Northern Hemisphere October 31st/November 1st
Southern Hemisphere April 30th/May 1st
We start the Wiccan year with Samhain, (pronounced sow´in) a festival that is a favourite with all ages. In the Northern hemisphere, Samhain is celebrated on the 31st of October and the 1st of November. However, in New Zealand and the Southern hemisphere, to keep in tune with nature and her seasons, we celebrate Samhain on the 30th of April and the 1st of May, being the eve and the day of Samhain. These two events also represent the eve and the first day of the Winter season. In New Zealand, October the 31st is actually the beginning of our Summer. To celebrate Samhain symbolic of all it´s death and coldness in nature in the midst of our summery weather that October brings, along with natures growth and abundance, would be a contradiction so to speak. October the 31st is when we celebrate these gifts of warmth and fertility within the Earth, this is symbolized in our festival of Beltane.
An ancient Celtic festival, Samhain is also known as, The Feast of the Dead, The Dumb Supper, Halloween, Third Harvest, The Celtic New Year, Witches New Year and the Christian name of All Hallows Eve. The word "Eve" reminds us that this festival actually begins the night before, (April 30th in New Zealand ) and continues through to the next day. Samhain also marks the farewell to the God, for it is now that he must prepare himself in order to be reborn through the Goddess during the Winter Solstice. This is all part of the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth, the cycle of which we are all a part of.
To Witches, the wheel of the year has turned again. Samhain, for them marks the end of the Witches year and the beginning of a new one, a time to reflect back on all the work that has been done, be it physical or spiritual. Many use this night for observing many customs and rituals, a time for divination, scrying, games and merriment, and also a time to remember those who have passed onto the "Otherworld" and are no longer with us in the physical body. The eve is the night that the veil between our Earth plane and the "Otherworld" is at it´s thinnest. Many believe that midnight is the actual "opening" of these two worlds.
An ancient custom of Samhain was to leave a plate of food outside the home as an offering to provide nourishment for the souls of the dead. In some homes, the table is set with a place included for those who have passed on, this extra place setting includes all plates, cups and utensils that one would usually have, had they been here in their physical bodies. Some families have one place setting that represents all those near and dear that have passed on, while some choose to have a place setting for each of their loved family members or friends that have since gone. Lit candles are also placed in the windows to welcome the deceased, and to show the way for those souls that are lost, as well as offering protection for the home. Many people would use hollowed out pumpkins or turnips and place their candles inside them.
There are many ideas and beliefs as to how "Halloween" came about and as many associate this festival with Samhain it is worth a mention. Even though the roots of Halloween started in Europe, it is thought to be more of an American celebration. So here we go , "Halloween in a Nutshell."
Beginning way back in Europe, the Pagans had Samhain and celebrated accordingly by honouring those who had died, believing in rebirth and so on. The Christians came along and decided that this was no more than heathen sacrifice and the work of evil and the Devil, so they decided to change it slightly to suit themselves. And so began All Saint´s Day which was a day to honour all the Christians who had been murdered for their belief and dedication to their faith! The Christians felt that they would be able to replace the Pagan Samhain with their own festival of All Saint´s Day and gave it the date of November 1st. However the Pagans would not give up their Samhain. This made it very awkward for the church so eventually it seems a solution was made where each celebrated their own with the Christians asking that the Pagans would do no more sacrifices. (I wonder if the Christians kept to that as well. ) Over the years "All Saints Day" eventually became known as Hallomass, (a mass to honour the dead.) The eve of this day became "All Hallows Even" which over the course of time eventually shortened to Halloween.
Then with the "burning times" in high demand, many Pagans celebrated within their own communities and realized the need for major discretion. Families and friends were taken by inquisitors and never returned, word got around very quickly of what was happening and not many chose to be burnt at the stake if they could help it. The church now wanted to stamp out these heathen practices as they felt all should practice under the "one" God, Witch finders were rampant throughout Europe, and they didn´t need an excuse to accuse anyone not following the Christian way, so Samhain during the 16th – 18th century was quite low key in many places while in others it flourished.
As celebrations and life changed as we headed through the 19th century and became slightly more open in our line of thought and vision due to travel and migration, new people bought their own Halloween traditions and practices with them. While the Christians still celebrated their festival in prayer and silence, the Pagans continued to live it up with bonfires, feasts, dancing, games and much merriment. They had a lot of celebrating to catch up on. Christmas was fast becoming a big money making venture, so it was probably around this time that someone stepped out and thought "I could make money out of this." Thus the commercial side of Halloween.
As I said before this is just a brief on Halloween, there is a lot more information available if you are interested. For those of you who wish to know more about Halloween, check either the websites for authors on this topic, Wiccan supply and book stores or your local library.
Pumpkins, ruled by the Moon, their element is Earth and they are considered to be a universal symbol of Samhain/Halloween. These wholesome vegetables are abundant at this time, their harvesting starting well at the beginning of the Autumn season. In early Europe, candles were traditionally placed in hollowed out turnips. This enabled the flame to stay alight while the farmers went about their work in the darkening hours that the evening and early morning brought. Obviously these vegetables had to have cuts in them to enable the light to shine out. From this idea, the traditional Jack "o" Lantern that we know today was formed. With the flesh scooped out and a nose and eye shapes cut into the hard skin, the pumpkin becomes a magickal work of art.
The ancient Celts believed that the face also represented the sacred head, to them the head was the area of the physical body that contained the immortal soul. When a candle is placed inside and lit, the flame symbolizes the element of Fire. This glowing face of the pumpkin acts as a guiding light for souls of the dead, and is said to deter negative energies and evil spirits. People also believed that these glowing pumpkins would frighten away Witches during Halloween. This tradition is still strong in force today, but as for scaring Witches? I don´t think so.
Any Sabbat is an excellent time to practice your divination skills, with Samhain being no exception. The eve being the best time of all. This is when ours and the "otherworld" are at their closest. Divination is the art of prophecy. An ancient practice, it covers a vast range of techniques including Runes, dowsing with a pendulum, tarot, scrying with the use of crystal balls, tea leaf reading fire and candle gazing. All governed to help us in queries of a positive nature. All cultures have their own special ways of divination and use these methods to foretell futures for themselves, family and friends. One may divine a future for their whole village, whereabouts the faith in that person is so great, all will believe what they say and live their lives accordingly. That is a huge responsibility.
Associated Names - An ancient Celtic festival, Celtic New Year, Samhain is also known as the All Hallows Eve, All Soul’s Day, Celtic New Year, Day of the Dead, Dumb Supper, Feast of the Dead, Feast of Souls, Festival of the Dead, Halloween, Hallowmas, Last Light, Samain, Samuin, Summers End, Third Harvest, Winters Threshold, Witches New Year.
Activities - Past lives, spirit contact, any divination, balefires, trick or treating, apple games, ghost stories, honouring the Crone, visiting cemeteries and decorating graves, remembering and honouring the dead, making jack o lanterns and besoms, dress ups, making costumes and masks, feasting, wassailing, (some wassail during the Winter Solstice) making charms, talismans and sachets, witch bottles and dolls.
Colours - Black, orange, deep red, white, purple, dark green.
Deities - All Crone and Underworld Goddesses All dying and Underworld Gods.
Foods- Any dish with nuts, apples, pumpkin, squash, pork, any spooky treats, bubble & squeak, colcannon, boxty, toad in the hole, barm brack, soul cakes, sowans, nugget pumpkins, Halloween hotch potch, orange foods, sweets and candy, toffee apples, candies, beef.
Herbs and Plants - Allspice, apple, basil, belladonna, catnip, camphor, clove, cypress, frankincense, larch, mace, mixed spice, mugwort, nutmeg, patchouli, rosemary, rue, sage, sandalwood, thistle, thyme, valerian, vervain, wormwood, yarrow.
Moon - The Blood Moon.
Symbols - All familiars, all things that go bump in the night, apples, balefires, bats, besoms and broomsticks, black and orange crystals and stones, blood moon, burial cairns, candles of orange, black, dark green or deep red, cats especially black ones, cauldrons, crystal balls, costumes, crossroads, crows, death, divination tools, frogs, funerals, ghosts and ghouls, gourds, graveyards, hazelnuts, iron crosses, jack-o’-lanterns, masks, Otherworld, owls, poppets, pumpkins, rattles, ravens, scarecrows, scythe of death, skeletons, sugar skulls, Summerland, the Crone, tombstones, Underworld, waning or dark moon, witches, witches hats.