What Witches Do at Samhain
What do real witches do for Halloween? Well, we don't ride out on broomsticks for starters. Although I wish we did... that would be kinda cool.
Far from scaring the living daylights out of the locals, or casting ghoulish spells on our unruly neighbours, we actually prefer a pretty quiet time at Halloween.
For traditional witches, like me, Halloween is celebrated as a festival called Samhain (pronounced "sow-en"). Although we are not adverse to a bit of Halloween revelry, dressing up as stereotypical witches for a laugh, and giving out homemade goodies to the trick or treaters, this time of year is actually our New Year. We are looking inward, reflecting on the year gone by, and focusing on our goals for the new.
That is not to say that there is no magic afoot in our Halloween houses! Come, read on, and enter a real witch's home to discover exactly what it is that a real witch gets up to on Halloween...
WHAT IS SAMHAIN?
Samhain is a Celtic fire festival, which has become one of the main Sabbats celebrated by witches and other pagans. Because it marked the end of summer and beginning of winter (the Celts only marked two seasons), it was celebrated as the Celtic New Year, and many witches today still recognise this time of year as such.
It is traditional to look inward at this time, reflecting on what has happened in life over the past year, before looking forward to the coming one, and focusing on goals to achieve.
It is also a time to remember loved ones who have passed over, and connect with the family ancestors, for Samhain is the time between summer and winter when the veil between worlds is at its thinnest (the other time being Beltane, when winter turns to summer).
Thirdly, it is a time of thankfulness, for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon the family and home in the past year, and of course, for the recent harvest.
With the veil between worlds so thin, now is the time to see or communicate with spirits - ghosts, souls of the dead and enchanted beings such as the Fey. Divination is a key activity of witches at this time, as is the dressing of an altar to honour the dead and the ancestors.
Learn more about Celebrating Samhain
More on the History and Traditions of Samhain
To learn more about Samhain, why not take a look at these articles I have written on the subject. They cover Samhain in depth, ranging from traditional foods and activities, to ways of honouring the dead and which gods and goddesses are associated with the festival.
- What is Samhain?
For pagans, Halloween is not just spooky fun. They celebrate Samhain, sacred time of honoring ancestor and spirit, marking a New Year as it passes into death and rebirth.
- Who are the Spirits of Samhain?
Samhain is traditionally a time for honoring ancestors and looking to the coming year. Learn how to connect with the past and which gods and goddesses to work with.
Generally, traditional witchcraft encompasses such paths as that of the hedgewitch and kitchen witch, so consequently you will find us most at home in the kitchen, the heart of the home, and when celebrating a festival, a special meal is most likely at the centre of celebration.
A Samhain feast generally includes foods that are sacred to the festival and its deities, along with seasonal autumn harvest foods. There is also what is known as an Ancestor Feast, which incorporates foods from a country or culture in the family history - a grandmother's family recipe, perhaps, or food from the country where the ancestors came from.
Food and drink sacred to Samhain include:
- Root vegetables such as beetroot, turnips and squash
REMEMBERING OUR ANCESTORS AT SAMHAIN
Because the veil between worlds is thin at Samhain, it is said that spirits and ghosts walk among the living on Samhain night. One origin of the Jack o'lantern, or candlelit carved pumpkin, stems from folk putting them out to light the way for benevolent spirits and help their lost loved ones return home for the night.
It is a nice idea to sit quietly as a family and remember those you have lost. Say a prayer or blessing for relatives who have passed over, and spend some time honouring and connecting with them. You could do this by focusing on something that was theirs, looking through family albums or diaries, or undertaking an activity that they enjoyed or maybe even taught you.
It is also a wonderful thing to ground your family and connect with your roots by going further back and honouring your ancestors. Connecting with your family history is something that is very important to many pagans, druids in particular. To know where you have come from helps you to understand who you are, and paves the way for an incredible adventure as you research your family tree.
If you have already started or even completed your family tree, then this can be a time to get out the albums and research and share the past with your partner and children. Connecting children to the past through family connection gives them a wonderful sense and experience of history, bringing it alive for them.
If you have not begun this journey yet, then you could begin your quest at Samhain, dedicating yourself to this task.
Either way, you can also honour your ancestors through a feast, ritual or blessing.
HONOURING THE SAMHAIN GODDESS
The deities associated with Samhain are mainly those connected with death, the Underworld, darkness and rebirth. However, this does not mean that these gods and goddesses are evil or to be feared.
In paganism, death is part of the natural cycle of life and leads to the birth of something new.
Death symbolises change, new beginnings and the ending of patterns, relationships and other things in your life that no longer serve you.
The goddess is in her crone aspect during winter. At Samhain, she is the serpent goddess, queen of the underworld, and consequently representing the shedding of the old to allow in the new.
Goddesses associated with Samhain include:
~ Samhain, an aspect of the Scottish winter hag, the Cailleach
~ Baba Yaga
~ Crobh Dearg
Honour the goddess in general or work with one of the specific Samhain goddesses. Dedicate an altar, hold a ritual or mediate, asking for her blessing and any help you may require in the coming year. Work with the Samhain goddess for life changes, achieving goals or letting go of past patterns that no longer serve you.
A friend of mine uses goddess oracle cards to discover which goddess wishes to work with her in the coming year, a tradition that I have also adopted.
THE SAMHAIN ALTAR
Witches' altars change throughout the year, moving with the seasons to reflect what is happening in the natural world.
At Samhain, altars are decorated in autumnal colours. Decorate with such items as:
- Pumpkins and gourds
- Harvest foods
- Photographs of deceased loved ones
- Vintage ephemera that connects you to the ancestors
- Autumn leaves and windfall
- Pine cones
- Candles in black, orange, white, silver or gold
- Theme in classic Halloween black and orange, or reflect the aura of divination and otherworldliness with purple, blue and white
Inspiration for Samhain Decor
Halloween or Samhain?
OUT WITH THE OLD YEAR, IN WITH THE NEW AT SAMHAIN
We witches like to take stock at Samhain and give thanks for what we have. We also like to plan for the coming months.
Spend some time thinking about the year gone by. What things are you thankful for? What did you achieve? Did you meet the goals from last year? Were you happy?
Then think about any negatives, from family issues to unachieved goals, unwanted emotions to things you want to change in yourself.
Ask yourself what lessons you have learned, and be thankful.
Next, focus on what you wish for the coming year, from specific goals and aspirations, to more general ideas and wishes. Write them down and place the list in a special Samhain box (decorate with Samhain colours and ephemera), keeping it somewhere sacred and safe, ready to reflect on next year.
In addition to using the goddess cards as described above, I also draw other oracle cards too, to discover which archangel I need to work with, as well as key words that sum up what I need to focus on in the coming year.
Samhain is a night of spirits and otherworldliness, and marks the turning point between one year and the next, so it makes sense to partake in divination at this time.
This can take the form of tarot or oracle card reading, tealeaf reading, pendulum dowsing, or numerous other methods of divination, according to your preference.
I like to do an oracle card reading as outlined above, and use a crystal pendulum to divine answers to any questions I may have about the previous or coming year.
Divination customs traditional to Samhain include various forms of apple divination, water divination and food divination. You can find ideas here:
- Samhain Divination
Methods of water, apple and food divination for Samhain
- Samhain - A Time for Divination and Communication
Fortune-telling with a Barm brack and contacting the spirits of the dead
- Divination on Samhain
Scrying, apple divination and more
Find links below for a more formal Samhain ritual, perhaps to honour the ancestors, harvest or Samhain goddess.
- Samhain Ritual to Honour the Harvest
Includes tools, food, drink and ritual wording
- Samhain Circle Ritual
Includes items for the altar, ritual wording and divination
Samhain Spells, Crafts, Rituals, Recipes and More!
What do you think of Samhain, the real Halloween for witches? - Please leave your feedback, thoughts and comments here
Jessica on September 13, 2015:
That was beautifully written. Thank you so much for the information, i am undergoing my year and a day studies so this has been incredibly helpful.
Sherry on October 28, 2014:
Sending blessings this Samhain
Sherry Gewitzke uk
Mel92114 on October 13, 2014:
Wow, terrific article. I love Samhain, it is my favorite holiday of the year so I love reading about it. Enriching information that was a delight to read. Well done!
Rebecca Shaw from Toronto, Canada & London, England on October 31, 2013:
Great post. Happy Samhain.
crystal-ellis-1004 on October 19, 2013:
Thanks for the info. Imma celebrate samhain next yr ^_^
DebMartin on October 10, 2013:
I learned a lot here. Have a wonderful celebration.
ismeedee on October 10, 2013:
I've been amazed of late of how many English people think Halloween is American!!! This is a superb lens!!
ArtbyMAR on October 10, 2013:
Wonderful informative lens! Samhain is my favorite and most sacred holiday. Thanks for dispelling the many myths about this holiday being evil.
soaringsis on October 09, 2013:
Your lens is so very informative and interesting. What defines a person as being a witch? Thanks so much for sharing.
AundreaG on October 09, 2013:
This is a very interesting and informative lens. Although I may not believe in the religion, I still like to understand it. Ignorance is no good. I like the idea of honoring your lost loved ones and showing gratefulness for the harvest. Very nice.
Rose Jones on August 14, 2013:
Lovely lens - I am surprised this one is not seeing purple (yet) Pinned to my witches board as well for the one for Halloween. This is very informative. I was not planning to incorporate the ceremonies of Samhain in my Halloween celebrations, but I am going to now.
Missmerfaery444 (author) on May 22, 2013:
@anonymous: So glad that this helped you - good luck writing the scene, and with the book!
anonymous on May 22, 2013:
I am a writer. I am currently trying to write a scene where wiccans have a Samhain (whatever its called) where they have a ceremony to honor the Goddess and remember the dead. I am stuck because I don't know how to write the scene because I do not wish to offend if I get it wrong. I've looked over your article and think it will give me an outline for the ceremony in my story. Blessed be.
Rowangaia on October 18, 2012:
I love this lens: thank you so much for the information. Blessed Be!
jrighter7 on October 01, 2012:
Lovely article! I feel I can relate to much of what you wrote! This is my favortie time of year, my faorite sabbat.
LcArt23 on October 25, 2011:
Nice lens :)
Nightcat on October 19, 2011:
This is wonderful! I like that our new year is apart from pop culture. It gives me time to reflect. And since any resolutions would be heard by Goddess I'd better keep it. She provides for her children too. One year I found an abandoned pumpkin by the roadside. Best magical protector ever! I love the Sliver RavenWolf book!
GreenfireWiseWo on October 17, 2011:
Love Samhain. Nice lens - very informative.
gottaloveit2 on October 07, 2011:
Love the feast idea. There's never a bad time for a holiday feast!
Barbara Walton from France on October 07, 2011:
I think that this is a fabulous lens. As a long-time feminist I've skirted around the edges of witchcraft but never spent time finding out much about it. This is so informative and easy to read. Many thanks.
AlleyCatLane on October 06, 2011:
Fascinating and educational look at Samhain and witches. Excellent lens.
anonymous on August 20, 2011:
I so look forward to samhain, its such a magical time of year , the trees look wonderful with their golden shiny leaves, bright reds and coppers seem to cover the land, it's a time to make plans for the coming year, and to harvest for winter.
Even though its getting colder outside , the home feels cosy and warm, time to buy pumpkins and gourds, some to carve out faces others to make pumpkin pies and winter soups, decorate the front door with a nice autumn reath and fairy lights to welcome your visitors. Don't forget to stock up on candy , ready for trick or treaters !!
grannysage on March 19, 2011:
I can't believe that this lens hasn't received the attention it deserves. I guess there were so many Squidboo lenses created that it got lost in the crowd. However, it is an excellent explanation of the sabbat of Samhain. I am going to feature it on The Witch Who Danced with Ghosts, not because you just blessed it which I appreciate, but because it explains in greater depth the concept I was writing about. Thanks for featuring Whispers of the Crone as well.
spritequeen lm on November 01, 2010:
Wow!! Very, very interesting! I've never even heard of this. Thanks for sharing!