Top image: still, ‘The Love Witch’ (2016) dir Anna Biller

October 31st – you know it as Halloween but to us Witches, it is Samhain Eve. Samhain, literally translating to ‘End of Summer’, is one of the biggest festivals in the Wiccan calendar, a time of remembrance of those we’ve lost and a celebration of summer’s death and winter’s birth. The Sun god and Earth fall into a slumber, the nights lengthen, the air becomes crisp and winter begins.

Background:

October 31st is known as one of two ‘spirit nights’, the other being Beltane. A magical interval when the laws of time and space are suspended, Samhein Eve sees the veil between worlds at its thinnest, facilitating communication between ancestors and departed loved ones. Originally, Samhain known as the ‘Feast of the Dead’ is a sabbat (holiday) celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving offerings on altars and doorsteps for the dead who have returned to their previous homes, and this practice is still carried out in certain places. Extra chairs were left out for loved ones to sit around the family table, apples were buried along roadsides for lost spirits without descendants to lead them and turnips were hollowed out and carved to look like protective spirits. Pranks were also a common practice which is where the phrase, ‘trick or treat’ originates from, alongside the tradition of dressing up in costume.

Symbols:
Apples, black cats, Jack-o’-lanterns, besoms.

Herbs:
Mugwort, allspice, catnip, oak leaves, sage, broom and deadly nightshade.

Foods:
Turnips, apples, nuts, mulled wine, beef, pork and poultry.

Colours:
Black, orange, white, silver and gold.

How to celebrate Samhain:

The first easy way to celebrate Samhain is to build a bonfire. This practice is one of the most honoured Samhain traditions, the fire symbolizes the welcoming of winter. You can begin your evening by communing with your departed loved ones through the fire. Invite friends and family to join you to create a welcoming space for the deceased, hold hands around the fire and embrace its warmth. You may also sing and dance, inviting the spirits to celebrate too. Telling stories around the fire is also common, either special memories you have of your loved ones or spooky stories of the dead or supernatural. If you’re not able to build a bonfire, use candlelight instead to welcome the new season.

Having a silent supper to honour the dead is a more sombre and respective Samhain tradition. Leave a chair out for spirits to sit with you whilst you feast and perhaps even make a spare meal for them. Firstly, make your dining space sacred, use sage to cleanse the area and remove all distractions such as phones or TVs. You may wish to remove young family members or animals from this celebration as they may find it difficult to remain silent throughout – which is key.

During the silent supper, some choose to honour the dead through photographs. An Altar is a sacred space that Witches use to carry out rituals and decorate for the Sabbats, for Samhain you may place photographs of your loved ones or personal items of the person you are honouring on your altar. Adding fruit such as apples or pomegranates is also a way to celebrate the deceased; apples are the fruit of death, while pomegranates are the fruit of life, place both on your altar to represent the thin line between both on Samhain.

Orange and black are the two key colours of Samhain, black representing death and orange representing the dawning of light that shall return. Wearing these colours is an accessible and relatively simple way to celebrate Samhain – also workplace friendly. You may wish to decorate your house or altar with said colours, candles are an easy way of decorating your altar.

Luckily, wearing a costume on October 31st is acceptable in society because of Halloween meaning it is easy to celebrate the prank element of Samhain in public. Traditionally, costumes involved animal parts however, that is no longer common. Masks are key for Samhain, to use them as a disguise to perform mischief but they’re also used to confuse malevolent spirits and keep you safe. Creating your own costume from scratch would be the best way to celebrate Samhain, use household objects, second-hand materials or animal products to create your costume.

A more respectful tradition is the divination ceremony, in which you seek knowledge by contacting your deceased loved ones. The best way to carry out a divination is by using Tarot cards or runes. Use your cards or stones to ask questions to the dead, note down what they tell you and reflect on this by choosing something that has arisen from your ceremony to improve, for example, if the divine guided you to focus more on yourself, spend some time prioritising your mental health and working on your self-worth, perhaps take a weekend away.

Finally, connect with the living. Samhain is of course not only about death, but about life too. Work on relationships that seem to be failing, check up on old friends and spend time celebrating Samhain with others. Learn about your roots as well. Connect with your family tree, perhaps look over old family photographs or watch home movies. 

Whether you are in the broom closet or an out-and-about Witch, Samhain is an easy Sabbat to celebrate as it co-exists with Halloween and many of the traditions cross over. Celebrate your loved ones, dead and alive, play pranks on one another, indulge in great food and take some time to speak to the divine for guidance throughout the winter season.

Happy Samhain, Blessed Be.