit and an effigy of an old woman called the Shandy
Dann was indicted with witchcraft, then thrown onto the fire.
At the Forest of Pendle in North Lancashire, at Samhain a ceremony
called the 'Lating the Witches' took place. Locals believed
witches gathered here on this auspicious night, so lit candles
were carried over the hills between 11 p.m and midnight - lighting
the witches or 'lating' them. If a candle stayed lit then the
witches' power was broken, but if it went out - blown out by
a witch - bad luck may follow.
If any animals were suffering ill health on All Hallows Eve,
then the farmer would spit on them to try to ward off any evil
spirits that may take them.
the morning of November 1st a silver coin was thrown through
the front door of the house. The coin had to remain where it
had fallen in order to bring financial luck.
tradition of face-carved pumpkin lanterns is thought to be derived
from the Celts' placing of ancestors' skulls outside their doors
at this time. Others see it as originating from using lanterns
to ward off any evil spirits, which may be wandering through
the thin veil into the living world on this All Hallows Eve.
lit pumpkins also symbolise that in the darkness of winter the
light continues within the seeds, tubers and bulbs dormant under
the earth - they are still full of life and glowing like the
candles within the pumpkins.
The name Jack O'Lantern derives from an old Irish tale of a
villain who after he died could not enter heaven or hell - a
damned soul. So he was condemned to wander the land with only
a candle to see his way (some say it was a hot ember from the
devil), which he placed inside a gouged out vegetable to act
as a lantern. Others believe Jack-O-Lantern was a mischievous
spirit who carried a light at night and lures night travellers
into bogs or marshes, which were the dwelling places of fairies.
The Jack O' Lantern used to be made from a turnip, but Irish
emigrants to America adopted the plentiful pumpkin since it
is much easier to carve. In the Isle of Man they still carve
turnips to make lanterns and call the night 'Hop To Naa', not
Hallowe’en, or Trick or Treating.
Carving make a Jack O'Lantern for
was a time for divination and magic, the Druids would foretell
the future on this powerful night.
Many of the customs were performed by young people divining
for their future husbands and wives - apples often figured;
their connection with fertility is widely recognised :
An old belief is that by peeling an apple on Hallowe'en and
keeping the peel in one piece, then throwing it over your shoulder
you will discover the initials of a future lover.
go alone to a mirror and eat an apple before it, whilst combing
your hair. Your future love will be seen in the glass over your
or bobbing for apples was a marriage divination. The first person
to bite an apple would be the first to marry in the coming year.
'Dookin’ for apples' is thought to have originated from
a Druidical rite associated with water.
Young girls would stick apple pips to the outside of her cheek,
with each one standing for her sweethearts. The last pip that
stayed stuck was her true love.
Blindfolded girls would go into the fields and pull up the first
cabbage they could find. If their cabbage had lots of earth
attached to its roots then their future sweetheart would have
plenty of money. If they later ate the cabbage it would also
reveal their future love's character - bitter or sweet!
In Ireland a popular Halloween game was when a blindfolded person
would sit at a table on which were placed several saucers. They
choose one by touch, after they have been shuffled about the
table. The contents of the saucer foretell the person's fate
for the following year :
water means the person will travel, a coin or salt indicates
future wealth, earth/clay means someone known to the player
will die next year,
a bean predicts poverty and a
ring meant marriage.
or Samhuin stands between the worlds of the living and dead
and outside of ordinary time. It's the day that past memories
meet the hopes of the future. The veil between us and the spirit
world is at its thinnest tonight and we remember our ancestors,
recent and from the distant past. It is death that gives life
its purpose and decay that fertilises new growth.
It is a time to plant the seeds of new projects, allowing them
to germinate over the winter months. It is also considered the
time to end old projects and to generally take stock of one's
Samhain allows you to come to terms with your past year and
leave all mistakes and regrets behind you, in order to move
on. Look forward to what the future holds.
Use the magic of this time to say good-bye to a bad habit or
addiction, an old relationship, or anything else negative in
your life - Samhain is the night to leave it all behind.
Celebrating the Seasons of Life:
Samhain to Ostara: Lore, Rituals, Activities and Symbols
- Ashleen O'Gaea £8.57
Samhain is well covered in this book about the first half
of the seasonal wheel of the year. The author reveals
how the different cycles of nature are interwoven and
how they can be celebrated and enjoyed. Seasonal rites
are discussed with lots of ideas and recipes for these
There is another book by this author covering Beltane
Customs, Recipes and Spells
Written by a Wiccan priestess, this book contains information
about the traditions of All Hallows Eve, and has lots
of recipes and spells. The author's humorous slant brings
fun to the celebrations of this special night.