Samhain: The Witches' New Year [you call it Hallowe'en]

6 Conversations

Happy Hallowe'en!

Happy New Year

Happy Samhain

Where did Hallow'een REALLY come from??? Why do we 'Trick or Treat'? What was a 'Jack-O-Lantern' for originally? And how DO you pronounce 'Samhain' ??????

SAMHAIN (October 31-Nov 1)

"The Last Harvest. The Earth nods a sad farewell to the God. We know that He will once again be reborn of the Goddess and the cycle will continue. This is the time of reflection, the time to honor the Ancients who have gone on before us and the time of 'Seeing" (divination). As we contemplate the Wheel of the Year, we come to recognize our own part in the eternal cycle of Life."
-The Witches' Voice 'The Holidays of Witchcraft'

The Gaelic word "Samhain"

'sow-in' (in Ireland), or 'sow-een' (in Wales), or 'sav-en' (in Scotland), but NOT 'sam-hane' (in the U.S., where they don't speak Gaelic) means literally "summer's end."

The history

Samhain is an ancient festival with roots as far back as ancient Egypt. Celebrations keyed to the end of the harvest, the shortening days and coming of winter, have long been in existance in various cultures. The circle of birth, death and rebirth has been linked to the seasons and the harvest in many, cutures; as documented in folklore sources such as The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer.

Since ancient times in the Celtic culture, October 31st has been celebrated as a feast for the dead, and also the day that marks the new year. This time of the year marked the beginning of the cold, lean months to come; the flocks were brought in from the fields to live in sheds until spring. Some animals were slaughtered, and the meat preserved to provide food for winter. The last gathering of crops was known as "Harvest Home," celebrated with fairs and festivals.

In addition to its agricultural significance, the ancient Celts also saw Samhain as a very spiritual time. October 31 is exactly between the Autumnal Equinox [September 20] and the Winter Solstice [December 21], and was considedred a very potent time for magic and communion with spirits. The "veil between the worlds" of the living and the dead was said to be at its thinnest on this day; so the dead were invited to return to feast with their loved ones; welcomed in from the cold, much as the animals were brought inside. Extra places were set at the table and food set out for any who had died that year. Ancient customs range from such placing food out for dead ancestors, to performing rituals for communicating with those who had passed over.

So where did Halloween come from????

The name Halloween is a contraction of 'All Hallow's Eve'. With the arrival of Christianity in Celtic countries, the Church discouraged the fortune-telling and communing with spirits as 'evil'. A day of celebration of the Saints of the Church on November 1 was created in hopes of displacing the 'pagan' customs. This holiday was called All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day, and the night before it became All Hallows Eve, or Hallow'een. Many Halloween traditions, as many other Christian celebrations, are thinly disguised adaptations of the more ancient pagan and Celtic traditions.

Where some of the modern traditions came from

Many ancient festivals include bonfires, and Samhain is no exception. The Beltane Fire on May 1, and the Samhain bonfire on November 1, mark the beginning of Summer, and the beginning of Winter. At Samhain a 'new' fire was kindled for the new year and brought into the household for good luck. The flickering candles inside hollowed out pumpkins [or turnips] were also thought to help the spirits who were abroad that night find their way. Dressing in scary costumes [ghosts, skeletons] was done by villagers who then sought to escort those wandering spirits to the edge of the town at the end of the evening's festivities.

'Trick or treat' -- going door-to-door for money or food -- has evolved in the US and is a combination of various traditions. Remnants of similar customs on New Year's existed in Ireland and as part of Hogmanay in Scotland. Those who gave generously were blessed, and those who did not, were cursed [trick or treat]. As this evolved in the US, giving candy to the the little 'hobgoblins' became a way to insure against vandalism and pranks.

Because this was also considered to be the beginning of the New Year, Divination, or fortelling the future, and looking toward the coming year became a part of the practice. Many of our Halloween traditions, such as bobbing for apples, were originally part of fortelling the future. Baking cakes containing 'lucky tokens' also originated here, now celebrated in some places at the New Year on January 1.

Spells and divinations

Some of the things people would do to foretell the future at the New Year:

Girls were told to place hazel nuts along the front of the firegrate, each one to symbolize one of her suiters. She could then divine her future husband by chanting, 'If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.'

Several methods used the apple, that most popular of Halloween fruits. You should slice an apple through the equator (to reveal the five-pointed star within) and then eat it by candlelight before a mirror. Your future spouse will then appear over your shoulder.

Or, peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand, reciting, 'I pare this apple round and round again; / My sweetheart's name to flourish on the plain: / I fling the unbroken paring o'er my head, / My sweetheart's letter on the ground to read.'

Or, you might set a snail to crawl through the ashes of your hearth. The considerate little creature will then spell out the initial
letter as it moves.2

Where did all the scary stories come from?

See the Guide article Scary Tales for Halloween for some of the scary stories that have evolved from the celebration of Samhain and it's connection to ghosts, skeletons and other scary stuff.

A Wiccan Forum

Want to know more? Curious about witchcraft today? Join us at the Wiccan Forum. Ask questions, share what you know, voice opinions. Have a nice cuppa herbal tea.


The following sources were consulted in the construction of this article.

The Witches' Voice: Holidays of Witchcraft-Samhain

The Witches' Sabbats: Samhain by Mike Nicols
The New Golden Bough by Sir James Frazier
Wicca, a guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham
To Ride a Silver Broomstick by Silver RavenWolf

blessed be

1'You Call It Hallowe'en... We Call It Samhain' by Peg Aloi, Media Coordinator of The Witches' Voice2
from Mike Nichols 'All Hallows Eve'

Bookmark on your Personal Space



Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry


h2g2 is created by h2g2's users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the Not Panicking Ltd. Unlike Edited Entries, Entries have not been checked by an Editor. If you consider any Entry to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please register a complaint. For any other comments, please visit the Feedback page.

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more