Samhain (aka Halloween) is coming up fast! In 13 days to be exact.
But you don’t have to wait until October 31st to work your magic and celebrate this sacred holiday.
Are Halloween and Samhain the same thing?
Let’s start with a little history lesson, shall we?
The modern American holiday known as Halloween actually has origins that date back about 2,000 years, and historians believe the holiday originated with the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in).
On Samhain, the people of the Celtic tribes and the Druids (the Celt’s elders/religious leaders), would gather together for an annual spiritual ceremony. The Druids would light giant bonfires, make sacrifices to show the Gods and Goddesses their gratitude for another successful harvest season (and maybe beg the Gods to spare their lives through another harsh winter?), and everyone would wear costumes often made from animal skins, bones, and antlers, designed to confuse and scare-off evil spirits. (History, 2018)
In the eighth century, the Catholic Church designated November 1st as a time to honor “all saints,” and November 2nd to honor “all souls” who’ve died. Thus the invention of the Catholic All Saints Day celebration, and All Souls Day. Both of these Catholic celebrations still incorporate the traditions of the Celt’s Samhain festivals — fires, costumes, etc. (History, 2018)
The Catholic Church, especially at this time in history, had its sights set on converting as many people as possible. This was both a religious move (I believe they genuinely hoped to save heathen souls from eternal damnation) and a strategic business move. The intense push for conversions was politically and financial beneficial to the Church as a profitable organization; the larger the crowd at Sunday Mass, the more money dropped into the collection basket— tithing (donating one tenth of your earnings to the Church) was legally mandatory.
You can probably see where I’m going with this.
More money in the basket means more cash, which means the Church had the power to purchase more land, goods, and exercise more political/economical influence, etc.
Anyway, my point is that the conversion techniques of the early Catholic Church played a huge part in shaping modern holidays, secular or otherwise.
As part of the Church’s recruitment efforts back in the day, Catholic leaders took care to make Christianity appear as attractive as possible to the “heathens” of the Celtic tribes.
So, one of the ways Catholics attracted Celts to the Church was to make things feel safe and semi-familiar for the new converts. Thus, the Catholic Church approved of the carry-over of various tribal/pagan traditions as a trade off for saving so many pagan souls. And through the years, despite the efforts of some fundamentalist Christian sects, many of the pagan traditions still live on.
(The Christmas tree? Started with pre-Christian pagan traditions. Wishing on birthday candles? The Easter Bunny? All pagan in origin. St. Patrick’s Day? It’s a celebration of the bloody massacre of the Irish pagans who refused to convert. Communion? Holy Water? You guessed it—existed WAY before the Christianity did. Even tithing is a pagan institution. More to come on this later.)
What is Samhain?
What do modern witches do to celebrate Samhain?
Samhain marks the New Year for modern witches, and the official end of harvest— a time when Mother Earth goes into hibernation, and the masculine Horned God takes his watch, casting the earth into darkness with shorter days, longer nights, and (depending on where you live) bitter cold. I grew up in New England, and I live in Maryland now — but even though I’m living a little further south these days, I can still feel the Autumn chill creeping in, and the air here is beginning to smell like fire and frost.
Witches and magical people across many different cultures also believe that this is the one night a year (October 31st - November 1st in the Northern Hemisphere, April 30th - May 1st in the Southern Hemisphere) when the veil separating the living world from the spirit world is at its thinnest— meaning humans and spirits have that opportunity to get closer, sense one another, and walk together.
(Halloween costumes became a custom because folks were trying to hide in plain sight, avoiding any evil spirits that may have arrived looking for living human victims. The idea is that a costume would render it impossible for a demon to distinguish whether you’re dead or alive— so the evil ghosts just pass on by without a second glance.)
Samhain isn’t just the perfect time to eat, drink, and dress up—the thinning veil makes this the perfect time to honor our ancestors, our personal past, release old wounds or negative energies, and create wishes/resolutions for the next year.
🍁 Begin your countdown to Samhain with this simple spell.
What you’ll need:
13 Strips of paper OR 13 large fallen leaves (dry) or 13 dried corn husks (one for each day in your countdown)
A pen, pencil, or paintbrush no one else has ever used.
A candle (choose the color you’re most drawn to)
How to Cast the Spell:
Write 1 prayer, gratitude, memory, wish, or New Years resolution on each slip of paper/leaf/husk (one for each day between now and Halloween).
If you’re using paper or corn husks, loop all the pieces together in the style of a chain and hang the whole thing in a west-facing window. Alternately, you can collect up all your written-on pieces and store them in a special box or bowl on your alter.
Each evening from now until the night of October 31st, after dark, light your chosen candle and leave it to burn for one hour in your sacred space.
While the candle is burning, choose one of the intentions from the bowl, or rip one of the links off the end of your paper chain.
Read what you’ve written out loud, and when you feel ready, send your prayer/wish/intention up to the Gods in smoke. Using the flame of your candle, ritually burn that night’s one paper/leaf/husk. I recommend keeping any remaining ashes from your 13 burned papers/leaves/husks to toss into your Samhain bonfire on the final night (Halloween).
When one hour has passed, snuff out your candle (don’t blow it out - you’ll blow away all your work) and go about your normal evening routine.
*Alternately, if you’ve collected your 13 nights’ ashes, but you won’t have access to a bonfire on Samhain, you can carve a Jack O’Lantern instead, and sprinkle the remaining ashes in the bottom of the hollow pumpkin before inserting your light source (tea lights work great) and replacing the top.
When you’re ready to complete this 13 days ritual on Halloween night, cast your circle and call the corners if you wish (or just close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and envision yourself surrounded by a clean, white protective light).
Get grounded, and when you feel centered. Light the tea light that you intend to burn inside the carved pumpkin, and take a moment to focus your energy + your gaze on the warm light of the flame.
Out loud or silently to yourself, tell your ancestors (and any other spirits nearby) that if they find themselves lost in the dark, they can look for your healing candlelight and easily find their way home.
If you feel called to communicate any other messages to the spirit world at this time, go for it. Feel free to pull a few tarot cards, write in your journal or Book of Shadows, try scrying, or simply meditate on the intentions you’ve created and all that you’ve learned in life so far.
When you’re done, let your bonfire burn down to coals. Or, place the glowing Jack O’Lantern on your front step, or on a table by a west-facing window in you share a stoop with your neighbors. (You should be able to see the Jack O’Lantern through the window from outside.)
When you’re finished with this intentional 13 day ritual, culminating on Samhain Night, rest assured that all your prayers, resolutions, and intentions have been heard loud and clear, honored, and activated by your higher power. Your miracles are currently in the works, and anything you intended to release is dissolving into the ether.
You are safe, and supported, and now you have the pleasure of watching manifested miracles unfold throughout the months to come.
I have a TON of other Samhain traditions I love to practice— from burying apples to nourish the passing spirits to serving a dumb supper— but I’ll share those in another post.
Now I want to hear from YOU!
Do you practice any Samhain or All Hallows Eve traditions?
What are your favorites?
Any hereditary witches out there with magical family stories or practices?
I’d love to hear ALL the things.