Samhain and Halloween – what does it mean?

English: Halloween pumpkin.
English: Halloween pumpkin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Halloween is one of the most popular holidays in whole world. This celebration in the West means pumpkins, witches and ghosts. In other countries where Christian and Catholic roots are prevalent, the Day of the Dead is celebrated, but what’s it really about and how can you celebrate it?.

As with many festivals that we celebrate today, such as Christmas and Easter, Halloween comes from Pagan times, and was (and is still by many Pagans) called Samhain, which can be pronounced Sow-een, Sow-in or Sav-ain and is usually celebrated from or somewhere between October 31st and November 11th..

Samhain is a time when the boundaries between the living and the dead become blurred and thin, and it is the time of the year when it is supposed to be easiest for the dead to come to the earthly realm.  This has perhaps lead to the idea that Halloween is a scary time – but it should be one of respect and celebration!

I went to a Catholic girls school many years ago (kind of funny when you become a Pagan, RE lessons were always a big debate!) and my head teacher explained at assembly that Halloween is a scary time, and the following day (Day of All Saints or All Hallows) is to get rid of this badness and let the ‘good’ in.

I politely explained afterwards that in fact Halloween (Hallows Eve) and All Saints Day were derived from the Pagan festival Samhain and is about honouring the dead, and to her credit she took it on board and asked me to do the assembly next year!

As most Pagans and Wiccans believe in reincarnation, or the spirit of a person or animal as continuing in some way, this time of year is special since it represents a celebration of continued life.

Many other cultures also have a time to honour their dead, for instance in Mexico they have Los Dias De Las Muertos or ‘The Day of the Dead.’ Samhain is also the last of the Harvest festivals, as for Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere, it coincides with the last harvest before winter.  This is where the pumpkins come into it as they represented food from the harvest!


How you can celebrate Samhain

Ceramic Mini Cauldron for burning Incense
Ceramic Mini Cauldron for burning Incense

Like any Pagan festival, the way is open for you to celebrate in whichever feels right.  However here are some traditional ways and guidelines that you may wish to follow.

A word of warning: If you are not an experienced Witch or Pagan to avoid such things as chanting or drumming to raise the dead, unless you are with experienced magick workers, as these are very strong energies! It is also wise to ask goddesses or whoever you like to invoke, for protection.


Decorating your altar

In keeping with the harvest theme, why not decorate your altar with pumpkins, corn or hay, gourds or conkers, or anything else relating to the season. (Just use what is around if you are from the southern hemisphere!) Offerings of cakes and ale are also appropriate.

Black candles are also ideal, especially ritually charged black candles, which help to provide protection.

The cauldron is also an important symbol for Halloween, you might wish to put a mini cauldron incense burner there, and burn something like frankincense or myrrh which are traditionally used to honour the dead.


Ritual ideas..

  • As mentioned, the cauldron is often important for Samhain rituals, so if you have a big one, this could be the focal point of your ritual.
  • You might wish to invite the Crone or Wise Woman to bring wisdom to you, or the story of the Goddess Cerridwen.
  • For honouring and contacting the dead, ritual drumming or chanting can be excellent. Why not place items of those you wish to honour on your altar?
  • Bobbing for apples is an ancient Pagan tradition, as apple magick was highly valued.  When you catch the apple in your teeth a little of your soul is supposed to creep into the apple and then you can either eat it for prosperity or bury it in your garden or a green space nearby to ensure abundance over the coming winter months.
  • You may wish to try crystal ball scrying or some other method of divination to contact those you wish to honour and communicate with.Isis for Magical Inspiration

Goddesses and Gods you can Invoke..

  • Hecate
  • Cerridwen
  • Morrigan
  • The Wise Woman (Crone)
  • Anubis
  • Isis
  • Ishtar
  • Cernunnos

Whichever way you choose to celebrate Samhain, it’s a great time to honour the dead, celebrate life and appreciate the changing of the seasons.




Have any good Samhain ritual tips or things you like to do? Let me know in the comment box!

3 thoughts on “Samhain and Halloween – what does it mean?”

  1. This of course is my favorite time of year. And if you are Wiccan, a very important time tp use and recieve those gifts of the universe.

    I tend to have a light celebration with my coven filled with love and happiness to try to counteract the foolishness done on this day by the inexperienced.

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