If you’ve heard of this festival called Samhain but you have no idea what it is or how to celebrate it, this post will tell you everything you need to know. I’ve included a succinct explanation of this notable sabbat, along with some powerful rituals and traditions to help you make the most Samhain.
A brief overview of Samhain
When is Samhain? October 31st – November 1st.
How do you pronounce Samhain? It’s pronounced sow-wen or saw-wain.
Themes of this festival: death & rebirth, remembrance, harvest, winter, new year, honouring ancestors.
What is Samhain?
Samhain is one of eight festivals (or sabbats), which together make up the Wheel of the Year; an ancient calendar based on the transition of the sun through the four seasons.
Samhain is one of the four Cross-Quarter (fire) festivals, and celebrates and welcomes in the season of Winter. It is the third and final harvest, following Lammas (August 1st) and Mabon (Autumn Equinox – 20th-23rd September).
From the 31st October onwards, the sun begins to dwindle and lower, which is why Samhain is also associated with the dark time of the year. The sun will continue to weaken now, with daylight hours reducing until Winter Solstice (Yule).
In gaelic, the word “Samhain” loosely translates to “Summer’s end.”
It also marks the beginning of the New Year (in Celtic & Wiccan tradition); and is therefore regarded by many as the most important of all eight sabbats.
Samhain is the day when the veil between the seen and unseen worlds is at its thinnest; the barrier between the human and supernatural world falls.
This means that souls and spirits of our past loved ones are able to visit us, which is why offerings of food are often left on doorsteps. This ritual is also known as the Feast of Hecate, since she is the Goddess of magic & spells.
Wheel of the year holidays:
- Samhain (October 31st to November 1st)
- Yule/Winter Solstice (December 20th-23rd)
- Imbolc (February 1st)
- Ostara/Spring Equinox (March 20th-23rd)
- Beltane (May 1st)
- Litha/Summer Solstice (June 20th-23rd)
- Lammas (August 1st)
- Mabon/Autumn Equinox (September 20th-23rd)
Is Halloween the same as Samhain?
In much of western society today (particularly in the U.S, Canada, and the U.K), October 31st marks Halloween. But almost all of the traditions of this holiday are rooted in the pagan customs of Samhain.
Root vegetables were carved out, and lit candles were placed inside, to guide spirits home.
Leaving offerings of food has been traditional since before the rise of Christianity, which over time has morphed into trick or treating.
Samhain was always the witches New Year, and this was a wonderful time for spell work and divination. They were never evil women, but the witch hunts transformed our beliefs on what a witch is and does.
Rituals & traditions to celebrate Samhain
Samhain rituals include:
- Eating foods of the final harvest
- Honoring your ancestors
- Leaving offerings of food & wine out for spirits
- Decorating your altar to echo the themes of Samhain
- Spell work & divination
- Tuning into your intuition
1. Rituals for Samhain: decorate your altar
Colours for Samhain:
- Black (for death & endings)
- Oranges (for the harvest & vitality of life)
- Purple (for wisdom, insight & inspiration)
Items & objects for your altar:
- A cauldron (symbolic of the feminine—the cup of life, death, transformation & rebirth)
- Nuts, seeds & berries
- Root vegetables (pumpkins, squash etc.)
- Autumn leaves
- Photographs of loved ones
- Fresh ears of corn
The broom is also symbolic of Samhain; which is used to sweep out any old, stagnant energy, and create space for the new to be welcomed in.
You can make your own broom from a bundle of twigs and some string or thin rope. Use a larger stick or branch for the handle, which you can place in the middle of the bundle.
And if you need any help on creating a sacred altar, click here.
2. Samhain traditions: have a Samhain feast
Cooking a celebrative meal, using lots of the final harvest foods, is a wonderful way to mark this point in the year.
Root vegetables, apples, nuts, and herbs are all traditional for this season, and can be easily incorporated into delicious dishes. You might also want to brew some mulled wine (better still, do it in a cauldron shaped pot). Certain breads and cakes are also baked on Samhain, including soul cakes, barmbrack, and buttermilk bread.
Make sure there’s an abundance of food for everyone to enjoy—this is a harvest!
3. Samhain rituals: Honour your ancestors
Think about all the people you have loved and lost throughout your life so far. Family, friends, and even pets. Place photographs of anyone you wish to honour, around your altar or table.
It’s also common practice to lay an extra plate for them at dinner, extending an invite for them to join you. Cooking and eating their favourite food is also a nice way to remember them, and help them feel closer to you.
You may want to leave small offerings of food or wine on your doorstep; whether it’s for your pets who have since passed, or any other human spirits. Be mindful with what you’re leaving outside though, as certain foods are fatal to certain wild animals that may be passing!
4. Traditions for Samhain: make magick
Samhain is the witches New Year for a reason. It’s the most powerful night of the year for crafting spells, and divination.
Make time to reflect on the deeper message behind what’s coming up for you.
Enjoy the extra boost of magick on this sacred day and night.
5. Journal rituals for Samhain
Samhain is not only a powerful time for outer work, but inner work, too.
Your intuition will be heightened around this time, allowing you to heed the unvoiced messages that are being channelled to and through you.
Tune in to those feelings, knowings, and signs, and think about where they are directing you in your life.
Create space to journal and reflect on anything that’s arising within you.
Here are some helpful journal inquires to use during this time:
- What are you celebrating, that has come to fruition over the past year?
- What are you ready to let go of, and clear out?
- And what do you want to fill that new space with?
- What flaws or imbalances would you like to harmonise?
- What would you like to work on strengthening within yourself over the coming year?
- And what is trying to come through you?
- What wisdom is stirring and rising from your womb?
When it comes to any holiday or festival, the most important thing is that it’s meaningful to you.
So take and leave what you want from this list. You may even wish to create your own traditions and ways of celebrating this day.
I’d love to know how you celebrate Samhain. Share your Samhain rituals and traditions with me in the comments below!