Without a doubt Samhain is the biggest Sabbat there is. Does this mean it has more spiritual meaning than the others? No. It is simply the most widely celebrated because of its secular slant.
Come October, witches everywhere are gathering for many of the same things non-witches are: apple bobbing, watching scary movies, hosting Halloween parties, seances, dressing up, pumpkin picking, frequenting haunted houses, going on ghost tours, and any other spooky secular customs you might have. Because the mythology of the witch is greatly centered around Halloween and it has been endlessly sold by the media, Samhain has grown in popularity. As I said in the Mabon article, this is one of the biggest times of the year in which it is “hip” to be Pagan.
Witch frenzy is at its height; every week interviews show up in newspapers that shed light on witchcraft (whether these help or hurt actual witches depends a great deal on the validity and sanity of the subjects of those interviews) because of the popularity of the witch in popular culture. There’s a desire to know more by non-witches that is often countered by a fear of witchcraft.
Because of all this, Pagans come out of the woodwork at Samhain. It’s when many Pagan Pride Days are held as well as other Pagan events, and if you’ve ever been to these, you’ve seen many people who claim to be Pagan that never show up to any other events throughout the year. This could be because they only go to major events but prefer a solitary lifestyle or because they are “once a year Pagans” just like the “once a year Catholics” I was raised to loathe because they meant showing up an hour before Christmas mass to get a seat. These only-so-often Pagans often fade away into November or after Yule.
But what is Samhain other than a time to dress up as whatever you wish, eat massive amounts of candy, and terrify ourselves with horror films? Samhain (alternately called Halloween/Hallowe’en, Hallowmas, All Hallow’s Eve, The Day of the Dead, Feast of Spirits, Samonios, Samhuinn, and Samana among other names) is often marked as the beginning of the Pagan New Year.
This is because the Celts began their year around November 1st. Some view this as an odd time for the placement of a New Year, but if you consider it, it begins to make sense. It is often said that “death is just the next great adventure,” and Wiccans/DRWs certainly know this to be true. As we’ll discuss later, it is sometimes believed the God dies at Samhain, and we see the world around us dying, migrating, or moving into hibernation. If we see death as a beginning rather than an end (because it begins our travel through the astral/Summerland/Underworld and on to our next life), we can see how the death of the old year would be a perfect time to celebrate the new.
Winter is also typically seen as a time of introspection. There aren’t usually many distractions when we’re holed up for the winter in front of the fire. We take time out to examine our lives, our spirituality, and the universe to find new meaning. We reflect, and we grow. These are actions traditional to a New Year’s celebration, are they not? The final point is that the lunar cycle is said to start with the New Moon (the descent of the Goddess), not the Full Moon when She is at the height of Her power or any other time within Her cycle. Those that do not follow a Celtic-inspired path or subscribe to the ideas above may mark their New Year at Yule, with the secular New Year, at Imbolc, or at Ostara. Though I’m sure some Pagans mark it at other times in the year, these are the most common.
It is also the time of the third and final harvest (the first harvest took place around Lughnasadh and the second around Mabon). This is the time in many parts of the world when any crops remaining in the fields were taken in before the frosts started. Some cultures even considered it bad luck to gather crops after Samhain not only because autumn rains might make the fields muddy and unworkable or because frosts might damage any remaining crops as October came to a close but sometimes because mythological creatures would damage the crops and make them unsafe for consumption. In many other locations, Samhain marks a time when winter is already beginning to settle in despite these associations with harvest. There was another harvest at this Sabbat as well—the meat harvest. Because winter was approaching and it wouldn’t be cost-efficient to keep an entire herd through the winter when food was in short supply, many animals were slaughtered and preserved for food stores throughout the winter.
As I said Samhain is celebrated around November 1st. “What?” You might be saying, “I celebrate it on October 31st!” October 31st is Samhain Eve, and many Sabbats are celebrated the day before because in many cultures the day begins at sundown. More and more covens and solitaries that I have met are celebrating Samhain on the first or afterwards because of the distractions of secular Halloween that might interrupt their rituals (i.e. parties, trick-or-treaters, etc.). Samhain might also be celebrated when the sun is fifteen degrees of Scorpio if you choose not to work with the idea of a fixed date for each Sabbat.
This Greater Sabbat was known as a time beyond time because it was seen as the moment between the old year and the new, between summer and winter (because the Celts only had two seasons that changed at Beltane and Samhain). Because of this time outside of the norm, it is also seen as not belonging to this world. This is one of the many reasons people will give for the veil between the worlds being thin at Samhain.
You might have heard that the veil is thin at Samhain before this, but what does that mean? Generally, it means that Samhain is an excellent time for spirit communication and faerie magic because the usual barriers that separate our world from the astral/spirit world are not as strong. It also means that divination is easier because we can receive messages from this world. Some faerie lore states that all times that are between things are times when this veil is thin; midnight is a perfect example because it is between one day and the next. Ashleen O’Gaea further explains this event in her book Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara:
The cultures from which Wicca draws are full of stories about people wandering in and out of Fairy Land accidentally, because the separation is more perceptual than actual, and during Samhain and Beltane (May Day), it’s harder to perceive the boundaries. As a physical veil can obstruct our mundane vision, so the veil between the worlds can hide the Otherworld from our mundane consciousness. But at Samhain, the veil is thin. The distinction between life and death, this world and the other, is not as clear. And it’s easy to remember our ancestors so clearly that they can be with us again, at least for a little while.
The veil is also said to be thin because a major crossing happens on this night. Many traditions see the God’s death as occurring at Samhain. If they believe he died at Mabon, however, they might believe he waited until Samhain to pass into the Underworld. His passing disrupts this barrier and makes it easier for spirits to cross the threshold than it is at any other time of the year (though some see all the Quarter Days as being times when the veil is thin because they are times between seasons and/or Beltane as being a time of a thinning because it is opposite Samhain on the Wheel of the Year and is its equal in every way, this included). We will discuss more about what the thinning veil means further into this article.
Samhain also has another connection that puts it in the middle of two opposites; it is often seen as the time between order and chaos. Because winter was often unpredictable and, therefore, scary, it was sometimes seen as a time of misrule. Therefore, some Pagans honored the Lord of Misrule as discussed in A Witches’ Bible: Eight Sabbats for Witches:
One thing Samhain has always been, and still is: a lusty and wholehearted feast, a Mischief Night, the start of the reign of the same Lord of Misrule, which traditionally lasts from now till Candlemas—yet with serious undertones. It is not that we surrender to disorder, but, as winter beings, we look ‘primordial chaos’ in the face so that we may discern in it the seeds of a new order. By challenging it, and even laughing with it, we proclaim our faith that the Goddess and God cannot, by their very nature, allow it to sweep us away.
This is perhaps where the ideas of fright for fun (haunted houses, horror movies, etc.) came from. We confront chaos and are not frightened by it because we know that it cannot last. Order will be restored in the spring with the awakening of the earth, and winter, like fear, cannot rule forever. As the Farrars say, also in their book A Witches’ Bible: Eight Sabbats for Witches, “Samhain was on the one hand a time of propitiation, divination, and communion with the dead, and on the other, an uninhibited feast of eating, drinking, and defiant affirmation of life and fertility in the very face of the closing dark.” It holds within it a precarious balance between death and life, joy and mourning, courage and fear. It is that balance that we celebrate at Samhain.
Because Samhain, like Lughnasadh and Mabon, is a harvest celebration, many of the points discussed in their articles would be beneficial to your exploration of Samhain. I would, at least, encourage you to read the section on the darkness of winter and the Pagan views on darkness in general so that you do not take away a mistaken impression of what I mean when I use that term as well as the discussion on Wiccans’/DRWs’ views on symbolic mythology. The discussions there on the meaning of harvest, customs, and symbols may also be helpful because the similarities in these Sabbats means they share many of the same traditions.
There are many different theories about the name of this Sabbat (which, incidentally, is pronounced “Sow-in,” “Saw-wen,” or something very similar). Because Ashleen O’Gaea does an excellent job of explaining them all, I shall reference her work in Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara:
Indeed many Wiccans understand Samhain…to come from two Gaelic words, sam and fuin, which mean “end of summer.” [One source for this etymology is Jean Markale’s The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: Celebrating the Dark Half of the Year (Inner Traditions International, 2001). Markale’s a specialist in Celtic studies at the Sorbonne, and I believe his scholarship is reliable.] Janet and Stewart Farrar in A Witches’ Bible Compleat (Magickal Child, 1984) tell us that, in Irish Gaelic, “Samhain” is the name of the month of November and “Samhuin” is Scottish Gaelic for All Hallows, celebrated on the first of November.
In The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (Castle Books, 1996), Barbara G. Walker says that Samhain was “named for the Aryan Lord of Death, Samana, ‘the Leveler’ or the Grim Reaper, leader of ancestral ghosts.”
O’Gaea goes on to explain why she feels Samana was not the one to give his name to Samhain which includes a detailed explanation of Wiccans’ view of nature (which was greatly shaped by Romanticism) because we do not fear nature, and death is just a part of nature. Due to this, our view of the God of Death is not that of a reaper but of a guide, teacher, father, or brother. While this is generally true of most Wiccans/DRWs, I would state that Samana is still an appropriate deity to work with at Samhain and that just because Wiccans/DRWs believe it, we should not push those beliefs on other pantheons/cultures as we are so often thought to do.
Samhain, like all Sabbats is a time for giving thanks and for reflecting on our place on the Wheel of the Year. We see hope for the future, we reflect on what we have sown and harvested in the past year, we note our growth since Mabon, make goals to achieve by Yule, and we celebrate all that we have.
Samhain was a time of uncertainty. With winter right around the corner, no one really knew what to expect. Would the winter be a harsh one? How many would survive? Was the harvest this year going to be enough to sustain everyone? Had the right selections been made in which animals to slaughter? In addition to all this uncertainty, there were several legends about creatures that roamed at this time ruining crops, looking to harm humans, etc. adding to the feeling of unease that the finality of this harvest brought about.
Though this creepy feeling continues to modern times with all the legends still being told as well as newer legends being written over the years meant to scare us, it is often difficult for us to understand just how trying this time was to the ancients. We needn’t rely on a good local harvest to survive as we can drive a few minutes down the road and find all the food we need to sustain us. We needn’t fear life-threatening illnesses prevalent in winter. We needn’t slaughter our own meat nor harvest our own crops. We are so removed from many of the associations our ancestors held for Samhain, it might seem odd that we try to maintain some of their customs associated with this time. Though we will discuss customs more in-depth further into this article, it is important to note that those we do still participate in provide us with a chance to channel our ancestors, face our fears, and all that Samhain is symbolically about. As Ashleen O’Gaea says in Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara:
When we reinterpret customs consistently with our thealogy and philosophy, we are deepening our experience of Wicca, and that’s a good thing…It’s okay now for us to understand ancient customs differently than the people who used to practice them did. We can light our jack-o-lanterns as reverent images of our God, as expressions of joy in our knowledge that “all that dies shall be reborn,” even if 500 years ago people lit them to scare away ghosts and goblins. It’s okay that our ancestors understood ghosts and spirits to need propitiation, and we don’t. They had one relationship with the natural word, and we have a different one. We carry on some of their customs, giving them new meanings, and that’s one way that life comes again from death; we call that turning the Wheel.
For more information on the gap between modern Wicca and ancient Pagan practices, see our articles on The Wheel of the Year and on Mabon (see the latter for a discussion on symbolic mythology as well).
From what we know, it seems Samhain as we know it originated in ancient Ireland. It is certainly referenced as a major celebration in several myths. Ronald Hutton, however, criticizes the theory that Samhain was a major magical celebration, believing that the evidence we have only supports that it was a harvest festival. It is still celebrated throughout Ireland and Scotland through the lighting of bonfires and passing the light from the bonfire throughout the village. The practices of carving jack-o-lanterns and dressing in costume are also believed to come from Ireland, and these will be discussed under “Customs” below, though these aren’t widely documented until the seventeenth century.
The Romans celebrated their festival in honor of Pomona in early November, and as they conquered many Celtic lands, Samhain customs merged with their own festival customs, leading, many believe, to the incorporation of the apple into the forefront of Samhain lore today.
El Dia de los Muertos is celebrated two days after we celebrate Samhain today. It is a national holiday in Mexico as well as a religious and familial one. Picnics are packed and taken to graveyards to share with departed relatives. While it is believed that some of the customs associated with The Day of the Dead come from Aztec origins, this holiday has a deep Christian connection and is a culturalized observance of All Souls’ and All Saints’ Days. The focus is on enticing the dead to be present to hear the prayers and memories of the living celebrating them, but it is not a somber occasion. Ancestor altars and shrines are often assembled for this observance, graves are cleaned and decorated, offerings are left, and the personification of Death is toasted.
After Christianity was declared legal in the Roman Empire, the clergy realized that it would be easier to convert Pagans to Christianity if the two religions had similar practices and celebrations. By incorporating Pagan festivals (notably, in this instance, the Festival of Pomona and Samhain), they could make Christianity more appealing by not demanding great changes and forcing Pagans to give up their dearly-loved holidays. So, All Saints’ Day (also known as All Hallows’ Day) was moved from May to November 1st to coincide with much of these celebrations by Pope Gregory III. Later, All Souls’ Day was added on November 2nd to celebrate all the Christian dead, and these three days were called Hallowmas. Many customs of Hallowmas were quite similar to Samhain and the Festival of Pomona: celebrants paraded in costumes of saints and the dead, jack-o-lanterns were used to symbolize the dead in purgatory, prayers for the dead were offered in exchange for “soul cakes,” etc.
Halloween was brought to the New World by an influx of Irish immigrants, though it had existed in smaller circles before. However, Halloween was popularized by the romanticization of Halloween during the Victorian period in which Halloween became more “refined” and less focused on death but on love, fun, childhood, and out doing the neighbors. It slowly evolved into what we know today through this popularization.
In Wiccan mythology, Samhain almost universally marks the time of the God’s crossing into the Underworld. As we have discussed extensively, his death may be actual or symbolic of an initiation or transition into another life stage. Whether he actually dies at this point in the year is more up for debate. He might have died at Mabon and waited until Samhain to enter the Underworld, perhaps. Or a different archetype might have died at Lughnasadh, Mabon, or another Sabbat entirely while the God of Grain/Horned God dies at Samhain. The cause of his death is also up for debate because some believe he was wounded by another aspect of himself or an enemy while others feel he dies of old age or other natural causes.
The Goddess might be seen as entering her Crone stage at Samhain to age with the God and to allow her power to wane. For others, this might not make sense because she is pregnant with the God that will be born at Yule. How can she be a Crone at Samhain and return to the Mother stage at Yule? I would ask you to remember once again that the Gods are divine and not bound by human-imposed linear time or growth. Another alternative, however, is that another aspect of the Goddess gives birth at Yule while the Earth Goddess dies at Samhain. Either way, we see her mourning the loss of her son/lover at this Sabbat while the seed for his renewal is nurtured in preparation for his return.
The Crone, whether or not one believes the Goddess is in this stage at Samhain or not, is a large symbol of Samhain. As such, we will discuss her more under our symbols section below, but as a prominent form of the Goddess at Samhain, she must be discussed here in our lore section as well. She is the embodiment of death. This Dark Goddess represents not only the end of life but its continuance. As we hear in the Charge of the Goddess “From Me all things proceed and unto Me they must return.” She is a reminder that death is not permanent nor something to be feared. She is our guardian and our guide through that process. She represents growing up and growing into who we are meant to be. As Ashleen O’Gaea explains in Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara, “The Dark Goddess represents our ‘mysterious powers’ (which are only unexplored, and not unnatural), our instincts, our dreams, the unconscious understandings we have of our interconnectedness. No wonder she frightens so many people!” As we are so often reminded, we fear what we do not understand. This fear is amplified if what we do not understand is actually oneself. O’Gaea goes on to challenge her readers, “Dare to adjust to the darkness, accept mundane blindness, and see with your inner eye, which is made to perceive the wonders of the inner realms. Embrace the Crone, as the heroes of the stories do, and be rewarded as they are.”
Hecate is often deeply associated with Samhain because of her well-developed Crone aspect which is an Underworld Goddess. She is a Goddess of transitions, the crossroads, and of illumination (despite being considered by many a Dark Goddess). She sheds light on our inner selves as seen by one of her many symbols—the torch. Hecate shows us the treasures we possess inside that we can make use of once we understand them and ourselves. This connection to the subconscious often links her to the practice of magic as well as divination, as does her triple form (which further links her to the past, present, and future), making her further connected to Samhain when divination is custom. As Janet and Stewart Farrar say in The Witches’ Bible, “Hecate is the Dark Mother, in both the positive and the apparently negative sense. She can send demons to torment men’s dreams; she can drive them mad, if they are not well-integrated enough to cope with her; but to those who dare to welcome her, she brings creative inspiration.” She is a Goddess of both the living and the dead and represents that precarious and precious balance.
Cerridwen, much like Hecate, is a manifestation of the Dark Goddess. She is widely known for her Crone aspect which is associated with the Underworld, knowledge, magic, and for keeping a magical cauldron (a prevalent symbol of Samhain). One of her most prominent myths surrounds her cauldron. It is said she was brewing a special potion to bestow all knowledge upon one of her children, but the potion could only be made for one person to consume and it had to be stirred constantly for a year and a day. Being a very busy Goddess, she instructed a servant to take care of the stirring and set about her own business. On the last day of the brewing, three drops of the potion splashed on the servant and he licked them off. Finding himself now enlightened, he knew Cerridwen would be, in a word, upset that he had consumed her potion that could only be used for one person. So, he shapeshifted to avoid her. This chase went on until he, unwisely, shifted into a kernel of corn. Cerridwen shifted into a hen and ate him. Shortly after, she gave birth to him, named him Taliesin, and he became the greatest bard in Wales with the knowledge and inspiration he possessed.
Herne the Hunter is also associated with Samhain for many of the reasons he is also associated with Mabon (for more information, see our Mabon article). He is both the hunter and the slain. He leads the Wild Hunt which also connects him with the death aspects of Samhain, and he can be connected to the Jack-o-lantern. For more information, please see our symbols section below. Furthermore, we see him in the myth many practitioners inspired by Wicca use at Samhain—that the God sacrificed himself to the hunter’s arrow so that his flesh might feed his people throughout the difficult winter. As a hunter and prey, Herne and Cernunos both understand this sacrifice intimately.
Rhiannon and Brighid are also worshipped at Samhain because of their appearance in myths relating to death and loss. Brighid is said to have been the first to engage in lamenting the loss of a loved one (her son), known as keening. Rhiannon is seen in myths mourning the loss of a son she thought dead. Rhiannon also appears as a temporary Goddess of the Underworld when she was married to Pwyll. She determines which warriors walk off the battlefield and which ones get carried away on their shields. She is represented in some traditions by three ravens often seen as a symbol of death.
The Morrigan is another Goddess typically associated with Samhain. Though there are various ties she has to this Sabbat, the most commonly known is her affair with the Dagda on Samhain, the same night he mated with Boann. Through his affairs that night, the Dagda tied himself as king to the fertility of the land and to the darker aspects of war through Boann and Morrigan respectively.
Osiris and Anubis are often associated with Samhain as well. Anubis is an Egyptian God associated with mummification and death in ancient Egypt. He has the head of a jackal and decides, in some traditions, whether or not someone is deceased and worthy of entering the realm of the dead. Osiris is an Egyptian God who in some stories is murdered by his brother Set and then bought back to life by the magic of his lover Isis. The death and taking apart of Osiris’s body is associated in many traditions with the harvesting of grain at the end of the harvest season.
Odin is also sometimes associated with Samhain because of his ties to shamanism through his spiritual journeys (particularly his hanging from Yggdrasil―the World Tree when the runes were revealed to him). Because of this, and his journey to Hel to find the meaning behind dreams, he is tied to the dead and their remembrance.
Demeter, a Greek Goddess is linked through her daughter Persephone, to the changing of the seasons and is connected to the Dark Mother and the dying of fields. It is believed by some that when Persephone was abducted by Hades, Demeter’s grief caused the earth to die for six months until her daughter had returned. For more information, see our article on Mabon.
By this point you might be scratching your head and wondering why I haven’t included Samhain or Samana in my coverage of Samhain lore. The reason is because there is very little evidence of Gods with these names existing to ancient people. I do not mean to discount newer mythology, but I feel obligated to state that Samhain was not a God of the Dead. If anyone in mythology existed that went by these names, they were minor heroes and not the great Gods that many Neo-Pagan authors make them out to be. Also, any ancient figures that went by these names were probably named after the festivals and not vice versa. So, if you encounter any mythology relating these names to great Gods, take it with a grain of salt and recognize its true origins.
As we’ve said, much of the information discussed in our Mabon article is suited to Samhain. This is the same for the customs section which covers the harvest, wine-making, visiting graves (which we’ll discuss a bit below as well), making offerings to the land, making rattles, and secular customs all of which are appropriate and quite common at Samhain as well.
The most prominent customs at Samhain involve the dead. If you’ve read the rest of this article, it should be obvious why this is so. These customs include visiting family graves, making ancestral altars, holding a dumb supper, and leaving offerings for ancestors.
As we discussed at Mabon, visiting cemeteries is often done at Samhain because we take this opportunity to honor the dead that are so close to us at this point on the Wheel. Some simply visit their loved one’s graves and leave fresh flowers or decorations. Others will take a note from the Day of the Dead practitioners and pack a picnic to share with their ancestors. Some will take time to clean a neglected grave or an entire cemetery, even if they do not know the occupant.
Many practitioners also take this time to set up an altar or shrine for their ancestors. This might include pictures, mementos, letters to the beloved dead, an offering plate, or anything else you wish. Some will make daily or weekly devotionals to their ancestors while others will wait until the night of Samhain when their ancestors are the closest through the veil.
The dumb supper is most likely a newer tradition, though some claim to have historical evidence of this tradition. A dumb supper is called that because one of the definitions of “dumb” is “unable to speak.” These occasions are, more often than not, silent ones. During a dumb supper, our deceased loved ones are invited to share a meal with us. We set places for them, make offerings of food, and enjoy communing with them. While some practitioners will use this opportunity to catch up, sharing new developments in their lives, many will simply enjoy being with these departed loved ones again and focus silently on their prayers for and to the deceased. While all of this work with the dead may seem odd to some who wonder if they can really hear us, it is perfectly normal. Anyone who has lost someone who truly meant something to them will probably tell you that they speak to that person often. It is natural to miss them, to seek a connection with them, and Samhain offers us a perfect chance to reach out. Because the veil is thin, we know they are closer now than they are usually; we can speak to them, and they are able to speak back, to share with us in ways we normally might not be able to perceive. It is also perfect because we focus on farewells and death on Samhain.
Some practitioners will make seasonal foods for their dumb suppers while others will prepare their loved ones’ favorite foods. This can be costly and time-consuming if each of your guests liked different things, so your menu is completely up to you as is your table setting. Some invite other living guests while others prefer to focus on this solemn occasion alone and find other guests a distraction. Some may also wish to set a place for each deceased guest while others see this as unreasonable, depending on the number of guests. If you cannot set places for each guest, you might consider using candles to represent each spirit you’re calling. Some will write notes to their guests that they will burn at the completion of the meal while others will simply speak to the guests out loud or mentally. Some will incorporate this meal into their Samhain ritual, others will do it outside the ritual but they are sure to cast a circle and purify the dining space, still others will treat it like any other meal and forego casting a circle. It should be noted that some practitioners will seem to others to be particularly “paranoid” at Samhain of spirit interference with their rituals and spirit interactions. This is because the veil is thin, making it easier for not only our loved ones to reach us but all spirits. This is why calls to the departed to join your circle at Samhain should be worded very specifically because calling unknown dead to attend your ritual might not be a great idea if you do not know their intentions. Some Pagans, however, believe that as the God’s passing causes the veil to thin, He uses his remaining power to hold back baneful spirits from passing over, allowing only those with pure intentions, but this is a less common belief.
Placing offerings for ancestors may often be done at ancestral shrines or altars discussed above, but they can also be placed on doorsteps as it is believed the ancient Pagans did (which might have led to the custom of trick-or-treating). These offerings were left for their loved ones as a sign of respect and devotion, to appease angry or baneful spirits, and/or to please faeries. As with the dumb supper, you may leave offerings suited to your subject (i.e. Grandma’s favorite dessert, a glass of whiskey for Grandpa, etc.), seasonal foods, or whatever you have on hand. It is often thought, however, that offerings should be suited to the subject, well thought-out, and the best you can afford.
It should be noted that some of the deceased that you work with at Samhain might linger even after they are released (depending on the wording of your release to them; for more information, see our articles on Release of Deity and/or Dismissal of the Quarters). Even after the veil returns to normal, I know at least one of my departed loved ones always lingers for several weeks after I release her. Do not let this alarm you. If it does cause any problems, just be sure to use a more firm release for them.
Due to the thinning of the veil between the worlds at Samhain, it is thought that the departed can send us messages best picked up through methods of divination. Because Samhain also marks a New Year (or at least a transitional time) for some Pagans, it is also an appropriate time for telling the future. It is also thought that Samhain, and possibly Yule (or Mabon, Beltane, and Ostara), was a time of heightened psychic abilities because it is a time of transition from summer to winter, from the old year to the new, from life to death, etc. This time between time is a common theme when heightened senses are discussed.
Of course any type of divination might be performed at Samhain, but traditional methods included peeling an apple and throwing the curl over one’s shoulder or into a bowl of water to read the letter it becomes which would be the letter of one’s future mate, dropping liquid candle wax into cold water and reading the symbols it formed, giving out half an apple and counting the seeds to determine what might happen in the New Year (two seeds was early marriage, three was a legacy, four was wealth, five was a long journey, six was fame, and seven was the fulfillment of a wish), scrying in a flame by a body of water for one’s future mate, reading the cracks in bones after they are thrown into a fire, popping chestnuts in a fire and reading their noises and movements to discern answers to questions, pulling charms from breads, cakes, or other foods to foretell the future, etc.
As we discussed earlier, Samhain is the final harvest festival. Lughnasadh is generally seen as the grain harvest, Mabon as the fruit harvest, and Samhain as the herb or meat harvest. In ancient times, keeping an entire herd of animals through the winter was not only costly, it was impossible. Many would die of illness, particularly the weaker ones, many would starve, and it just wasn’t a wise investment. So, at the brink of winter, many animals were slaughtered for these purposes and to provide enough food throughout the winter. Their meat was preserved, as was any procured from hunting (another custom tied to Samhain). These animals were sometimes viewed as sacred, and their sacrifice for the good of the family/village did not go unnoticed. These killings were sometimes ritualized, and the meat itself was often thought to be sacred because of this. Many of us may not be able to slaughter livestock at Samhain (or have the stomach for it), so a feast with meat at this point is appropriate.
Sacrifice was a common custom at Samhain. At a time when the God is dying, it is natural to honor that through an act of death. It might also have been believed that by adding to His death, we could speed up his journey through the Underworld and, thus, His return to us. Some sacrifices, of course, were probably propitiatory (meaning they were meant to appease the Gods or other spirits) so that the sun would be sure to return or to ensure that winter would not be too harsh. These sacrifices were often livestock (as seen in our discussion on the meat harvest), but there is little doubt that human sacrifice took place as well. Aging kings and/or criminals were often sentenced to a fiery death for this very purpose.
Many Neo-Pagan religions have moral issues with blood sacrifice, however. So, how might you incorporate sacrifice into your ritual? You might wish to engage in hunting, making your kill a sacred act and using all of your prey; sacrifice a paper or grain animal (as we discussed in our Mabon article); or make a more symbolic sacrifice of flowers, money, wine, food, or any other items commonly used for offerings.
Bonfires (or balefires) were lit in many of the Celtic lands at sunset on the eve of Samhain. These fires symbolized the God’s spirit. Even after his death and departure into the Underworld, the hope that he will return and the strength it affords us carries us through the darkness of the night until Yule. It was also believed that these fires lit the way for friendly spirits (as window candles often did more recently), warded off baneful spirits, ushered in the New Year, and purified the space. It is believed that in Ireland one bonfire was lit in an area while other fires were extinguished and relit from that central fire, bonding all the houses together in the New Year. Sometimes bonfires were used in divination, for purifying people or livestock by driving them in between two fires, for games like jumping the fire like we commonly see at Beltane, and for making sacrifices (as we just discussed).
Many of the customs above are rather serious occasions, and, as we discussed in the beginning of this article, Samhain isn’t exactly a somber occasion, despite its focus on death because we, as Pagans, recognize death and darkness for what they truly are—necessary. We cannot have light without darkness nor death without life. We often rejoice in what comes after death and darkness, but we also rejoice in the darkness itself because it is vital part of life, the Wheel, and our spirituality. Samhain reminds us that Wicca/DRW is not all “love and light;” it is a deep religion that recognizes the balance in all things, including light and dark. We cannot ignore the darker, scarier, or more uncomfortable parts of life because then we let them rule us.
This rejoicing is seen in many ways at Samhain. As Edain McCoy says in Sabbats: A Witch’s Approach to Living the Old Ways:
This is also a time for harmless pranks, lavish feasting, circle games, and merrymaking which can be teasingly blamed on nearby spirits. The best known pagan prankster is the Lord of Misrule, a personification of the spirit of fun and hedonism who invades the circle creating pleasant havoc and reminding us that even in the face of death, there is reason to rejoice. His job is also to keep the circle from becoming melancholy at the thought that summer is at an end and the harsh days of winter lie ahead.
Many popular games at Samhain involve apples (as do many popular divination methods as discussed above). This is because the apple is thought to represent the Goddess, good fortune, balance, reincarnation and death (because of its ties to Avalon in Welsh mythology that literally means “apple land), wisdom, etc. Because death ties in with the Samhain theme and the other things are beneficial and might be wished for in the New Year, it is not a mystery why apples are so important at Samhain. By bobbing for apples, playing the swinging apple game (trying to eat them while they’re suspended from the ceiling), or any other apple capturing game, we are trying to bring those desirable traits to ourselves literally by taking control of the apple. Other games involved some sort of divination as discussed above.
The revelry doesn’t stop with these games. Trick-or-treating is probably the most popular of all Halloween/Samhain customs. It probably originated in the Middle Ages with a traditional called “souling” where poor people went from door to door begging for food or money on Hallowmas in exchange for prayers for the dead. The idea of wearing costumes probably came from the Celts who would wear masks in order to confuse the spirits that wandered at Samhain (which we’ll discuss later under “Symbols”). Trick-or-treating as we know it today didn’t begin until the 1930s. Today, an idea has been introduced to this custom that brings it even closer to Samhain—trick or treating for charity. At this time of harvest, we give back to those in need and give thanks for our own abundance. This, like participating in a more traditional manner, would be appropriate to incorporate into your Samhain practice, if you are able (some areas will not allow those over a certain age go trick or treating to reduce the risk of predators). If this isn’t an option, there are various ritual themes you might consider tied to trick or treating. Some are listed on our Samhain Ritual Themes page.
Though many customs at Samhain came from religious observances and they can hold spiritual significance to us as Pagans, many are viewed as secular now (like trick or treating), and they can be incorporated into your Samhain celebration. As we discussed in our article on Mabon, you might make indulging in your favorite fall or Halloween treats a part of your practice (i.e. biting into your first slice of pumpkin pie/cheesecake/ice cream/bread, sipping cider, shoveling down candy corn, etc.) just as you might include telling ghost stories, taking your children shopping for costumes, planning Halloween parties, etc. Some of the secular customs we examined at Mabon might also fit well here, depending on where you live.
As we discussed in our Wheel of the Year article, magic isn’t traditionally performed on Sabbats. If, however, you decide to perform magic, Samhain’s energies are best suited to work with past lives, divination, dealing with death, release (particularly of unneeded or unwanted habits/obsessions and the old), the Underworld, understanding the cycles of life, protection, introspection, guidance, knowledge, new beginnings, abundance, change, the Shadow Self, banishing, faeries, transformation, etc.
Once again I must stress that as one of the three harvest Sabbats, Samhain is best studied with our other harvest festivals—Lughnasadh and Mabon. Many of the customs and symbols are similar. For example, in our Mabon article, we discussed apples, sun wheels, corn dolls, gourds, nuts, the spiral, etc. that are all applicable to Samhain.
That is not to say that Samhain is only another harvest festival and has no new symbols unique to it. Its symbols are some of the most well-known in modern witchcraft and have deeper meanings than many are aware.
One of the most prominent symbols of Samhain/Halloween is also one of the most controversial in the Pagan community—the Halloween witch. Every year we see her hideous face leering at us from store and home displays, television programs, and costumed children. Many witches choose to take offense from her prominence and inaccuracy to what we, as modern witches, are. Even in the media “real witches” are seen taking offense to this green-skinned, warty woman. We see Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer snarling, “I’m just saying you might want to re-think the stereotype before someone turns you into a toad…If I see one more idiot that thinks witches are all hairy moles and rotten teeth…” at a woman dressed as a witch on Halloween, Phoebe from Charmed ranting, “Hook-nosed hags riding broomsticks—that’s what we’re celebrating. Personally, I am offended by the representation of witches in popular culture,” Millie from Boy Meets World denying a little girl candy by growling, “One for the little pirate, one for the little mermaid…oh, and a little witch…you don’t get any because you mock us!” and various other, often humorous, examples of witches taking offense to this stereotype. Should we take offense, though? To answer that, we must examine what this symbol represents to us.
Over the past few years, a story has been circling the internet about the “true” history of the Halloween witch. Because it has been posted and reposted so many times without credit being given to the author, it is widely unknown who originally wrote this piece, but here is the ever-popular story—The Halloween Witch:
Each year they parade her about, the traditional Halloween Witch.
Misshapen green face, stringy scraps of hair, a toothless mouth beneath her deformed nose. Gnarled knobby fingers twisted into a claw protracting from a bent and twisted torso that lurches about on wobbly legs. Most think this abject image to be the creation of a prejudiced mind or merely a Halloween caricature. I disagree, I believe this to be how Witches were really seen.
Consider that most Witches were women, were abducted in the night, and smuggled into dungeons or prisons under the secrecy of darkness to be presented by light of day as a confessed Witch. Few if any saw a frightened normal looking woman being dragged into a secret room filled with instruments of torture, to be questioned until she confessed to anything suggested to her and to give names or what ever would stop the questions.
Crowds saw the aberration denounced to the world as a self-proclaimed Witch. As the Witch was paraded through town en route to be burned, hanged, drowned, stoned or disposed of in various other forms of Christian love all created to free and save her soul from her depraved body, the jeering crowds viewed the results of hours of torture. The face bruised and broken by countless blows bore a hue of sickly green. The once warm and loving smile gone replaced by a grimace of broken teeth and torn gums that leers beneath a battered disfigured nose. The disheveled hair conceals bleeding gaps of torn scalp from whence cruel hands had torn away the lovely tresses. Broken twisted hands clutched the wagon for support, fractured fingers with nails torn away locked like groping claws to steady her broken body. All semblance of humanity gone this was truly a demon, a bride of Satan, a Witch.
I revere this Halloween Crone and hold her sacred above all. I honour her courage and listen to her warnings of the dark side of man. Each year I shed tears of respect when the mundane exhibit their symbol of Christian love.
You might now be asking, “Aislynn, why are you reposting what is obviously a piece of Neo-Wiccan persecution propaganda?” And you’re right to question it, but my motives here are to explain why this piece is utter nonsense. First of all, it has an obvious anti-Christian bias which should not be supported by any advocate for religious equality (because how can we demand respect, tolerance, acceptance, and equality when we demonize Christians or other monotheists and will not let go of any harm done to us by those institutions?). I, personally, find it appalling that they accuse the Christians of prejudice in the very beginning of this piece and then proceed to spout their own prejudice against the church for things that happened in the distant past. Second of all, it goes along with the myth of the Burning Times.
Yes, witch hunts happened around the world for centuries (some are still going on today), but the number of actual witches (by the modern definition) arrested or killed was miniscule. While I find it admirable that so many Pagans today are so willing to shed tears and be fueled by anger for our Christian brothers and sisters that were arrested and killed at this time, I cannot help but feel their anger is misguided because they seem to think these witch hunts were about the persecution of actual witches or oppressing women when they were really about power, land, and other material motivators. I understand that some believe that they are a testament of what can happen when the good-hearted stand idly by and do not fight for what is right, but this idea seems to get lost in the ideas of persecution. Then, there’s the horrible historical inaccuracy of both this story and the myth of the Burning Times. A common (and utterly inaccurate) number of deaths as a result of the Burning Times is in the billions! The real number is probably closer to 40,000-60,000 people. That is not to say this wasn’t a tragedy, but to up the estimated death toll simply to cater to witches who long for a reason to back up their persecution complex is unethical and disrespectful to those who did lose their lives. It would be the equivalent of twisting the Holocaust to suit our own needs.
If this is not the “true” history of this symbol, where did it come from? This Halloween hag is the Crone. We see her aged physique and it reminds us that we will one day age and die, but with that comes the gift of knowledge. We learn that we cannot judge based on appearance or succumb to the agism so prevalent in our society. She symbolizes determination and a certain type of strength. Perhaps her physical strength has waned, but her spiritual and emotional strength remains.
Her appearance was probably shaped by the witch hunts (that much of that story is true), but it wasn’t because witches appeared this way after torture. The church shaped witch lore, for the most part. Some of their theories about witches might have been based on real accounts; for example, the myth of witches riding on brooms likely came from the custom of riding a broom through a field as an act of sympathetic magic to get the crops to grow (the handle of the broom represented the phallus and the tail the yoni) which could appear to be flying at night when sight was limited. We also have records of flying ointments that facilitated hallucinations or astral projection. These might have been the basis of the church spreading the myth of witches flying on brooms and many of the other other common myths like shapeshifting.
This Halloween Witch is often pictured with the tools of her Craft—the cauldron, the broomstick, and her familiar (usually a black cat, owl, or bat). We have already discussed the historical basis many use to justify the broomstick in witch lore. It is a fertility symbol and, because Samhain like all the other Sabbats is a fertility festival, it is a fitting symbol. The broom (or besom) is often used in ritual for purification as well as we discuss in our article on Purification of the Space, and it is this use that makes it a perfect symbol for Samhain. As Gerina Dunwich says in A Witches’ Halloween:
In ritual, it symbolizes the “sweeping away” of negativity, bad luck, and all manners of evil [though many witches do not believe in absolutes like “evil”]. It is also used within the circle to sweep away that which has grown old and is no longer needed, and to enable growth, and make room for that which is new. In this respect, the broom serves as an appropriate symbol of Halloween’s true and original meaning and its harvest aspect.
Her cauldron is a tool and a symbol with which almost all witches are familiar. The cauldron is the womb of the Goddess through which everything is transformed, restored, and from which everything has come; this is fitting at Samhain when we focus on death and rebirth so heavily. Its three legs represent her triple form, and it is believed to be ruled by water but some believe it is elementally balanced (it is made of earth, it holds water, it is heated by fire, and it produces steam which is air). Through it, and through her, we find wisdom, inspiration, guidance, nurturance, and meaning; this can be seen in its divinatory uses. It is has been seen throughout mythology for ages; Cerridwen, Hecate, Demeter, Persephone, Circe, Medea, Branwen, Odin, Indra, Bran, Cernnunos, and Dagda all have ties to mythic cauldrons. It is much more than a vessel to hold potions, burn incense, or hold trick-or-treat candy.
Cats are common symbols of witchcraft. This is commonly thought to be because they were tied to the witch myths concocted during the witch trials; they were said to be the witch’s familiar and worked magic alongside or for the witch. It was sometimes thought that the familiar was the witch herself, taking on another form so as not to be detected. Cats were given this status by the church, possibly, because so many Pagan Goddesses were tied to cats. The most famous is the Egyptian Bast, but Hecate and Freya were both also tied to felines. Cats are still thought to be bad luck by many superstitious people, but witches often see the true meaning of this animal. They are thought to be mysterious, astute, intuitive, watchful, independent, and to possess magical and psychic powers.
Bats too were often thought to be witches’ familiars and have long been associated with darkness because of their nocturnal nature. They are often feared, just as black cats because of these associations. Bats, however, also represent protection, good fortune, spirituality, rebirth, and magic. Owls were also viewed rather dimly and still tend to have superstitions surrounding them (for example, it is often considered bad luck to hear a screech owl), possibly because their penetrating stare is unnerving or because of their nocturnal nature, like the bat. To witches, owls typically symbolize wisdom (usually because of their association with Athena), luck, protection, magic, transition, mysticism, and they are widely believed to be messengers, particularly of the dead.
The Halloween witch is also often seen wearing a conical hat. Many believe this symbolizes the cone of power that is raised in workings of magic. Energy is seen to flow in a spiral until it peaks above the circle so that it might be channeled into a working. The conical hat reminds us of this, of our own power, and our ability to affect change.
Surely we, as a people who have reclaimed the word “witch,” will not take offense that ideas surrounding that word remain. We cannot reclaim a word and expect the world to know right away. There is a process of changing the definition of the word in people’s minds. After all, the term “witch” had these negative and supernatural connotations long before the practice of magic as we know it came along or any of the modern workers of magic even dreamed of using the term “witchcraft.” I cannot simply reclaim the word “murderer” and expect you all to embrace my use of it and understand what I mean. We also should have no problem reclaiming the Halloween witch as a spiritual symbol because she has much greater meaning than many of those insulted parties give her credit for.
While the Halloween witch is the most prominent Samhain symbol, she is by no means the only symbol unique to this Sabbat. Jack-o-lanterns are probably the second most popular symbol of Samhain. These decorations have their roots in the ancient observance of Samhain when they would be carved (probably in other gourds or turnips rather than the pumpkins we are familiar with today) to scare away evil spirits from oneself and from one’s departed loved ones so that travel might be safe on this night of chaos. Today, we use them in a different manner, though they may still serve as a light on this night of growing darkness which may light the way for our loved ones to join us. The symbolism of jack-o-lanterns might not be immediately apparent, but Ashleen O’Gaea does an excellent job of explaining it in her book Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara:
Jack-o’-Lanterns represent the foliate or vegetative aspect of the God, as counterparts to May’s Jacks-in-the-Green or Green Men. We light our Jack-‘o-Lanterns as reverent images of our God, as expressions of our joy in our knowledge that “all that falls shall be reborn” even if 500 years ago people lit them to scare away ghosts and goblins. The candle we set in our hollowed-out pumpkins represents the Sun and our confidence that, though it’s waning at Samhain, it will “return” after Yule; and it represents the spark of life that we know is kept alive deep in the grave, which at Samhain becomes a womb again. Nowadays, with pumpkin carvings going well beyond faces…Jacks symbolize the hopes and dreams we know will survive Winter’s apparent death.
This becomes even easier to understand when you remember our discussion on gourds in our Mabon article that likened them to the womb where the Sun, along with our hopes, is growing at this point on the Wheel.
Christians, however, have their own jack-o-lantern myth. They believe there was a man named Jack who had trapped the Devil but allowed him to go after the Devil assured him he would not have to go to Hell after he died. However, after his death, he wasn’t allowed entrance into Heaven because he had been a horrible person while alive. As per his pact with the Devil, he could not enter Hell, so he was forced to wander Earth. The Devil did, however, give him an ember from the fires of Hell to light his way which he placed in a hollowed out turnip. This became the jack-o-lantern in his memory.
Skeletons and ghosts are often seen at Samhain as well to remind us of this season’s link to death and the spirit world. As Gerina Dunwich says in A Witch’s Halloween, “…today the true meaning behind these symbols…is largely misunderstood, and they are relegated to the same category as vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural [and mythological] creatures whose sole purpose at Halloween are for entertainment and macabre mood setting.” As we discussed in our Mabon article, in most Neo-Pagan religions, death isn’t something to mourn or be scared of. It is a time of rejoicing because of the belief in reincarnation that is prevalent in many of those faiths. We recognize that death is essential as a part of the cycle of life, and that it is not an end but a new beginning. Though we may still experience sadness when a loved one departs this world because we will never see them living again in that incarnation, we are comforted by this belief.
These symbols are not just reminders of the cycle of nature but also a means of honoring darker deities and the shadow—the parts of life and ourselves with which we are uncomfortable. Furthermore, bones of any form are a symbol of earth because our bodies are made of earth. They remind us that we will return to that which gave us life, that we have strength inside of us, and that we are all connected. As Ashleen O’Gaea puts it in Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara, “Our bones are the structures of our bodies, just as our ancestors are the source and structure of our personal histories and our genetic inheritance as well as anything more material we’re left.”
Spiders are a common symbol at Samhain as well. Some say this is because spiders are linked with the Halloween witch because they are common ingredients in her potions. Others say it’s just because they’re creepy and go with the scary nature of Halloween. If we look deeper, we begin to see their true connections with Samhain. Gerina Dunwich explains their connection with death in A Witch’s Halloween:
In some cultures, the female spider’s habit of devouring her mate resulted in the spider becoming linked with the Crone aspect of the witches’ Goddess who reigns during the Sabbat. In the myth cycle of the Goddess, the Crone, which is described as the “darker side” of feminine divinity, represents death, the waning of the dark phases of the moon, and other symbols of the inevitable destruction that is necessary before regeneration can begin, hence her association with the New Year.
Spiders are also associated in some cultures with bad luck or ill omens. Witches, however, often believe them to be symbols of progression, rebirth, craftiness, creation, fate, protection, good luck, and wealth.
We cannot very well discuss spiders as symbols without discussing yet another symbol of Samhain associated with them—their webs. Ashleen O’Gaea explains their significance in Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara:
For Wiccans, the symbolism incorporates some of the fright and some of the beauty. First and foremost, the web symbolizes our interconnectedness [as we discussed in our article on What is a Spell], sometimes straightforward and symmetrical, sometimes less ordered…
Sometimes the web of life is studded with dew-like gems, sometimes with forgotten intentions like half-decayed flies. The strands are very sensitive, though, and when we’re attuned to the vibes, we can be aware of things that happen far away, just as the spider knows when a zephyr or a meal has touched a strand on the other side of her web.
Sometimes it is frightening to realize how close we all are to each other, how much what’s happening on the other side of the world—this world— really does matter in our lives. Sometimes that understanding is overwhelming and we just want to brush it aside, like the protagonist in a movie who screams and flails at the spiderweb she or he has blundered into. But those dark passages we sometimes have to explore usually lead us to something we need—the next clue, perhaps, or the treasure we’ve been seeking. Our lives are poorer for avoiding the darknesses, and spider webs remind us that life is everywhere, and that other lives are significant to ours.
What would Halloween be without masks and costumes? Because Halloween is often seen as a time between times, there is a certain freedom associated with it, and one of those is the freedom to be someone or something else. We are able to don a costume and play by different rules for just one night. We can go a bit crazy and let our hair down in a socially acceptable manner. Festivals such as these were often sanctioned by the government in ancient times because it was recognized that this was a freedom that everyone needed psychologically. We cannot always act as is expected of us or we’ll all tend to go a little insane, especially if those expectations go against our nature as many of society’s expectations tend to do.
Masks have more meaning in a religious setting. Yes, they allow us freedom when used in the usual manner for Halloween, but we don’t become our costumes. I know last year, though I greatly enjoyed my Marie Antoinette costume, I never once felt myself become her. In ritual, however, costumes have important uses. Throughout ancient history it has been believed that when someone put on a costume, they became that character. The ancients would dress as their animal prey in ritual to become them, think as them, and connect with them, making the kill a religious experience. Theatre had its early roots in these rituals and grew through even more religious influence in ancient Greece. Theatre was a ritual where offerings were made and the actors were often thought to become the characters for a brief time, until the costumes were removed. Any actor will tell you that by putting on a costume, you become more in character than ever before, and ritual can use this idea to enhance connections to Deities, animals, spirits, or anything else you are working with in ritual. This is discussed more in our article on ritual garb.
Because of both of these practices, masks symbolize transformation and freedom (though they could symbolize entrapment depending on how one sees the mask they wear). As Ashleen O’Gaea says in Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara:
Masks and the degrees of transformation they effect symbolize Samhain because at Samhain we celebrate and explore transformation. Religiously, we acknowledge the transformation of death to life. Psycho-emotionally, masks help us explore our own potential transformations. They allow us to see ourselves, and thus the world, from different perspectives; they allow others to see us, and thus the world, differently too. At Samhain, the world is different; death has become life, and our use of masks makes that magic visible.
Almost everyone knows that the colors black and orange are associated with Halloween, but these are also the colors of the celebration of Samhain. Black is sometimes though to be a leftover from the misconceptions of witchcraft. It is often regarded as an evil or scary color. It is even used by some Pagans to describe magic done for harm—black magic. Unfortunately, this is still widespread. I say unfortunately because this system of colored magic has racial undertones and is misleading. All magic may do some sort of harm, so no magic can ever be wholly “good’ or wholly “bad” (which again leads us to the idea that witches do not typically believe in absolutes like these). Black has also been associated with witchcraft since the witch myth began. Witches were depicted as wearing black attire, donning black pointed hats, cackling over bubbling black cauldrons, flying into a black night, having black stringy hair, etc. It is no wonder it has been so strongly tied to witchcraft. Black, however, also symbolizes death (which, if you haven’t realized it yet, tends to be a big theme around Samhain). It also tends to absorb all energy and neutralize it (much like the color itself which is really a combination of every color). Also, as we discussed in our Mabon article, Pagans don’t fear darkness but embrace it, work with it, and accept it for its important place in life. We cannot have light without the dark, and we cannot live without either.
Orange’s prominence at Samhain reminds us of its roots as a harvest festival. The color harkens back to the changing leaves and the gourds that symbolize the harvest (among other things). It also reminds us of the fires of this Sabbat that urge the Sun to return while also celebrating its death. Magically, orange is usually associated with courage, health, luck, concentration, psychism, and problem-solving. “Together, black and orange create a powerful symbol that is rich in legend and lore, magic and mystery,” or so says Gerina Dunwich in A Witch’s Halloween.
Foods: apples, squash, pork, gourds, corn, grain, pomegranates, meat, nuts, potatoes
Herbs: sage, mugwort, allspice, catnip, valerian, frankincense, basil, yarrow, ylang-ylang, camphor, clove, copal, sandalwood, benzoin, wormwood, sweetgrass, myrrh, patchouli, bay, cinnamon, ginger, hemlock, mandrake, marigold, mums, mullein, nettle, rosemary, rue, sunflower, tarragon, ginseng
Animals: bats, cats, owls, spiders, crows, stag, jackal, ram, raven, vulture
Other Symbols: the moon, faeries, cauldron, besom, jack-o-lantern, skeletons, ghosts, leaves, nuts, sun wheels, vines, scare crows, corn dolls, pine cones, spirals, vines, tools of divination, scythe, sickle
Colors: black, orange, red
Stones: obsidian, onyx, carnelian, jasper, smoky quartz, jet, bloodstone, petrified wood, beryl, cat’s eye, coal, fossil
Time of Day: Midnight