Samhain is just around the corner. We can feel the energy quickening as we approach the Witches’ New Year.
Samhain is steeped in so much mystery, history and lore it would be enough to fill a library. Many Pagan authors have, indeed, written books solely on the subject of Samhain/Halloween. In my next post, I will go into detail regarding the history of this fascinating and important Sabbat.
Samhain, as we know it, began in Pagan Ireland and the word “Samhain” (Pronounced sow-in) means “summer’s end”.
Pagans used to believe that the a new day began at sunset and finished at the following sunset. This is why you will see different dates for the Sabbats. Sometimes Samhain is listed on some calendars as October 31st and sometimes you will see it on November 1st. While Samhain eve is when we typically celebrate there is nothing stopping you to also celebrate November 1st or to continue your celebrations from the previous evening.
The themes of Samhain are clear: death and transformation. It is a shedding of the old and embracing the new. It is a time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is the thinnest. This allows us to more easily connect with our ancestors and all of our loved ones who have gone before. Divination is a common tradition on Samhain. It is a time of great psychic energy. The Wheel turns and we are noticing the darkening of days reminding us that the time to look inward is upon us. Death is but a part of life and as the Wheel turns we will eventually move into rebirth.
Symbols of the Samhain:
Masks – used as a means to hide one’s true identity to confuse the many spirits that are said to roam the earth on Samhain. Masks to a point also transform us. We can embrace a new identity and explore it by donning masks and looking inward.
Skeletons – bones are associated with the element of Earth and at one point were burned to encourage future growth. As the bones burned they would put nourishment back into the earth. The skeleton itself reminds us that we are all part of the earth. While the custom to burn bones is no longer a part of most modern Pagan traditions, we can use them symbolically to help us reconnect with Earth and our ancestors.
Spiderwebs – spiderwebs remind us that we are all connected. Each and every one of us is connected to everyone else on this earth and to those who have gone before.
Jack-o-lanterns – there is much folklore surrounding jack-o-lanterns. In Pagan Ireland they were carved out of hollowed turnips. Sometimes they were carried as lanterns to guide people home in the dark, but they were also used to scare away evil spirits. Pumpkins have become the modern tradition. The Jack-o-lantern represents the God in his vegetative aspect.
Black cats – black cats (and just cats themselves) have a long history with witches. Believed to be familiars, cats are steeped in lore. Cats are said to possess great psychic powers and magick. They aid us in divination and spellwork. It is easy to see why the black cat became such a popular symbol, though Non-Pagan folk tend to use them as a decoration because it is believed that black cats are evil and cause bad luck. To each their own I suppose.
The Cauldron – we know the cauldron is a symbol of transformation and feminine energy, but the cauldron also symbolizes enlightenment and the combination of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The cauldron is used to brew potions, burn herbs, divination and much more. The modern Halloween decoration of a warty witch stirring a cauldron has become one we are all too familiar with, because it is “scary” I guess. (We witches know better. Embrace The Crone as we approach winter and She will guide and protect you.) I say ignore the decorations and remember our true symbols as Pagans.
Colours black and orange – black as we know is often associated with death so it makes sense that this would be a traditional colour. But remember also that black counteracts negative energy and neutralizes it. This makes it a good colour to use when the veil is thin and we need a certain amount of protection. Black is also symbolic of many Pagan deities that rule the underworld.
Orange represents the harvest. It’s ties with agriculture are well known to Pagans. It is associated with many deities related to agriculture and harvest time. We use orange at the Fall Equinox and at Samhain the world outside is still bursting with orange tones. From leaves, to pumpkins, to sacred fires this colour is all around us. When the two colours are used together at Samhain it creates the perfect type of energy to be used in rituals, divination, honouring deity and loved ones and illuminating the dark.
There are many other symbols of Samhain but these are the most basic and easiest to incorporate into your festivities.
There are many foods associated with Samhain. Apples, pumpkins (pie, cheesecake, muffins, bread/loaf and now even lattes and other drinks), hazelnuts, cranberries, breads, ale and cider. Leave these foods as offerings and incorporate them into your feasts.
Rituals and traditions at Samhain include The Dumb Supper. This is where you will leave offerings for the spirits, usually in the form of bread and wine and put out an empty chair. The spirits feed on the energy of the offering. All forms of divination are appropriate. Honouring past loved ones by placing pictures of them on the hearth or altar and lighting candles in their honour. The carving of jack-o-lanterns, baking bread, and rituals to honour the fallen God (who is reborn at Yule) are just a few of the many traditions you can partake in.
Since this is the witches’ new year, it is a good time to set personal goals that you will work on over the winter (time of introspection) and make resolutions. Honour the turning of the Wheel and the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
When I first started down the Pagan path, I found it difficult to change my mindset that a new year happens before a new calendar year. As we grow and experience, a natural shift will occur. You will be more aware of what Mother Nature is doing rather than numbers on a page. Embrace the coming season to work on yourself and build your own traditions. Keep close to family and friends as the weather gets cold and know that the Goddess is always there with Her light to guide the way and keep you warm.
Many Samhain blessings to you all!