What the Heck is a Samhain?

Blessed Samhain

By Jeanine DeOya

A lore that has been adapted in the United States, and many other countries, is the celebration of Halloween. Halloween, or “Hallow’s Eve”, “All Hallow’s”, “Holy Eve” or “Hallowmas” were some of the names given by the Catholic Church, around the 8th century, for a holiday they celebrated the night before “All Saints’ Day” (the celebration of the Catholic Saints). Just like other Christian holidays taken from pre-Christian Pagan celebrations, Halloween is the secular name for the European Sabbat called “Samhain”. Many of you may have heard the word Samhain before, but may not have known what it was about. Let me try to explain. Samhain is what Pagans, Witches and Wiccans celebrates while the rest of the world celebrates Halloween. Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) and also called Witches’ New Year, is an ancient festival which dates back further than 2000 years. Samhain means summers-end. The ancient Celts believed that summer ended at sunset on October 31st.   During that time they celebrated the change of the season by gathering around bone fires and dancing and feeling the vibrations of the seasonal change. This was the time of the third and final harvest of the year; so, much of the celebration was a thanksgiving festival to the goddesses and gods for the year’s food yields.  Many celebrated in festive garb or costumes.

The other part of ancient Samhain lore is the unveiling of the Otherworld. The cooling air is representative of the thinning of the veils between the worlds, including the veil between the living and the dead. The aspect of the Pagan Horned god is said to wane during the last summer days. During Samhain the Pagan Lord travels through the underworld and awaits rebirth before spring. Ancient Celts believed that spirits can either peer or travel through the thinning veils into the world of the living. Celts would dress in costumes to fool the spirits so not to be haunted by an unwanted ancestor or evil incorporeal being. Offerings of food and libations were placed outside doors so that the spirits would take the offerings and by-pass the homes instead of coming in. This is where the tradition of Halloween costumes and the offering of treats came into play.

Samhain Night

Samhain Night

Because the veil between worlds are so thin Witches and Pagans believe that Samhain is a time of psychic clarity and divination—to see what is normally hidden. Much meditation, astral travel and psychic reading is performed during this period. Self-exploration and examination are the common workings since many believe this period is conductive to introspection and seeking the “darker-self”—the inner-self that is unknown. Many Pagans refer to the lore of both Inanna and Persephone. In each of their stories both goddesses journeyed into the underworld and made self-discoveries. Many Pagans look to other dark goddesses when seeking the darker-self, including Oya, Hecate, Lilith, Sekhmet, Auset, Cerridwen and Psyche just to name a few. In African Lore the goddess Oya travels between worlds, and especially the world of the dead. She is said to be the intermediary between the spirits and the living. Her aspect is present during Samhain.  Others may do spiritual workings with Papa Legba since he is the caretaker of the sacred crossroads, and he also controls communication between the spirits and the living.  

Many others view this time as “the Feast of Samhain”. During this period people leave a place setting(s) at the table for a beloved Ancestor(s). To many this is a period of Ancestor  veneration. Some will even use this time to summon ancestors, spirit guides and angels to aid them in their lives. Some Pagans leave milk, honey, cakes and other offerings outside to appease the spirits with hopes that dreams, wishes and desires will be granted.

Personally Samhain is indeed my favorite Sabbat, and this time of year is the most beautiful. The colors of orange and gold and yellow and red reflect in the brilliance of the trees, as well as the season’s harvest. The air cools with the fresh scent of mums and other fall fragrances. On one warm day I have actually smelled the aromatic scent of heated brown leaves under direct sunlight. Because of the cooling air my dreams are deeper, more meaningfully, and more frequent than before. I find myself often in lucid dreams. This is much more desirable than my summer dreams, which were akin to watching a movie screen in a cerebral haze.  Dreams are connected to the psychic and astral plane, and are a good indicator of changes in surrounding energies.

During this time the Witches or Pagans are feeling their power, because their lower 5 senses are much more stimulated, their neural transmitters are firing more intensely, and their third eye widens with the thinning of the veil. Because of this many may be doing fastings and or meditation to increase their abilities. Pagans have a deeper kinship with animals, totems and familiars on Samhain, because they too can sense the changes, feel the veil, and ride with the earth rhythms. The most potent circles are Samhain gatherings. All psychic pores are open and all souls cry out to be heard through the veil, and by the Ancestors. It is the best time for making personal quest and journeying for inner attainment. So when you hear someone ask what the %#@&!  is a Samhain? Just tell them it is a 2000 year old story that has stood the test of time, space and the Otherworlds.

I’ve asked some African-American Pagans what their plans were for Samhain.  Here are some of the replies:

Samhain Altar

Samhain Altar

  • Male Wiccan: “…on the actual day my family/friends will be gathering to honor our ancestors with stories, food & drink, and meditation around our fireplace.”
  • Male Pantheism/Spiritualism: “I will be doing a lot of meditation and reflection.”
  • Female Wiccan: “I’m doing a solitary Samhain Ancestral Devotional ritual written by myself at home.”
  • Female Pagan: “Ancestor ritual with a few other people in the community. We will all fix dishes to share that were some of our Ancestors favorites. We will share with the Ancestors too of course.. Lol.”
  • Male Pagan: “Bonfires, ritual, rum cider…..oh my!”
  • Female Witch Spiritualist:  “I will be doing my self-initiation. Excited and ready for more lessons and doing more healing work that is my gift.”
  • Female Pagan: “I will celebrate the Day of the Dead…with offerings and prayers to my Ancestors.”
  • Female Wiccan: “I’m leading a public ritual tomorrow evening. On the 31st. I’ll be having ritual at home and celebrating with the gods and my Ancestors.”
  • Female Pagan from United Kingdom:  “I will be at Home with my fiancé, kneeling in front of my altar, lighting candles, chanting and honoring our ancestors – We will be celebrating with Hathor, and calling in Anubis to be present in our ‘calling in’ the Ancestors. I will be putting out some food and drink for the Ancestors…”
  • Female Witch: “I took the day off. I’m going to spend it with my kids, pray to my God and Goddess,  and do some candle lighting for my ancestors and deceased loved ones. Have a good one everyone!”
  • Male Pagan: “I’m currently in college now so where I would typically be doing devotionals/rituals throughout the day I’m going to be limited. I have also taken Samhain off from school…to observe the sabbat… I also am going to be writing two rituals for later this week with various groups that I belong too.”

*What will I be doing you ask? This year I will take a break from the rituals and do some self-Journeying with my Spirit-Guides. Okay, maybe I will go to a ritual too. The mead is good this time of year.  ; )

Have a Blessed and Prosperous Samhain♥

Listen to Black Witch Ustream chat on Samhain at 4:30 PM EST. I’ll be taking questions through the BW twitter (@thisblackwitch) and Ustream itself.


Samhain Pumpkins

Samhain Pumpkins

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