Samhain, Halloween, and What My Celebration Looks Like
Posted on October 28 2020
Samhain, Halloween, the veil… When did this all start? Where did the idea of dressing up as ghoulish monsters or carving pumpkins even stem from? Well, because I’m a magpie of odd little tidbits of information, I decided to write this post to give y’all a bit of an idea of how all this began—or maybe not began but how it has morphed and changed into our current understanding of the pagan holiday we all know and love. And for you young witchlings, at the end of this small little history lesson, I added what I am planning to do for my observance of Samhain, just in case you feel like you are at a loss on how to celebrate.
The Wheel of the Year
As most older traditions, the Celts (who occupied today’s Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England—and even parts of Brittany and France), tracked the year by the seasons. And from the cycle of seasons, the Wheel of the Year was born:
Each of these sabbats fall on either an equinox or a solstice (solstices are marked with asterisks) and follow the seasons of the year, starting with the pagan New Year, Samhain. In addition to that, the Wheel of the Year are broken up into two halves: the dark half and the light half, corresponding to the amount of sunlight the northern hemisphere gets. Samhain begins the dark half of the wheel and ends with Ostara, while Beltane through Mabon signify the light half of the wheel, where the sun is more pronounced.
How do you pronounce Samhain?
Welcoming the darkness as light wanes
So, what did the original Celts celebrate on Samhain? They celebrated the end of summer. Samhain is actually etymologically broken up into two words: “sam”—summer, and “fuin”—end. The end of summer is a celebration of the final harvest and the beginning of the dark half of the Wheel, when the sun rises later and sets sooner, when we all settle in for the long winter—luckily, our winters don’t have White Walkers…yet. But it’s 2020, what do you expect?
And, of course, a celebration of the end of harvest season and saying a farewell to the constant summer sun, wouldn’t be a celebration without a bit of fire and casting some light into the darkness. But make no mistake, this is not a celebration of light, but more of a welcoming of the darkness. It’s the time of the year when the veil is the thinnest, so people in today’s age generally do work that revolves around their ancestors or spirit guides during this time. And I would even point out that this is a PERFECT time to do some strong shadow work. Just like the Wheel of the Year is balanced, so should we seek balance within ourselves, and shadow work is key to that.
So how does the holiday Halloween fit into all of this? And what does the Catholic church have to do with it?
Halloween today actually has a lot of similarities to Samhain throughout the centuries. Because the veil was the thinnest, mumming and guising (dressing up in costumes) became a normal tradition. No one wanted fairies kidnapping them and taking them down to their faerie courts, so they dressed up to confuse the fairies. This tradition along with carving pumpkins (which actually first began with carving faces into turnips) were said to keep the evil spirits away and keep the troublesome fairies at bay.
Historically speaking, there was a time where Samhain and Halloween were conflated slightly. As with most holidays, the Catholic church was the first to co-opt this pagan tradition to make it more palatable for the conversion of the Celts. It began in the 9th century when Pope Gregory co-opted the celebration and declared it All Soul’s Day on October 31st (eventually this day moved to November 2nd in Western Christian ecclesiastical practice) and All Saint’s Day on November 1st.
The Pope declared All Souls’ Day as a day that commemorated all of those who died in the faith of the church (kinda just a fancy Christian way to celebrate their day of the dead). Of course, in doing this, the Catholic church co-opted (or even colonized might be more accurate a term here) the Celtic tradition and celebration of Samhain and instead, centered the church and Christian beliefs in order to convert more people from the pagan traditions. This allowed them to more peacefully occupy and subdue the population.
And this day is followed by All Saint’s Day (also known as All Hallows’ Day). This Catholic holiday was/is a celebration of all the saints, known and unknown. Of course, this celebration began on Vespers, on the evening of October 31st, All Hallow’s Eve… or better known today as Halloween.
Of course, as time went on and Halloween gained a more commercial and widespread acceptance despite pagan practices—though I feel it’s important to note that even if people were not pagan practitioners or witches, many (even God-fearing people) still clung to superstition and thus participated in small rituals that would be seen today as pagan. The Catholic church eventually moved the celebration of All Souls’ Day from October to November, and even the tradition of those days fell out of mode in the church once the rise of Protestantism began to take root (though these religious holidays are still observed mostly in Catholic leaning protestant denominations as well as the Catholic church as a whole).
So, what does that mean for us today?
For many pagans, witches, and practitioners, Samhain is still one of the most highly anticipated holidays of the year. It’s steeped in tradition, and this year, in 2020, we are lucky that on October 31st, we will experience the second full moon in a month (in Taurus for you astrologers!), called a Blue Moon, which we have not had since March of 2018.
This Blue Moon, because it is so rare (it happens every 2 and a half years or so) and the fact that it occurs on the day when the veil is at it’s the thinnest, means that a lot of energy should be circulating around Samhain, making it THE day to do spellwork, especially if it revolves around the spirits or protection.
So what you may (or may not) know about me is that I am a planner. Heather calls me her “Chaos Coordinator” for a reason. So, of course, I’ve already figured out exactly what I plan to do on Samhain. Some of you may not have a definitive plan, some of you may decide you will do whatever you feel led to when you get there, some of you are chaos magic practitioners and thrive in that element. Whatever it is, your practice is your practice, and your rituals don’t have to look like mine or anyone else’s in order to be valid.
That being said, if you are at a loss and you don’t know what to do, take a look at my tentative plan for my practice, and maybe you will find a few things for your celebration. Take note, I actually very much identify with Irish Celtic and Norse paganism and it weaves in and out of my practice, so if that’s not your thing, no problem! Just replace it with something that speaks more to you.
1. I plan on taking a ritual bath with my favorite bath tea recipe (which I will include at the bottom of this post) to begin my morning. I will have to work that day, so I plan on doing this in the morning so that I can be ready to do the day’s work. During that time, I’m going to focus on cleansing myself and all of the emotional baggage I have accumulated over the year, because I very much regard Samhain as a New Years, so I kinda treat this like my time to work on resolution-like manifestation. I plan on doing breathwork while calming and balancing my energies.
2. After work and the doors are locked, I plan on setting my intention for the evening. I do this by journaling, lighting a candle (if the area permits) as I listen to some soothing music.
3. Because it is a full moon, this is a great time for protection, so my plan is to make Black Salt and some of our Protection Blend with intention for the store. I will also make some more Protection Blessing Balls along with a few other ones so the store will not only be well stocked, but they will be made with intention on a very powerful full moon.
4. Then, once all of the work items are completed, I will go home to do some of my own solitary work, I am a solitary practitioner after all. This will include things, like reinforcing the protection surrounding my apartment and my bedroom, whatever spellwork I think is pertinent to do, some more journaling and manifestation work for the next moon cycle, moon water, some tarot readings, and leaving an offering for the faeries overnight.
All that to say, I have quite the list of things to do, and I will most likely be up very late into the night working on all of it, but I’m sooooo looking forward to it.
And as you think about what you plan to do for the Sabbat, I wish you all the wonders of the season. Samhain Blessings to you all!
Amanda’s Ritual Bath Recipe:
¼ c. Epsom Salt
4 Tbsp. Coarse Pink Himalayan Salt
A few drops of clary sage essential oil mixed jojoba oil
*All of the herbs, I use depending upon my mood. Sometimes I like a lot of herbs, sometimes only a pinch of each is all I need. Do what feels right to you. If you are like me and you don’t like having floating herbs in your tub for whatever reason, keep it in a small sachet and just drop it in the water, the salt and herbs will still diffuse to give you a lovely smelling ritual bath.
**Also keep in mind, if you ever want a bath tea made with intention here at The Spunky Cauldron, all you have to do is let either me (Amanda) or Heather know, and we would be happy to make a bath tea sachet to fit your needs.