Celebrating Samhain: Summer's End and the Origin of Halloween
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Celebrating Samhain: Summer's End and the Origin of Halloween

October 30, 2022 by PathForward
Samhain marks an ideal time to visit the graves of loved ones and reflect.
Samhain marks an ideal time to visit the graves of loved ones and reflect.

Samhain is a time when the barriers between the physical realm and the spiritual world break down, allowing for more interactions between the dead and the living. Sometimes referred to as pagan Halloween, Samhain involves much more than spooky ghost stories. Learn about the ancient tradition, then get a Psychic reading to learn how to bring the rituals into your life.

Samhain Meaning and History

A time-honored tradition followed by Wiccans, Witches, ancient Druids, and modern Pagans worldwide, Samhain is celebrated as October moves into November. Samhain, a Gaelic word, means "summer's end." This festival of the dead celebrates the end of the harvest and the coldest half of the year's start, marking the halfway point between the fall equinox and winter solstice. (Oh, and pro tip: It might look like the word is pronounced "sam-hane," but "saah-win," "sow-win," or "saah-ween" is more correct.)

Ancient Celtics held four fire festivals throughout the year to mark each solstice and equinox, with a large community bonfire essential to celebrating every new season. In late October, families brought in the last of the harvest and attended a Samhain festival, which included lighting a large wheel on fire as a representation of the sun.

Samhain was traditionally the point of the year when folks finished the season's harvests and brought cows in from pasture. Samhain draws on the fact that the Celtic year divides into two halves: a light half and a dark half. The festival signals the beginning of the year's dark part, a time when people need to prepare for the less abundant season ahead.

Families left hearth fires going in homes while harvesting during the day and then lit a torch from the community fire on the way home from the festivals to relight the hearth. This action of dousing an old fire and starting a new fire was one way people banished evil while bonding with their community.

The Origin of Halloween: How Samhain Evolved

When Irish immigrants came to America in the 19th century, they brought traditions. Today's many practices we associate with Halloween come from ancient pagan traditions and rituals. For example, the myth of "Stingy Jack" in Scotland and Ireland held that a man played tricks on the devil and didn't go to heaven or hell when he died. Instead, the devil sent him off with a piece of coal to light the way, and Jack made a lantern by putting the burning coal in a turnip he carved out.

Samhain traditions included carving faces (hello, jack-o'-lanterns!) into potatoes and turnips to scare Stingy Jack and other evil spirits away when the worlds of the dead and living are closest together. The ritual eventually evolved in America to use pumpkins, giving us that quintessential glowing pumpkin Halloween image.

Likewise, you'll see many similarities between today's trick-or-treating and the ancient tradition of "mumming" in the nights leading up to Samhain. Mummers in Ireland would go door to door in costume, singing songs to those who had passed to the spiritual realm while exchanging Samhain cakes. People also played pranks and blamed them on fairies.

Try These Samhain Traditions

Modern-day Wiccans and Pagans still celebrate Samhain, though the holiday is not as well known in the U.S. as Halloween. Typical Samhain rituals of today include feasts, dancing, and bonfires. Try out these traditions to get into the Samhain spirit:

Nature Walk

Go for a meditative walk in nature. Let yourself tune into nature by observing the colors, sounds, and smells you encounter. As you reflect on death, rebirth, and your own place in nature, try gathering natural objects you can use to decorate your home when you get back.

Cemetery Visit

Honor friends and family members who have passed by visiting and tending to their graves. While you're there, think about memories you have with these beloved folks, and consider the ways your loved ones continue to live on through you. You can also place offerings like fresh water and flowers or dried herbs such as rosemary. 

Use Spices and Herbs

Many plants have close ties with Samhain, so you can look for ways to use them as decorations or in your cooking (safely, of course! Always research herbs and spices before consuming them). Some plants associated with Samhain include:

  • Allspice berries.
  • Mountain ash berries.
  • Oak leaves.
  • Rosemary.
  • Sage.

Create an Altar

You don't have to be well-versed in Pagan tradition or have a permanent altar to participate in this Samhain custom. Simply set up a desk or table, and leave it in its place for the three days leading up to the festival. Decorate with symbols of late autumn, including:

  • Acorns and dried leaves.
  • Cornucopias.
  • Fall-appropriate foods (think harvest food like root vegetables, squash, pumpkins or nuts, berries, and dark breads).
  • Symbols of the dead, such as ghosts, skeletons, or grave rubbings.
  • Wine, mead, or mulled cider.

You can also make an ancestors' altar for deceased loved ones using heirlooms, photographs, and mementos of friends, family, or pets you want to honor. Light votive candles on the altar, speak the names of the deceased out loud and thank them for their role in your life.

Make a Bonfire

If you have the right outdoor setup, you can kindle a bonfire. You can also use a small cauldron or fireplace if a bonfire isn't ideal. Try writing down a habit you want to stop in the coming year and cast it into the flames, imagining release and healthier habits you'd like to adopt.

Take Time to Pause

As a time to celebrate life in contrast to death, Samhain is the ideal moment to reflect. Think about your life through the past year, looking over journals and photographs. Take time for introspection about how you've grown, the challenges you've faced, and the things you've learned.

Want to learn more about Samhain? Speak with a Psychic at PathForward today to learn about the Samhain tradition and get personalized advice about how you can incorporate rituals into your own practice.



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