For thousands of years, people have observed equinox and solstice celebrations with religious rituals. Neolithic monuments like Stonehenge stand testament to that fact. In addition to this, the ancient Celts also observed four other seasonal festivals, known as Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain. The latter of these occurs on October 31st.
In the 9th century, the date of All Saints’ Day was determined to be November 1st. Following this, November 2nd became All Souls’ Day. Over time those holidays were syncretized with Samhain into the modern Halloween, similar to the way in which Ostara turned into Easter. Then, in the 20th century, witches revived the old Gaelic traditions.
The Wheel of the Year
Samhain November 1
Yule December 21
Imbolc February 1
Ostara March 21
Beltane May 1
Litha June 21
Lughnasadh August 1
Mabon September 21
Samhain (pronounced SOW-in) is the first day of the dark half of the year, which lasts from October 31st to April 31st, in the northern hemisphere. Samhain and Beltane are liminal times when the boundary between the physical and metaphysical planes is the thinnest. This allows beings, like fairies, to move between the worlds more easily.
This is why spirits are propitiated to ensure that people receive protection from evil, as well as blessings from the gods. As part of this, offerings of food and drink should be left outside. The souls of the dead even pass through the veil on occasion, so it’s also customary to set a place at the table for them during the Feast of Samhain. This is a sacred time in which to give thanks for the crops and livestock that were eaten throughout the year.
During Samhain people should also dress up in monstrous and demonic costumes to go undetected by malicious otherworldly entities. It is traditional for whole communities to participate in the guising and mumming, in which people impersonate spirits and souls to receive offerings on their behalf. The festival involves people going door-to-door in disguise, reciting verses in exchange for food and other gifts. This is where we get the custom of trick-or-treating, however much has been lost in the process.
In a spiritual sense, the light half of the year is about summoning positivity, while the dark half is about banishing negativity. As part of this, Beltane is observed from sunrise to midday and spells are cast toward the east. In sharp contrast to this, Samhain is to be celebrated from sunset to midnight facing the direction of the setting sun.
In order to rid yourself of something evil in your life, write down what it is that you wish to dispel, such as a bad person you may be acquainted with or a bad habit you might have. Then, focus on what you wrote, allowing yourself to fill with intense emotion. Visualize the unwanted target as clearly as you can the entire time. After that, face west and burn the slip of paper in a black bowl. While doing this, focus on what your life will be like after the banishing occurs and the negativity is removed. Finally, scatter or bury the ashes.
To celebrate the Feast of Samhain gather your friends and family and prepare a meal of wild game, garden vegetables, rye bread, and apple cider. Then, set a dining table with black candles and an autumn centerpiece. At sunset, eat the food with tremendous gratitude, remembering to serve the spirits a plate of their own, and to recite an incantation:
Tonight is a special time that marks the end of the harvest season. Winter approaches, and the dark half of the year is upon us. So, we thank the earth for all it has given us, and we look forward to a bright future in the months and years to come.