Samhain- known broadly as Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve- is the Pagan New Year. This season has been often referred to as “The Season of the Witch”. Falling on October 31st, Samhain is a feast of death and rebirth, endings and beginnings. We reflect on the past year before entering a season of rest or incubation in the winter months. Samhain marks the symbolic “death” of nature, followed by the winter season (simultaneously symbolic of the underworld and of life’s pre-birth existence in-utero) before nature is reborn in the spring. This natural life-cycle is personified in the God and Goddess and their three “stages” of maid/youth, mother/father, crone/sage.
This is the time of year when the veils between worlds are thinnest, and communication with the afterlife is most easily achieved. Many have experienced the presence of loved ones who have passed over during this Sabbat, whether called upon or not. In many Pagan paths, we honor our ancestors at Samhain through rituals, shrines, offerings, lighting candles to lead the spirits of loved ones home, or traditions like the Dumb Supper- a meal held in silence, with places set for those spirits who wish to join.
But not all spirits are friendly. At this time of year when the dead are thought to roam our world freely, many have experienced ill-intentioned ghosts or spirits. A number of traditions have arisen in the interest of appeasing or avoiding the unwelcome dead. In ancient times, large bonfires would be lit to ward off evil spirits. Many households would leave offerings such as apples- the food of the dead- outside their homes in the hope that unfriendly spirits would be satisfied and move on. And perhaps the best known tradition of Samhain, masks and costumes were often worn to prevent spirits from recognizing the wearer.
Samhain is a time to recognize- and in fact celebrate- the darker aspects of nature and of ourselves. It is a basic Pagan principle that light cannot exist without darkness, and nothing can begin without something first ending. Nature is balance. And during this Sabbat, we reflect on that balance in our own lives.
APPLES – the food of the dead
BLACK (COLOR) – symbolic of darkness, death, the afterlife
BLACK CATS – symbolic of the “season of the witch”, witch’s familiar
BONFIRES – warding away unwelcome spirits
CANDLES – leading spirits of loved ones home, or burnt in honor of ancestors
DIVINATION – tarot, ouija boards, etc., communicating with the spirit world
PUMPKINS AND ROOT VEGETABLES – final harvest of the year, seasonal
PURPLE (COLOR) – symbolic of the afterlife, the veil between worlds
RAVENS – carrion birds, symbolic of death, the underworld, dark deities such as the Morrigan