October is fondly referred to as #witchyseason for good reason. The weather is getting cooler, nightfall is coming earlier, pumpkin spice flavored everything lines the shelves, and the Fall Equinox has passed. It's officially autumn and for many people, it’s also time to gear up for Halloween!
What is at the heart of this ancient festival and how did it become the costumed mainstream celebration?
In the beginning…
Today’s mainstream Halloween celebration is loosely derived from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Samhain, pronounced sah-win or sow-inmeaning 'Summer’s End', marked the end of the warm harvest season and the start of the cold, harsh winter. Samhain is one of four ancient Cetic Fire Festivals which mark the transition into each season. Also, known as cross-quarter days, these festivals are regarded as the peak of their seasonal energy.
Samhain marks the end (on Oct. 31) and beginning (on Nov. 1) of the Celtic year. On October 31, it was believed that the year's ending is also when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was lifted, making it possible to communicate with beings from other worlds including our ancestors and loved ones.
Samhain was also celebrated with huge sacred bonfires for sacrifices to Celtic Gods. The celebrating Celts would don costumes of animal heads and skins and enjoyed a veritable feast of seasonal crops.
The Christian Takeover
You’re likely at least somewhat familiar with how Christians strategically integrated pagan beliefs into their religious holidays and beliefs in order to ensure assimilation. Well, Samhain is no different. In the mid-eighth century, Pope Gregory III appointed the Celtic new year celebration (Nov. 1) as All Saints Day. This mandatory, “new and improved” festival was meant to celebrate Christian saints and martyrs. Samhain became known as All Hallow’s Eve, which later became Halloween.
How we celebrate today
We know the mainstream vies toward costumes, carving pumpkins, and trick-or-treating. But how do witches celebrate? Many participate in more traditional Samhain practices and rituals or derivatives of such centered on the intention to honour the past and our ancestors.
Some ideas include:
- Altar dedicated to ancestors
- Nature walk
- Show gratitude to the Gods and Goddesses you honor
- Feast of the Dead
- Visit a cemetery
- Divinatory magick
- Ritual to honor the forgotten dead
- Reflection on the past year
- Releasing items and energies
When it’s all said and done, there is no right or wrong way to approach your festivities. You can honor Samhain with a coven or without. You can have intricate, scripted rituals or a simple meditation. There's only one thing to keep in mind - this reverent time holds powerful energies ready for you to draw upon and celebrate.