“Shadows of a thousand years rise again unseen, voices whisper in the trees, ‘Tonight is Halloween!'”
– Dexter Kozen
The crispness of Autumn is in the air. All around the world people are preparing for Halloween, known to Witches and Pagans as Samhain. This celebration has several aspects. It certainly ties to the harvest, but it is also a festival for remembering the dead. Our Ancestors, martyrs and even those who became Master Teachers – all are welcome in our activities today. Samhain marks the beginning of winter.
The holiday reminds us quite profoundly that we reap what we sow. If one didn’t prepare for winter, they became vulnerable. Halloween, as the Wiccan New Year, is also considered a time ideal for looking within, releasing unhealthy ideas and habits, and generally contemplating about both our spiritual and mundane paths.
Other Names for Samhain and Halloween: Hallowe’en, All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Eve, Summer’s End, Hallowmass, Hungry Ghost Festival, Witches’ New Year, Feast of Saint Andrew.
When is Ostara and Spring Equinox? October 31 in the Northern Hemisphere; April 30 in the Southern Hemisphere, even though many celebrate this festival on October 31st as well.
What is Samhain or Halloween
The Earth is growing quieter. Winds have cooled. The veil between worlds grows thin. Today, the souls of the dead can return home for one night of fellowship with their Tribe. It wasn’t unusual for people to light candles for their deceased family members leaving them a bit of food or drink they enjoyed in life. In some areas like Mexico, those candles line the walkway to the home, and a place has been set at the dining room table where they sat so many times before. While this seems somber, it is also a way for people to honor their history and heritage in intimate ways.
Additionally, after eating and drinking, the real celebration begins with all manner of games including divination with mirrors, nuts, egg whites and apples just to name a few. It was also a time to work magic for prophetic dreams.
In various villages and towns, you might find a central fire, meant to protect and cleanse. In others, people might march clockwise around their homes and fields with the intent to keep the blights of winter away. In Wales, the fires were meant for a different purpose. Lit by a clergy member, the fire kept souls from falling from the sky. Eventually, this translated into a protective fire too.
We can see the influence of Christianity on Samhain in the alternative name of All Hallows Eve, followed by All Hallows Day on November 1. This was a period in which to honor the Saints and offer prayers for those spirits who have not as yet found their way to Heaven. Some of the faithful might make a sojourn to the cemetery with flowers, pastries, and candles for their loved ones. By the 12th century, these dates were Holy Days. In the Middle Ages when poverty hit a parish, the locals were allowed to dress up as the saints, and like the Pagans before them go house to house with a lit turnip. Sometimes people went to the streets with pageantry, reflecting the belief that the dead were having a wild carnival (the danse macabre).
Across the sea in America writings show that the Anglicans in the South and Catholics in the North continued observing All Hallows Eve, much to the distress of the Puritans. When the Irish and Scottish arrived in the 19th century, Halloween really took off, gradually spreading out across various religions and social structures.
Samhain & Halloween Around the World
The Latin Americans have a festival called Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Today the Gates of Heaven open letting the souls of children return to earth to their families (October 31). On November 2, the adults follow. In the home, fruit, chocolate, tortillas, candy and nuts adorn family altars.
In the Philippines, Samhain is known as Pangangaluluwa. Children are going door to door in costume and asking for prayers for those souls still in purgatory. Slowly this transformed into a more secular event. Even so, many towns try to keep the custom alive and often combine it with some sort of charity event.
Nigerians have their Festival of the Dead (Awuru Odo) every two years. The time between may be due to the fact that this event has been known to last for months. During this period celebrants enjoy the company of deceased family and friends in spirit form.
In Italy, the commemoration of All Saints Day really begins a few days before November 1. Families go to the graves of loved ones with chrysanthemums. At home, red candles light windowsills at dusk, and a place setting remains open for any spiritual guests. In Sicily, it’s believed that the dead bring good children sweets during the night (a bit like Santa). Some regions use water and bread as offerings for the dead instead of flowers.
Samhain and Halloween Symbolism and Lore
There are many sites that we automatically associate with Halloween and Samhain beginning with the time-honored carved pumpkin (which started as a turnip). The name Jack-o-Lantern comes from an Irish story. It begins with a man named Jack who is walking home from an evening of drinking. Along the way, he meets the Devil and somehow manages to get him to climb a tree. While up there, Jack etches a cross into the bark, keeping the Devil trapped in the bowers.
Jack would not let the Devil down until he promised never to take his soul to hell. The deal was struck. When Jack died after a life of wickedness, he could not enter Heaven. The Devil also refused him tossing a coal from the fires at Jack, thereby keeping his oath. Jack put the coal in a turnip, making a lantern that guides his way as he roams the earth seeking a resting place.
The Turnip was really the star of carvings until the New World came into the picture with native pumpkins. The size made them much easier to carve. Growing pumpkins was a farming tradition of sorts, not really catching on for the Samhain events until late into the 19th century.
Besides the pumpkin, all manner of scary decorations has become common. Gothic horror was influential to these adornments. Wherever you go, there are skulls reminding us of life’s fleeting nature, pictures of devils, black cats, scarecrows, bats, and ghosts appeared on houses. This slowly transitioned into the elaborate haunted houses we have today.
A fun variant of this known as Truck or Treating was effectively what we now call a Tailgating party. Each truck participating displays thematic decorations. This was far more effective in rural areas where houses were spaced far apart.
At Halloween parties all manner of games were available. Young women would use a magic mirror as a scrying tool. After all, the Spirit world was very active so the chances of getting some result improved. You might roast hazelnuts near a fire, one of which is named for the desired mate, and one for yourself. If the nuts roast without jumping it portends a good pairing. Alternatively, eat some bannock before bed to dream of a future mate.
Bobbing for apples may have its origins in Rome where Pomona was celebrated. Pomona watched over fruit trees, gardens and orchards. Alternatively, some feel that Apple Bobbing represents the Quest for the Golden Apple in which the hero was told to retrieve three by defeating a beast. Once you get an apple, you can peel it in one drawn out strand. The longer the strand, the longer your life.
We find a little Kitchen Witchery afoot in the baking of an oatcake. Little tokens would bake inside the loaf. The hostess would cut up the cake and let people grab a random piece. Whatever token they found had specific meanings such as a coin predicting future wealth.
Samhain Astrology – Northern Hemisphere
October 31st is under the eye of Scorpio. This sign reflects the focus on passion and uncovering secrets this day. Scorpio energies encourage truthfulness on Hallows along with being more assertive and resourceful.
Scorpio is a Water sign, meaning there are a lot of emotions at play here. This is not surprising when we talk about honoring our loved ones who have passed. In working with the Ancestors, this sign’s counsel is being honest and fair. Have that conversation you never had. Lay your feelings bare. Family means everything to Scorpio, so also take time with the living this day and enjoy each other. Our time on this earth is fleeting, so laugh and love in gratitude.
Samhain Astrology – Southern Hemisphere
Taurus is in the sky during Halloween in the Southern Hemisphere. Taurus brings an undertone of stability to a rather raucous day. In good Hallows fashion, however, Taurus provides a love of good food, fancy clothing and a little romance for good measure. It’s interesting that Taurus speaks of the harvest. Instead of food, though, it’s the results of honest labor well done.
The Earth Element governs Taurus meaning that our divination efforts will have some foundation in realistic objectives. For Virgo and Capricorn, Samhain may bring some unexpected money or a long-awaited acknowledgment.
Like Scorpio in the North, the family is foremost in the mind of a Taurus. Spend time with those you love, honor your customs and open your door to friends. Share your memories of those not present.
Samhain and Halloween Element: Water
Water is an emotive element. In Wicca, it resides in the West of the Sacred Circle just as this holiday does on the Wheel of the Year. Water brings us happiness, gratitude, dedication and the ability to hone our will and intent. We know that humans are predominantly made of water so you may find your psychic senses really resonating on “high” right now. In your magic, work from a place of love for powerful results. Other characteristics of the Water Element include kindness, spiritual gifts, imagination, self-expression, healing and awareness.
In keeping with the season, you can try a bit of water scrying. Pour some water in a dark bowl or cup. Gaze at is as you might a crystal ball. Give yourself a little time and see if images appear (typically symbols) and make notes so you can look up the meaning later.
Samhain / Halloween Crystals, Minerals and Sacred Stones
The traditional colors ascribed to Hallows are black, gold, orange, red, white, and silver. We can use that as a starting point for considering some of the best crystals for our Samhain celebrations.
- Brass: Brass comes under the Fire Element and it’s highly protective. It also can substitute in spells that call for gold. Wear brass for healing and defensive magic that keeps away unwanted spirits today.
- Calcite: This cleanses your aura before and/or after your Samhain rituals. You can use it around the sacred circle for increasing psychic energies.
- Carnelian: If you are suffering from a case of the fall blahs keep Carnelian nearby. It restores your motivation. Historically Carnelian was placed with the dead to help them transition into the afterlife with joy: A nice addition to the Halloween altar.
- Garnet: Garnet is another safety stone that helps keep your thoughts on an even keel. Halloween is an ideal time to work with past life regression, something with which Carnelian helps.
- Gold (or Pyrite): Gold represents the Sun King as he makes his journey back into the Earth as Winter, the Holly King, and the Crone come to power. In moving into mysteries of darkness and wisdom of the Underworld, we are reminded that light is just around the bend.
- Hematite: In England, warriors used Hematite as a talisman that kept life’s essence safe in battle, even when wounded. This is perfect symbolism for Samhain in that our spirit’s energy never fades. Commune with your Ancestors keeping a Hematite nearby.
- Jasper: The various types of Jasper represent the different cycles in time and life. At Summer’s End, Jasper helps us face toxic situations in our lives so we can move into the Celtic New Year free of guilt. Jasper also protects you against any mal-intended magic.
- Iron:The purest Iron comes from the stars in the form of a Meteorite. It has powerful defensive energies no matter the source (be it psychic or mundane). If you plan on working protective magic this Samhain, this crystal makes a good partner.
- Jet: Jet is included in the stones for the Day of the Dead because it is a stone of mourning. It also helps you make restitution and correct your wrongs with the spirits of friends and family members.
- Obsidian (Black): This is a very intense stone for fast-acting manifestation. It removes blockages while also offering grounding.
- Quartz (Smoky): Some people find they have intense or disturbing dreams on Samhain. To safeguard against that use this stone in a dream catcher or under your pillow.
- Sunstone: Sunstone reminds us how important it is to nurture our relationships. For those who start wrangling with seasonal depression in Autumn can carry one for some reprieve.
Samhain and Halloween Herbs and Plants
There are definite trends in both crystals and herbs this time of year, much of the symbolism dealing with magic, spirits, and protection.
- Acorn: Acorn is a suitable gift between friends at Samhain. It inspires protection, luck and supports your rapport.
- Apple Leaf: Apple is considered a fruit of the Gods. It represents long life, healing, and kinship. During Samhain, the seeds from an apple can go on our altar as food offerings, which is why Halloween is sometimes referred to as the Feast of Apples.
- Bay Leaf: Since it’s the Witch’s New Year, use Bay in incense for good fortune, wishcraft, prophetic dreaming and overall success.
- Cinnamon: Drink a little cinnamon tea as a magical potion to raise your spiritual vibrations before entering into the Hallows ritual. It’s also considered a good spice for attracting money and passion.
- Clove: Once called the Grains of Paradise, Clove helps you see through illusions. If any spirit comes to you imitating another, you will know it. Clove is common for exorcizing evil energies and revealing lies.
- Garlic: Garlic is sacred to Hecate, the Goddess of Witches. You can use it to honor her in your workings. Garlic can break hexes, curses and lingering negativity caused by things like the Evil Eye.
- Ginger: There is a lot of good “mojo” in Ginger. It’s healthy, protective, promotes confidence, attracts prosperity and so much more. Ginger is one of the herbs that can be carved into a Poppet or used in consecrating magical tools.
- Hazelnut: The Hazelnut is sacred to Thor in Norse Mythology. How does this relate to Halloween? Thor rides in a cart drawn by two goats that he consumes at the end of his journey then resurrects. Additionally, Hazelnut was a common part of divinatory efforts today.
- Hemlock Tree: In Native American Tradition the White Pine calls upon other trees to stand beside him during the winter. Among those that answer s call is the Hemlock Tree, helping hold winter at bay. Makah stories tell us that Hemlock branches were sometimes used in constructing a sweat lodge.
- Mandrake: This herb has associations with the Goddesses Diana and Hawthorn. It’s ruled by Mercury and has purgative qualities. Laid on the mantle of a home it keeps out any demons. Mandrake may also be carved into a Poppet or added to liquids for asperging for increasing magical energy.
- Mugwort: Mugwort has affiliations to cycles, in this case, those of Women. The herb itself is feminine, governed by the Earth Element and Venus and generally appears as a sacred component for divination efforts or for protecting a space.
- Pine: Pine begins moving us into Winter as a sign of overcoming hardships. Pinecones represent the Sacred Masculine. Overall pine averts negative energy.
- Rosemary: Rosemary appears at Samhain specifically to help us remember our beloved family, friends, and Ancestors. It helps attract those happy thoughts rather than becoming morose.
- Sage: Sage is the pinnacle of protection in the sacred space. Sacred to Jupiter and Zeus, some believed that eating sage makes you immortal. Native Americans use it for smudging themselves, spaces, items, and food. You can burn sage to decrease grief. Note that it is best to use garden Sage rather than White Sage, which is very difficult to grow even in the best magical garden.
Foods, Beverages, & Recipes
Ok, Let’s eat!
- Apples: Samhain and apples go hand in hand. When you cut one horizontally, you will see a perfect pentagram pattern in the fruit. Apple houses our access to occult knowledge and the mysteries.
- Barmbrack (Ireland): Made in Ireland for Samhain. This is a lightly sweet yeast bread with fruits. Barmbrack took part in divination when the chef put tokens inside for guests to discover.
- Bonfire Toffee: This comes to us from Great Britain and has molasses in it. It’s often made on Halloween, with flavors ranging from very strong to something like butterscotch. Bonfire Toffee seems to have been the purview of elders who handed it out to children.
- Cider: in folklore apple juice gives us insight when making decisions. Typically Halloween Cider includes ginger, allspice, and cinnamon. You can, however, use other culinary herbs that match your magical goals more aptly.
- Colcannon: This Irish dish combines potatoes with cabbage, spinach or kale and onions. Great for grounding after a chilly ritual.
- Pork: Historically pork was food for commoners and a harvest meat. It carries energies of abundance and a kind of intensity suite to Hallows.
- Potatoes: Another food that can be used as Poppets. Carve out your desire as part of a Samhain spell then put it in the ground, so it grows and materializes.
- Pumpkin: It’s hard to imagine Halloween without Pumpkin. Folklore says that a clever witch can turn a person into a pumpkin. In any case, this is the time of the Pumpkin harvest. If kept cool and dry they remain good for up to 3 months. Pumpkin is ruled by the Water Element and represents providence, protection, fruitfulness and good luck.
- Soul Cake: No one is certain exactly how these originated, but the common theory is that people created them as a kind of offering for spirits. People placed soul cakes in cemeteries, on home altars and gave them as treats for the children who stopped by. You can make it any way you wish, and shape it too!
- Squash: This Fall delight amps up your psychic awareness and overall magical energy making it perfect as a pre-ritual snack (Squash can be candied!).
- Wine (mulled): Even though this is a Day of the Dead, it is also for the living. We gather with friends and family sharing stories and memories.
For more delicious holiday feast ideas visit our Pagan & Wiccan recipes section!
Creating a Wiccan and Pagan Winter Solstice & Yule Ritual
Because the Wiccan Wheel is ever moving, beginnings and endings are all within its turning. Today the old and new rest on the same ledge, allowing the boundary between this world and the next to grow thin. So, while an earthly calendar cycle begins, Wiccans honor the spiritual legacy of those who have passed on to Summerland during this ritual.
Some people believe that what happens on Hallows sets the pace for the entire year to come. So, focus on activities and foods that invoke prosperity, joy, and love. It is also a time for giving; find a suitable charity and volunteer some time or make a donation. This kindness will return to you when most needed. The themes of Hallows are divination, psychicism, death, and transformation.
Since spirits and fairies run free today, you may wish to take extra precautions in protecting your home and sacred space. Clean the floors with basil-steeped water to wash away any negativity from the old year. Hang gorse near your windows or doorway and cast white beans around the circle to banish both ghosts and bad luck.
Gather pictures of, or memorabilia from, people in your life who have passed over, and put these in the sacred space at the western point. For the three other points, you will need a knife or scissors, a candle, and a symbol of transformation.
Carve a pair of black and white candles to represent what you want to release and gather for the new year, respectively. Also, find a crystal to use for scrying, (quartz and obsidian are two good choices), have self-lighting charcoal for the brazier (or cauldron), and write messages on pieces of paper for your loved ones who have passed over (one piece of paper for each individual you wish to contact).
Time the ritual for when it is totally dark outside. This invocation begins with a prayer that opens the way for the spirits of beloved friends and ancestors to join you: “Lady and Lord, pull aside the veil; the edge of time where all things begin and end. Open a gateway to my loved ones that they may join me in this rite.”
Begin this invocation, written originally by Kalioppe and shared freely with the Wiccan world, in the south and end in the west, going counterclockwise to mark the time of death. The candles in the pumpkins are ignited by the person reciting the quarter invocation.
The moon is bright, the Crone is old,
the body is lifeless, the bones so cold.
We all live and pay our dues
to die in ones, and threes, and twos.
Death, dance and play the harp,
piercing silence in the dark.
The Woman’s old with withered limbs;
Death beckons her to dance with him.
As she accepts the Dance of Death,
the Earth is cooled by ghostly breath
to lie in dormancy once more
to have her strength and life restored.
All ye spirits who walk the night,
All ye spirits who walk the night,
hearken, hearken to my call.
I bid you in our circle join;
enter, enter, one and all
Speak to us of things unknown;
lend your energies to this rite
to speed your journey we have joined
on this sacred Samhain night.
guardian of the beloved dead,
we pour forth love on those you keep safely
in your peaceful stead.
We bless those who have walked the path
that someday we as well shall rove.
We offer peace unto their souls
While resting in your arms below.
Meditation and Visualization
Hallows is a time for remembering, and for journeying into our own subconscious. This sojourn unlocks the keys for integrating our past and handling the present more effectively. For this meditation, sit with the crystal you have chosen and close your eyes. Think of one person, now deceased, whom you would trust as a guide, and ask silently for his or her guidance.
Breathe deeply and slowly. Feel the energy of the crystal in your hand. For now, let it sit idly here, lending its insightful power to the meditation process. If it helps, lie on the floor with the crystal resting on your Third Eye while you meditate.
Envision all those friends and family members who have passed over in a circle around you, linking hands. Let their love become the magic sphere that holds you in this place between worlds. As you feel this protective, caring energy grow, the crystal will begin to get warm. When this happens, open your eyes and take the crystal in hand.
Think now of one question that has been nagging you. Direct that question into the crystal. Look at the surface of the stone, and let your gaze become naturally blurry. Watch for images to appear. You may see literal portraits, symbols, or clouds in response to your question. Portraits and symbols have to be interpreted by you. Generally, bright or white clouds moving up or to the right are good omens, while those appearing dark, or moving down and to the left are negative portents.
After you receive your answer, whisper your thanks to the spirits who watched over you, and to the stone. Make notes of the experience in your ritual journal.
The Body of the Samhain / All Hallows Ritual
Place the pieces of paper on which you’ve written your messages to departed loved ones into the cauldron of fire. “Impart these words gently to ______ [fill in with the names of the people you wish to contact]. Carry the smoke of my love and memories with you into the next world when you return.”
This is a good point in the ritual to look over old scrapbooks and revel in positive memories. Allow tears to flow freely, along with laughter as part of the circle of life.
Next, light the black candle, saying, “Death is a part of life. Today [fill in with whatever you’ve chosen to release] dies within me. This is not a loss, but a liberating change that I welcome and accept.” If possible, dance the circle counterclockwise at this point to release negativity. Keep moving until you feel finished casting the shadows from your life.
Light the white candle, saying, “From death to the old ways comes life anew. I light the candle of_____ [fill in with a characteristic you hope to gain] that it may always shine in my heart.” Dance, or walk, the circle clockwise to draw positive energy, and bring light to the darkness.
If you can take a trip to the graves of family or friends later, it’s traditional to leave soul cakes there as an offering to the spirits of the departed. At home, leave out sweet cream for the Fairy Folk and Nature Spirits so they don’t cause mischief.
Some people hold a seance tonight or attempt other forms of divination, such as pendulum work. If you hold a seance, please make sure that an experienced medium controls the attempt. There are many spirits wandering Earth, and you don’t want to reach the wrong one accidentally!
Closing the Circle
Put away the tokens you’ve placed at each quarter point as you recite this dismissal. Note that the progression of the closing gives the attending spirits time to leave before the veil is closed again.
I release the circle of song, the circle of Fire.
The way is opened by a cleansing pyre.
I release the circle of change, the circle of Air.
The way is new, but the magic is there.
I release the circle of peace, the circle of Earth.
The way is fertile for spirit’s rebirth.
I release the circle of Water, the circle of might.
The way is ready; spirits, take flight!
I release the circle of the Ancients, the circle of light.
The way is closed, this holy night.
Closing Prayer (Optional)
Lady and Lord, I have released, sown, and reaped… now it is time to rest. Bring peace to my spirit, to all those souls here gathered, and to this place until we meet here again. So be it.
Traditionally, animals enjoy the food first today, in thankfulness for the gift of sustenance, many of them offer. After that, try cultural foods or favorite edibles of the departed people honored in your ritual.
Don’t let the leftover pumpkin go to waste; make pie or bread as a protective food. Also consider dark foods, such as rye or pumpernickel bread. Pork and apples are both customary foods for the dead, and beans are also a good choice—they grow counterclockwise!
As we become adults sometimes, we miss wonderful opportunities to reconnect with the rhythm of the Circle. This is a time to consider how you feel about endings and beginnings and what you want to take forward into the next point on the Wheel of the Year. What fruits in your life are ready for the harvest? What will sustain your spirit?
You might also consider finishing old projects, making a magic mirror, casting spells for guidance from the Ancestors and a ritual in which you honor the wise Crone.