Samhain: October 31/November 1 for Northern Hemisphere; May 1 for Southern Hemisphere
Samhain (pronounced SOW-in, SAH-vin, or SAM-hayne) is one of the Greater Wiccan Sabbats and is generally celebrated on October 31st, although some Traditions prefer the date of November 1st. The various names for this Sabbat are Samhain (Celtic), Shadowfest (Strega), Martinmas or Old Hallowmas (Scottish/Celtic), as well as Halloween, Hallowmas, All Hallows Eve, Halloween, Day of the Dead, Feast of Spirits, Third Harvest, Samonios, All Saints Eve, Celtic New Year, Samhuinn, Celtic Winter, Samana, Festival of Pamona, Vigil of Saman, Vigil of Todos, and Santos. Though this Holiday is celebrated on October 31st, All Hallows Eve falls on November 7th, and Martinmas on November 11th.
The symbolism of this Sabbat is that of The Third (and final) Harvest, it marks the end of Summer, the beginning of Winter. It is a time marked by death when the Dead are honored - a time to celebrate and "study" the Dark Mysteries. "Samhain" means "End of Summer". Its historical origin is The Feast of the Dead in Celtic lands. It is believed that on this night, the veil Between the Worlds is at its thinnest point, making this an excellent time to communicate with the Other Side.
Symbols for representing this Sabbat may include Jack-O-Lanterns, Balefires, Masks, The Besom (Magickal Broom), The Cauldron, and the Waning Moon. Altar decorations might include small jack-o-lanterns, foods from the harvest, and photographs of your loved ones who have departed from this world.
Appropriate Deities for Samhain include ALL Crone Goddesses, and the Dying God or the "Dead" God. Samhain Goddesses include Hecate, Hel, Inanna, Macha, Mari, Psyche, Ishtar, Lilith, The Morrigu/Morrigan, Rhiannon, and Cerridwen. Key actions to keep in mind during this time in the Wheel of the Year include return, change, reflection, endings and beginnings, and honoring the Dead. Other meanings behind this Sabbat celebration include the Wisdom of the Crone, the Death of the God, and the Celebration of Reincarnation.
Samhain is considered by many Pagans, Wiccans, and Witches (especially those of Celtic heritage) to be the date of the Witches New Year, representing one full turn of the Wheel of the Year. This is the time of year for getting rid of weaknesses. A common Ritual practice calls for each Wiccan to write down his/her weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment and toss it into the Cauldron fire. Other activities might include Divination, Past-Life Recall, Spirit Contact, Meditation, Astral Projection ("Flying"), and the drying of Winter herbs. It is considered "taboo" by some to travel after dark, or to eat grapes or berries.
Spellwork for protection and neutralizing harm are particularly warranted at this time of year, because Samhain is considered to be a good time to boost your confidence and security.
Many Witches use their own personal Besom, or Magickal Broom as a part of their rituals. Some Besoms are structurally different in shape from the flat ones sold today, being round on the end and having a smaller sweeping surface. They can, however, be fashioned flat or however you personally desire. These Magickal Brooms are commonly used for cleansing and purifying Sacred Space, but can be used for many other things... such as using one in place of a Wand, Athame, or finger to project your personal energy when casting your Circle.
Here is a simple way to create your own, quoted from one of Edain McCoys wonderful books:
"Making a Besom"
If you would like a Besom of your own, they are fairly easy to find in craft stores, country markets, or folk art fairs. You can also invest your energies into making one, a good idea if you wish to use it in place of a Wand or other ritual tool.
To make a Besom you will need a four-foot dowel one inch in diameter, a ball of twine, scissors, and straw or other long strands of pliable herbs.
Take the straw, or another herb you have chosen for the bristles, and allow them to soak overnight in warm, lightly salted water. The water softens the straws to make them pliable, and the salt soaks out former energies.
When you are ready to make your Besom, remove the straws from the water and allow them to dry a bit, but not so much that they lose the suppleness you will need to turn them into your Besom.
Find a work area where you can lay out the length of your dowel, and begin lining the straws alongside the dowel. Starting about three inches from the bottom, lay the straws, moving backward, along the length of the dowel. Begin binding these to the dowel with the twine. You will need to tie them very securely. You can add as many layers of straw as you wish, depending on how full you would like your Besom to be.
When the straw is secured, bend the top straws down over the twine ties. When they are all gently pulled over, tie off the straws again a few inches below the original tie. Leave the Besom overnight to allow the straw to dry.
The dowel part of the Besom can be stained, painted, or decorated with Pagan symbols, your Craft name, or any other embellishments you choose. Dedicate your finished Besom in your Circle as you would any other ritual tool.
(The above "Making a Besom" is quoted directly from Edain McCoys book “The Sabbats: A New Approach to Living the Old Ways”, page 36, Llewellyn Publications, 1994.)
The most common colors associated with Samhain are Orange and Black. However, Red, Brown, and Golden Yellow are also appropriate colors for this Sabbat. Altar candles should be black, orange, white, silver and/or gold. Stones to use during the Samhain Celebration are Obsidian, Onyx, and Carnelian. Animals associated with Samhain include bats, cats, and dogs. Mythical beasts associated with Samhain are the following: Phooka, Goblin, Medusa, Beansidhe, Fylgiar, Peryton, Erlkonig, and Harpies. Plants and herbs associated with Samhain are Mugwort, Allspice, Sage, Gourds, Catnip, and Apple Trees.
The traditional Pagan foods of Samhain include beets, turnips, squash, apples, corn, nuts, gingerbread, cider, pomegranates, mulled wines and pumpkin dishes. These are all appropriate as well as meat (especially pork) dishes (if you are not a vegetarian - if so, tofu seems ritually correct).
Some Wiccans leave a plate of food outside the home for the souls of the dead. Placement of a candle in a window and burying apples in the hard-packed Earth is believed to guide them on their journey to the lands of Eternal Summer.
According to Margie McArthur, in her book “WiccaCraft for Families”, the following dates are celebrated by many for the entire week preceding October 31st, called "All-Hallows Week":
October 24th - Festival Prelude and Night of Seers - decorate and remember those who have seen the future.
Samhain Humor - Samhain Newsletter 2007
Here is a bit of Samhain humor from Jehana Silverwing:
"Will you stop calling me 'Sow', all right? That's a female pig. The name is Sam. Sam, as in SAM".
He's honored to be here, on Religious Freedoms day. This is the day each school brings in representative theologians from all the different religions in the district. Each gets their hour in the sun. It also happens to be October, so there is only one thing on people's minds.
"Oh, yes. Before I get too carried away with all that arcane lingo, let's touch upon some basics. The religion is Wicca. The root of 'Wicca' is 'Wic', and is derived from the word 'Witch'. And, in order to emphasize that letter 'C', the religion is often called 'WitchCraft'. Now, breaking this final word down, etymologically, we have the words 'Itch' and 'Craft'; beginning with the letter 'W'. 'W' stands for Woman, Wit, Wisdom and Woozy. Woozy, you know, like if you drink too much. So, anyhow: Witchcraft is an itchy craft or skill for women, wits, half wits, the inebriated, and the wise. Of course, we are all in the last category -- at the very least.
"Okay. The roots of Witchcraft. The roots are to be found in your grandmother's root cellar. Which is to figure. They let some gardener loose, and he either tripped over some practitioners in the woods, or he made it up out of figs and mints, or somewhere in between -- your choice. It's appropriate, though -- the phenomenal growth of a contemporary earth religion had to be instigated by a gardener."
"You don't ride brooms, do you?" asks a youth with a face like a pimple.
"Speaking of the Inquisition (and we all know nobody expects it), the Inquisitors wiped out the entire population of women in Europe. Men had to come up with a kind of a temporary reverse-parthenogenesis for the race to survive. Either that, or it was space aliens. We've got some revisionists out there now who don't believe more than a handful of people were deep-fat- fried by the Inquisition, but they're crackpots. A scarce few others claim that maybe only a relative few were killed for Witchcraft -- perhaps in the tens of thousands to maybe a couple hundred thousand. But those numbers seem reasonable, so these figures probably aren't right. The one thing the human race *isn't* is reasonable, so feel free to pick an extreme in either direction.
"Anyhow, we Witches gather together in covens, or else in herds of solitaries -- otherwise known as festivals or networks. Sometimes we meet in gaggles, prides, pods or clutches. We meet once in a while, or whenever the moon is blue.
"A lot of us follow the reincarnation thing. And the truths of ancient lands which rise from the sea. As proof, consider the tales of Atlanta. It's risen from the seas, and even from the land, into a mass of skyscrapers. It's no accident that one of the nation's largest airline hubs is in Atlanta. Gotta provide transportation for all the souls to home in on. And, if you don't think lands can rise from the seas, check out the Midwest.
"Witches give honor to the elements. That's why we can be seen standing out in the rain so often. Our rituals take so long because we usually honor each and every of the 106 elements in the periodic chart, although we often leave out the man-made ones. The anti-nuke crowd leaves out all the radioactive ones as well.
"The religious part is, of course, that we have a plethora of Gods and Goddesses. It's like an herb garden -- they're many, they're hardy, some of them are no better than weeds, and most of them come back the next year. Yes, we have our dying and rising Goddesses and Gods. Most important in the Goddess department is the Maid, Mother and Crone. The Crone is the old warty one you got to watch out for, but that's all right -- she's got arthritis and might not catch you. The Mother -- well, she gives birth to everything, so she hasn't time for much else. And the Maid, hey, she's the one who does the dishes and picks up after everyone."
"What about Halloween?" asks someone else.
"Samhain. Named after me." He pronounces it like his name. "Or maybe it was the other way around. I wasn't around, then. 'Halloween' means 'little hollow'. Hollows were those holes in tree trunks that were such a big deal in fairy tales. Where the Keebler cookie elves live, at least by ill-repute.
"It's one of the Sabbats. There are eight of them. There are the Quarter Sabbats and the Crossed Quarters, and Samhain is a particularly cross Quarter. Almost a Susan B. Anthony Dollar of the occult world, it's that big and feisty. It's the night when the shawls between the world are thin, which is why it's usually pretty chilly. But we try to go outside anyway.
"It's the night Witches talk to their Dead. There's a reason we collect those little decals with roses and skeletons at music stores. Ever wonder why there are so *many* of those things? It's *us*, man. Anyhow, it is permissible to discuss anything you desire with the Dead. Remember, the Dead tell no tales.
"The purpose of Samhain is to prepare for winter. Those of you who are not Witches fill the same task by writing Christmas cards as well as by hiding from the Season of Advertising which begins about then. Well, since we do Yule instead of Christmas, we have other preparations. In the old days, the final crops were taken in. It's the Wiccan end-of-year, our New Year's Eve without streamers and overpriced restaurants. At Samhain, the last crop would be taken in, and that's what folks would eat until spring; mold, rodent droppings, and all.
"The Celtic kids used to knock on doors, just like kids do today. Only then, it was "Trick *AND* Treat". You were supposed to give the kid something tasty like pudding wrapped in boar's stomach lining, and you were supposed to pull some kind of nasty trick on the kid as well. Think of a drop floor under your welcome mat -- the Celts played tricks for keeps. Hardy and lusty sons of guns, they were. If you failed to do a trick of your own, the kid was perfectly justified in thinking something up on his or her own. Note that toilet paper, shaving cream, and rotten eggs are for pikers. Fortunately, we've come a long way since then. However, remember that there is a precedent for that razor in your candied apple. It's a gift from a reincarnated Celt. Witches are too busy partying to do anything like that.
"In fact, we'll party all night long at the slightest provocation. On Samhain our excuse is that midnight is the most magical of the hours. And once one is up that late, one may as well continue. There's a certain somberness about this particular occasion, but we take it in stride. We'll even bob for apples -- the game's symbolic meaning is Futility, except for those bobbers with big mouths. We'll wear costumes, so long as they are black. Black's just a Witchy thing: you wouldn't understand. Its meaning is absence, since black is technically the absence of all colors. People who always wear a lot of black wish to bring this sense of the Void into themselves. At Samhain, black is highly appropriate: we often seek to void out the past year like a bad check."
He takes a long pause for air. Attention still seems to be with him, he notes gratefully.
"Okay, so what are we Witches doing today? Well, there's a certain type of politics. You know the old Craft saying, 'If that which you seek, you cannot find it within, you'll never find it without -- unless you push.' So we have lots of fun boycotting movies people wouldn't have gone to see in the first place if we hadn't made a stink about them. Darn shame cigars are out of fashion, even if Broomhilda still smokes one..." He fades into a reverie of musing.
"Oh, yes, as I was saying. Witchcraft today. It isn't as picturesque as in the old days. The succubuses, incubuses and abacuses are all down in Club Med, where the rest of us can't afford to go. Glad they can afford it. If they head far enough south, maybe they'll transform the rainforests -- 'Make Love, Not Cattle'. Yeah, Witchcraft can be pretty transformative. Not many religions let you bang on rawhide all night and plunk a computer keyboard by day."
He concludes his talk, and leaves to applause, feeling good about having clarified the Craft like drawn butter. Students follow him outside, as he straddles his ElectroLux. They laugh, as he makes verbal vroom-vroom-vroom noises. Nothing happens.
"Drat", he says. "Anyone got a car? And jumper cables?"
Ten minutes later, Mr. Haim and his vacuum cleaner are skybound, circling up and into the clouds.
**Also uploaded to the Religion Forum and to the New Age B Forum of CompuServe, and to the Pagan Message Board on America Online