Sabbat Series: Celebrating Samhain

Posted by Alexandria Huntington on

celebrating Samhain the Pagan New Year with samhain altar in the background
Samhain (pronounced "Sow-Win" or "Sow-Ween") is the eighth sabbat in the Pagan Wheel of the Year and is celebrated from October 31st to November 1st. The festival originated in Ireland and similar late harvest festivals were also recognized in other Celtic lands, such as Scotland, Brittonic Calan, and the Isle of Man.
Samhain was recognized as a liminal time, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. As such, it was believed that the veil between our world and the world of the spirits was at its thinnest. During this time, villagers left offerings on their doorsteps for the fae, hoping to invoke their protection (or at least avoid their ire)  throughout the harsh winter months. The souls of the dead were also believed to return during this time, seeking hospitality from their family and loved ones. Large feasts were held in honor of the departed and their souls were beckoned to attend with a place set for them at the table. 
Another popular part of the festivities was "mumming" or "gushing," a practice whereby children went door to door in costume reciting verses in exchange for food. The costumes served to either intimidate the fae folk or disguise oneself from them. This practice is widely speculated to be the precursor to modern trick-or-treating. Ancient pagans also lit protective bonfires around which they danced, sung, and told stories of their ancestors. In the spirit of imitating mischievous fairies, pranks were often played on friends and neighbors. 
painting of Irish peasants dancing in a tavern
Snap-Apple Night (1833), painted by Daniel Maclise, shows people playing divination games on 31 October in Ireland
Much of what we know of the festival comes from its presence in Gaelic myth.  The 10th-century tale Tochmarc Emire ('The Wooing of Emer'), for example, lists Samhain as the first of four ancient festivals, during which clans across the land ceased their fighting and gathered for feasts, drinking, and tournaments. 
According to the legend of The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn, the sídhe (fairy mounds or portals to the Otherworld) "were always open at Samhain." As a result, many heroes must vanquish some kind of monster or malicious spirit during the festival. In one tale, the young hero slays the fire-breathing demon Aillen with his magical spear. 
In another tale, the Otherworld being Cúldubh climbs out of a burial mound on Samhain and snatches a roast pig. Fionn kills Cúldubh with a spear as he re-enters the mound, but his thumb gets caught between the door and the post as it shuts. As a result of part of his body crossing the border between worlds, Fionn is bestowed with great wisdom. This is symbolic of the wisdom inherited from one's ancestors and is reflective of the general theme of sacrifice associated with this Sabbat.  
The true nature of the festival remains obscured by the fact that much of what we know of these ancient stories and practices comes from the writings of Christian monks, who undoubtedly manipulated the source material to suit their missionary purposes.  In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First instructed his missionaries to use the native beliefs of the peoples he hoped to convert to their advantage, rather than obliterate them completely. 
As a result, Holydays were purposely set to coincide with Pagan Festivals so as to incrementally introduce Christianity and phase out the worship of pagan gods and goddesses. Christmas, for instance, was assigned the date of December 25th because it corresponded closely with Yule and other pagan mid-winter celebrations. Likewise, St. John's Day was set on the summer solstice, which many pagans know as Litha, and Samhain was likewise converted to "All Saints Day," also known as "All Hallows Day," or "All Hallows Eve,” which eventually became our modern “Halloween.” 
In any case, The "All Hallows Day," feast day was meant to replace Samhain entirely but to no avail. Although the traditional Celtic deities diminished in status (becoming the fairies or leprechauns of more recent traditions) the superstitions, traditions, and mystical energy around this special day remained, and so the old beliefs never did die out entirely. The powerful imagery of departed loved ones and  enchanting fairies traveling to our world, as well as the deep symbolism and personal family rituals that accompanied it, was too powerful to be replaced by an abstract Catholic feast honoring impersonal saints.
The Magic of Samhain
The magick of these pagan holidays is felt even today, especially as interest in pagan beliefs continues to increase in popularity. Many modern pagans (myself included) find catharsis in honoring the ancestors and traditions of the past by preforming spell and ritual work as needed—but especially during the sabbat days.
In such endeavors, we use ingredients or objects that correspond with our intent to enhance our magickal energy and ensure our request is heard by the universe. Listed below are a few Samhain correspondences and their meanings to get you started. Including many diverse correspondences in a spell or ritual may boost the power of said spell, but please know that your intention and Will are the most important aspects. Additionally, substitutions can always be made— such as rosemary in the place of any herb, and clear quartz in the place of any Crystal. 

Since Samhain is all about the crossing of fall into winter, mourning and remembering the dearly departed, pacifying the fairy-folk, and communing with the spirits, we want to look for objects associated with enhancing our intuition, providing protection from malicious spirits or negative energies, and inspiring us with the courage to face our fears as we move into the darker half of the year. 

Gemstone Correspondences 

  • Stones to raise psychic awareness and intuition
    • Amethyst, Flourite, Smokey Quartz, Labradorite, Moonstone
      • These stones are great for grounding, meditation, and increasing your psychic awareness. Amethyst and Smokey Quartz are both great for soothing anxiety and nightmares. Fluorite is associated with the Neptune, the planet of mysticism, spirituality, dreams, and illusions. Labradorite and Moonstone are also excellent crystals for working under the full moon or during magickal sabbats such as Samhain as they both are associated with divination and intuition. 
  • Stones for Protection 
    • Onyx, Obsidian, Jet, Black Tourmaline, and Kyanite 
      • These stones all absorb negative energy and produce a calming, grounding effect. They are perfect to carry with you or place by your doorway to dispel negative energies from your life. 
  • Stones for communing/honoring the dead/spirits of other realms
    • Howlite, Carnelian, Celestite, Malachite, Lapis, Selenite, and Spirit Quartz
      • These stones are great for honoring spirits of other realms, be they departed loved ones or the fae. Howlite, spirit quartz and selenite are connected with communication and connecting to our past lives. Selenite has a calming effect and cleanses the energy around it while howlite and spirit quartz reaches beyond realms and is even said to induce prophetic dreams. Carnelian and Lapis are associated with the Egyptian god Anubis and placed in tombs to aid the deceased person's journey to the underworld. Malachite aids us during times of great transformations and is associated with death and rebirth. 


Plant Correspondences 

  • Pumpkins and gourds: protection and abundance
  • Rosemary: protection, remembrance, luck, love, the divine feminine
  • Oak trees and acorns: protection, growth, love, the divine masculine
  • Birch trees: renewal, purification
  • Hawthorn: the fae, magick, love, protection
  • Blackthorn: witches, the fae, magick, protection, death
  • Marigold: the spirit world, ancestors, grief, protection, love, light
  • Chrissanthiumum: ancestors, love, loss, grief, death, longevity
  • Apples and apple blossoms: protection, abundance, love, death, rebirth
  • Pomegranate: sexuality, the divine feminine, death, rebirth
  • Milkweed: birth, death, transformation
  • Myrhh: life, death, rebirth
  • cloves: dignity, protection
  • Mugwort: divination, dreams
  • Rowan branch: protection from evil spirits, believed to keep the dead from rising
  • Thistle: protection, death, boundaries, prophetic dreams

Color Correspondences 

  • Black
  • Orange
  • Green
  • Purple 
  • Red

Animal Correspondences

  • Crows
  • Cats
  • Owls
  • Spiders
  • Moths
  • Bat
  • Rats
  • Boar
  • Cow
  • Dog

Deity Correspondences 

  • Anubis 
  • Hades
  • Persephone
  • Hecate 
  • Morrigan 

Tarot Correspondences

The Major Arcana

  • Death
  • The High Priestess 
  • The Hanged Man
  • The Moon

The Minor Arcana
  • Nine of Swords
  • Eight of Swords 
  • Six of Swords
  • Four of Swords
  • Eight of Pentacles 
  • Four of Wands 
  • Seven of Cups
  • Five of Cups

A Feast for the Dead (Dumb Supper)

Prepare a meal for friends and family, preferably an old recipe that has been passed down to you. Include an extra plate setting either at the table or an altar for the dead, with a bit of the food and drink being served. Invite the spirits to join you and thank them for their wisdom and protection during this time. For the complete "dumb supper" experience, enjoy the meal in silence and reflect upon the souls of the departed. After you are finished, place the offering plate outside your door or someplace in nature.

Ancestral Rituals:

Light a bonfire and tell stories about your ancestors and family. Contact one or more older relatives and ask them to share memories of family members now dead. Record their stories in some form so you can remember them next year. Share what you learned and have written with another family member or friend and add the names of those you learned about and wish to honor to your

Ancestors Altar:

Make a special altar honoring your ancestors. Try to include some of their favorite things or objects they owned or gifted to you. If you do not have anything to remember them by, or didn't get the chance to know them, decorate the altar with protective stones and plants.
Look over old family photo albums and home videos.
Take a walk through a graveyard. You can either visit the memorial of someone from your family and leave an offering, such as food or fresh flowers or simply reflect on those who have passed and wish them well in their next life.
Using Tarot, Runes, Scrying, or some other method of divination, seek and reflect on guidance from your ancestors.

Protection Magick

  • Decorate a cinnamon broom with protective herbs and flowers and hang it above your door. 
  • Make a protective amulet from an acorn, protective herbs, or stones
  • Decorate your altar and home with protective stones such as Onyx, Obsidian, Jet, Black Tourmaline, Tiger's Eye, or Yellow Topaz
  • Make a protective spell jar to keep by your doorway or carry on your person (instructions in the next section)
  • Invoke your ancestors, or preferred deity to protect you during the year. 
  • Carve Jack-O-lanterns and place them on your front porch to ward off malicious spirits 


General Activities 

  • Decorate your altar with fall leaves 
  • Visit a pumpkin patch, corn maze, or hayride
  • Take a peaceful walk through nature 
  • Eat seasonal foods
  • Tell spooky stories or watch scary movies
  • Roast pumpkin seeds 


Samhain Tarot Spread


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