Thy soul shall find itself alone
‘Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.
Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness — for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.
An excerpt from Spirits of the Dead
Edgar Allan Poe, 1809 – 1849
Time of the year/Date: October 31 – November 1
What is Samhain? It’s only my favorite festival!
If you are a Witch, you feel it; we are well into what is called The Season of the Witch. Many of us feel something that can’t be described. Mysteries are present, doors open, Magick is easy to manifest, and we feel things more deeply than we might at other points in the seasonal calendar. Like the trees bursting with color, we too seem to be emanating and receiving an abundance of energy. Perhaps this energy is present to help us through the long dark winter, or maybe it is because the veils are thin. Perhaps it is a little of both. Undoubtedly, the wheel of the year has once again turned, and we are where we need to be.
Samhain (usually pronounced Saa-wn, Sa-ween, or Sa-ven) is the Gaelic festival honoring the darker half of the year when the harvests are complete or at their very end. It takes place at sunset on October 31 through sunset on November 1. It is time to honor and remember our ancestors, departed loved ones, and recognize the thinning spiritual veils. It is also a time to prepare for and acknowledge our own spiritual, needs, renewal, and introspection.
Cultures (modern and ancient) all over the world have their own similar celebrations to honor the dead. Many observances seem to take place around the same time of the year and are known by many other names. Some common names are The Witches’ New Year, Halloween, All Hallows Eve, Feast of the Dead, Day of the Dead/Dia De Los Muertos (in Mexico), etc. I am sure you can name much more on your own.
Some festivals are dark and mysterious, while others are bright and cheerful. One great example of a lively celebration is Dia De Los Muertos in Mexico. There are parades, colorful paper flowers, elaborately decorated sugar skulls, candy, and more. An excellent example of the darker side of this festival could be taken from here in the USA. It is common to find attractions featuring gory scenarios staged in corn mazes and or modified buildings.
It is easy to see why Samhain or Halloween could instill fear and reluctance in most. In our conventional society, we are taught to fear death, fear the dark aspects of humanity, and fear the unknown. Samhain teaches us to recognize then and asks us to face these fears. Conventionally to compensate for our concerns we exploit them, making them larger than life. other tend to hide from them and pretend they do not exist.
When practicing a spiritual path, the balance of light and dark is essential. To many, this is an uncomfortable road to venture. We must accept our own mortality along with the mortality of those we love. When the wheel turns to Samhain, we are reminded that all good things must end, which leaves many feeling scared and empty.
Although many would portray this holiday evil and mischievous, I have to disagree. In my experience, I have come to understand that the darkness of this festival is necessary and helps bring spiritual balance. Without death, rot, and darkness, rebirth cannot happen. After all, a flower will not germinate without adequate nutrition. Many of the things we might consider foul and disgusting are the very ingredients that provide nourishment for cherished spring flowers. I am speaking literally and figuratively, of course. As a Modern Traditional Witches, we have been passed down a long tradition of walking straight into the darkness as we allow the silence of these dark places to teach us. It is in this capacity, we realize that the darkness is the sacred mother’s womb from which we will emerge, renewed and rejuvenated come springtime. That is if we stay the course and learn the lessons at hand.
The Season of the Witch is when we prepare for this gestation and rebirth. As Samhain marks another turn of the seasonal wheel, we realize and honor death, darkness, and the unknown. This is a time of cleansing and remembering. It is a time for knowing our roots. It is also about having fun, maintaining relationships, and preparing for winter. In the spiritual sense of Witchcraft, winter is our time of gestation. Winter is the womb of the mother, where we regenerate and renew ourselves. This means we often are beaconed to let go of something that doe snot serve our progress. Maybe this thing is a bad habit, attitude, or relationship. That is for you and your guides to decide.
As we follow the laws of nature and the examples nature provides, we can see that the Earth is preparing for sleep and rebirth will come in the spring with new leaves and flowers. If we are in tune with our Mother we will see how she is easing herself into rest, which for us can be symbolic. This is a time for preparation as we look within to discover our truest potential and plan for the coming year. I follow this model. This is an opportunity to take time yourself. Shed the burdens you feel weighing your shoulders. Fill yourself with merriment and sorrow, experience all there is for this season. Meditate, reflect, and find the areas in your life and spiritual path that need work and prepare to work on them. As we ease into the darkness of winter, we realize we have time to mend ourselves, as long as we grant ourselves the space and attention we deserve.
Samhain is the counterbalance of Beltane when the trees display their brilliant colors of orange, red, brown, and gold – rather than pale green leaves and flowers. Both festivals are seen as times of liminality, a time when the veils between the living world and spirit/Fae worlds are at their thinnest. It is during this time when spirits, fairies, and other-worldly creatures can effortlessly pass through. Some traditions include covering mirrors to prevent spirits from becoming trapped in this world. This is an important concept as many people find it fun or entertaining to call upon spirits using various devices like Ouiji boards. A rule I teach and respect is this, Do NOT summon what you cannot banish. If you insist on calling spirits into this realm it is important to know what you are doing and exactly who or what you are dealing with.
The tradition of carving pumpkins into lanterns, speaks directly to the belief that spirits and fae pass through the thinning veils. This belief has brought us the Jack ‘O Lantern. Originally apples, gourds, turnips, and other bulbous root vegetables were carved. Today we use large pumpkin which proves to be easier to carve and tasty to eat. The faces carved into root vegetable and gourds were thought to distract vengeful spirits from entering your home when the lanterns were placed on your doorstep or porch or carried with you in the night. There is also a traditional belief that when you carve lanterns you are also calling home your ancestors and recently departed.
Masks are also a long-lived tradition for Halloween and Samhain. Wearing a mask on Samhain was thought to confuse spirits so the wearer could avoid possession or discovery by the Fae and spirits. These Fae creatures were not considered to be very helpful so it was essential to trick and avoid them. Now wearing masks and painting our faces is just fun!
My traditions shared
I have two sides to my Halloween/Samhain practice. Like most American families we celebrate the traditional American aspects of Halloween, we dress up in costume, carve pumpkins, visit pumpkin patches, corn mazes, decorate our home, Trick or Treat, and watch movies.
As for Samhain, I have my own traditions that help me commemorate the season. I host a Samhain tea which is much like a Dumb Supper. I bake up some eerie treats & bread. My coven members and I serve traditional foods associated with Halloween/Samhain, I make my Sugar Skull Sugar Cubes, brew some seasonal tea, and we sit out under the stars to commune with nature and to enjoy the season. When you sit and enjoy someone’s company in silence, you obtain a new way of perceiving and knowing them. It’s quite remarkable.
Divination is also part of our tradition. I use Medicine Cards and do full spreads at this time. I will also offer tea leaf readings for those who want them. After our tea, we sit by our “balefire” and read cards and tea leaves. As the bats fly overhead, we listen to the fire crackling and the leaves in the breeze. When we are done with the tea and cards, we like to do Fire Scrying or a fire meditation. This is often when the more intense messages surface.
in the past, I hosted a large Mystery Meal. It was a game as well as a feast where ordering your food was a game. It was a fun event everyone enjoyed.
Since Halloween and Samhain are so vast in their symbolism, celebrations, and observances, it is difficult to cover everything in one post. Below is a highlight of common rituals and traditions I enjoy each year.
Magickal & Spiritual Aspects of Samhain:
- Personal Sacrifice
- Past-Life Recall
- Spiritual contact/Séances
All death and underworld Gods: Cailleach, Hecate, Lilith, Hel…
All Crone Goddesses
Festivals, Observances, and Ritual:
- Sacred Feasts
- Costume parties
- Trick or treats
- Canning, preserving, drying herbs, and foods from the last harvests
- Bon or Balefires
- Divination & Scrying
- Ancestor work
- Baked items like bread, desserts, cookies, etc.
- Preserved/Canned/Dried Foods
- Wine and Cider
Plants, Spices & Herbs
- Pumpkins & Gourds
- Corn stalks
- Dried fruit, herbs, and plants
- Colorful leaves
- Handmade brooms
- The Cauldron
- Wine Red/Burgundy
© The Magick Kitchen, 2014