Samhain (pronounced SOW-in, SAH-vin, or SAM-hayne) means “End of Summer” and is the third and final harvest. The dark winter half of the year commences on this Sabbat.
Various other names for this Greater Sabbat are Third Harvest, Samana, Day of the Dead, Old Hallowmas (Scottish/Celtic), Vigil of Saman, Shadowfest (Strega), and Samhuinn. Also known as All Hallow’s Eve (that day falls on November 7th) and Martinmas (that is celebrated November 11th), Samhain is now generally considered the Witch’s New Year.
It is generally celebrated on October 31st, but some traditions prefer November 1st. It is one of the two “spirit-nights” each year, the other being Beltane. It is a magical interval when the mundane laws of time and space are suspended, and the Thin Veil between the worlds is lifted. Communicating with ancestors and departed loved ones is easy at this time, for they journey through this world on their way to the Summerlands. It is a time to study the Dark Mysteries and honor the Dark Mother and the Dark Father, symbolized by the Crone and her aged Consort.
Originally the “Feast of the Dead” was celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the “wandering dead.” Today a lot of practitioners still carry out that tradition. Single candles were lit and left in a window to help guide the spirits of ancestors and loved ones home. They set extra chairs to the table and around the hearth for the unseen guest. Apples were buried along roadsides and paths for lost spirits or had no descendants to provide for them. Turnips were hollowed out and carved to look like protective spirits, for this was a night of magic and chaos. The Wee Folke became very active, pulling pranks on unsuspecting humans. Traveling after dark was not advised. People dressed in white (like ghosts) wore disguises made of straw or dressed as the opposite gender to fool the Nature spirits.
This was when the cattle and other livestock were slaughtered for eating in the ensuing winter months. Any crops still in the field on Samhain were considered taboo and left as offerings to the Nature spirits. They initially built bonfires (called bone-fires), for, after feasting, the bones were thrown in the fire as offerings for healthy and plentiful livestock in the New Year), and stones were marked with people’s names. Then they were thrown into the fire to be retrieved in the morning. The condition of the retrieved stone foretold of that person’s fortune in the coming year. Hearth fires were also lit from the village bonfire to ensure unity, and they spread the ashes over the harvested fields to protect and bless the land.
For more information on the Celtic Roots of Samhain, check out this article on our sister site, The Wyld Witch.
Gods/Goddesses of Samhain
Appropriate Samhain Goddesses are all Crone Goddesses and Underworld Goddesses. These include Hecate (Greek), Carlin (Scottish), Edda (Norse), Pamona (Roman), Crobh Dearg (Irish), Lilith (Hebrew), Psyche (Greek), the Morrigu/Morrigan (Celtic).
Appropriate Samhain Gods; are all Death Gods, Aged Gods, and Underworld Gods. These include Arawn (Welsh), Dis (Roman), Kronos/Cronus (Greco-Phoenician), Xocatl (Aztec), Woden (Teutonic), Pluto (Greco-Roman), Hades (Greek), Neferturn (Egyptian).
Herbs of Samhain
Mugwort, Acorn/Oak, Apple, Corn, Dittany of Crete, Hazel, Fumitory, Gourds, Allspice, Broom, Catnip, Deadly Nightshade, Mandrake, Oak leaves, Sage and Straw
For Samhain incense and oil, you can use any of the following scents, either blended or alone: Frankincense, Basil, Yarrow, lilac, ylang-ylang, clove, camphor.
by Maria Kay Simms
• 2 parts Myrrh
• 2 parts Sandalwood
• 2 parts Lavender
• 1 part Frankincense
• 1 part Bay leaf
• 1 part Juniper
• 1 part Cinnamon
by Lady of the Earth
1 part cinnamon
1-1/2 part Clove
1/2 part Frankincense
1/2 part Myrrh
1/4 part Cedar
1/4 part Sandalwood
1/4 part Benzoin
4 parts pumpkin pie spice
Stones of Samhain
All Black Stones – preferably Jet or Obsidian, Onyx. Also Carnelian
Animals of Samhain
Animals and mythical beasts associated with Samhain are bats, cats, dogs, Púca, goblins, medusa,
Foods of Samhain
Turnips, Apples, Gourds, Nuts, Mulled Wines, Beef, Pork, Poultry. Apples, pumpkin pie, beets, turnips, hazelnuts, corn, gingerbread, pomegranates, cider, herbal teas, pork dishes.
BeWitching Apple Pancakes
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tbs. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
2 well-beaten egg yolks
2 cups milk
2 tbs. butter/margarine, melted
1 cup finely chopped apple, peeled and cored
2 stiffly beaten egg whites.
In a large non-metal bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl, combine the milk and egg yolks. Pour mixture into the dry ingredients and stir well. Stir in the butter/margarine and apple. Fold in the egg whites. Let the batter set up for a few minutes. Cook on a hot griddle or in a large frying pan, using 1/3 cup of batter per pancake. Use a spatula or spoon to spread the batter evenly. Remove from heat, dot with butter, sprinkle powdered sugar, and roll up into a log. Top with slightly heated applesauce and a dash of cinnamon.
Makes 12 pancakes.
Spirited Cheese Stuffed Apples
1- 3oz package softened cream cheese
4 medium apples
1 1/3oz Apple Cheddar Cheese
1 tablespoon dry white wine
Beat together both cheeses and the wine, with an electric or rotary mixer, until smooth. Core the apples and hollow out, leaving apple shells about 1/2 inch thick. Fill the apples with the cheese mixture and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
Cut apples into 8 wedges.
Festival Fruited Ribs
3 pounds beef/pork ribs
2 tbs. shortening
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup finely chopped carrot
1/2 cup red Burgundy
1 clove garlic, minced
1-11oz package mixed dried fruit
3 tbs. all-purpose flour
Meaty side down, place in shallow roasting pan. Bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Add onion, carrot, garlic, and burgundy. Cover and reduce heat to 350 degrees, bake for another hour.
Meanwhile, pour 1 1/2 cups of hot water over the fruit in a non-metal bowl. Let it stand for the hour. Drain the fruit, reserving the liquid. Place the fruit over the meat. Cover and bake for another 45 minutes. Remove meat and fruit to a platter—Skim fat from pan juices. Add reserved liquid to juices. Blend flour and 1/3 cup cold water in a saucepan, stir in pan juice mixture. Cook and stir over medium heat until thick and bubbly. Pour over ribs and serve hot.
Makes 6 servings.
**If you’re going to have a bonfire, don’t forget to throw the bones into the fire for healthy livestock and prosperity. The livestock may not be yours’, but nobody wants to eat tainted meat……
Old Fashioned Pumpkin Pie
• 1 1/2 cups (12oz can) evaporated milk
• 2 eggs
• 1 3/4 cups (15oz can) pumpkin
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1 tsp cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp ginger
• 3/4 tsp clove
• 9-inch pie crust
Stir together sugar, salt, and spices. In another large bowl, beat eggs lightly. Then stir in pumpkin, spice mixture, and then slowly stir in the evaporated milk. Pour mixture into pie shell and bake at 425F for 15 minutes.
Lower oven temperature to 350F and bake for another 40-50 minutes. Let cool for at least 2 hours before serving to allow pie to set up.
Altar Decorations for Samhain
Colors: Black, Orange, White, Silver, Gold.
Altar decorations can consist of candles, small jack-‘o-lanterns. food, from the harvest, photographs of your loved ones who have departed this world, statue or figurine of the Goddess in her Crone aspect
Spellwork for Samhain
Spellwork should be for protection, neutralizing harm, working with your ancestors, honoring the dead.
Activities for Samhain
Traditional activities during Samhain consist of divination, past-life recall, spirit contact, drying of winter herbs.
The Apple the Mirror
Before the stroke of midnight, sit in front of a mirror in a room lit only by one candle or the moon. Go into the silence, and ask a question. Next, cut the apple into nine pieces. With your back to the mirror, eat eight of the pieces, and then throw the ninth over your left shoulder. Finally, turn your head to look over the same shoulder, and you will see an image or symbol in the mirror that will tell you your answer.
(When you look in the mirror, let your focus go “soft,” and allow the patterns made by the moon or candlelight and shadows to suggest forms, symbols, and other dreamlike images that speak to your intuition.)
Go to a boundary stream and, with closed eyes, take from the water three stones between middle finger and thumb, saying these words as each is gathered:
I will lift the stone
As Mary lifted it for her Son,
For substance, virtue, and strength;
May this stone be in my hand
Till I reach my journey’s end.
Togaidh mise chlach,
Mar a thog Moire da Mac,
Air bhrìgh, air bhuaidh, ‘s air neart;
Gun robh a chlachsa am dhòrn,
Gus an ruig mi mo cheann uidhe.
Carry them home carefully and place them under your pillow. That night, ask for a dream that will give you guidance or a solution to a problem, and the stones will bring it for you.
Making a Witch’s Cord
Witch’s cords are beautiful and make great decorations. The Samhain witches cord should be an expression of what you wish or hope for the New Year. Take three strands of ribbon or silk cord in three different colors, each about three feet long. Choose colors that symbolize your hopes for the New Year. Fold one end down about five inches and tie it together in a knot to make a loop so You can hang the cord. Braid the strands together, reciting your wishes and hopes, and tie at least three knots on the tail. You can add anything you want to the cords – feathers, stones, herbs, little toys, tokens in remembrance of a loved one, etc.
Find a wand
Samhain is a great time to look for a wand. Venture outdoors with your children, to a park perhaps, and look for branches or fallen pieces of wood. When you’ve found your wand, be sure to thank the tree and leave an offering. Once you’ve cleaned it up by sculpting it and sanding it if necessary, let your child decorate it.