Tradition and history
Samhain is an ancient Celtic tradition. The Celts believed that the year had two parts - the dark and the light part. Samhain was a celebration of the beginning of winter, and a preparation for a more frugal season than the previous one. Among other things, cattle that could not be kept with food during the winter were slaughtered. The holiday was celebrated between October 31 and November 2. Samhain is not pronounced as it sounds but “SAOinn” or “sow-win”. Samhain means "summer's end".
In the Celtic culture, offerings were made to the fairies (Celtic word is aos sí) during Samhain. It was believed that if the fairies were satisfied with the offerings, it would be a pleasant winter where both people and animals had enough food. People could also dress up as monsters so that the fairies would not kidnap them. The Celts also believed that the ancestors could return to visit the physical world during Samhain.
Samhain is an important pagan and wiccan holiday
It is not known by many that Samhain is still widely celebrated today by pagans and wiccans. Samhain is one of eight major festivals within Wicca. Wicca celebrates the wheel of the year, which marks the passage of time. Within Wicca, it is often believed that there are two divinities, the God and the Goddess. When the wheel of the year turns to Samhain, the God reaches the realm of the dead and awaits his rebirth. The Goddess takes form as the Old One and receives him in the underworld. Wicca is a very broad religion and not everyone believes that God and Goddess are the only two divinities. This is just one example of how to pay attention to Samhain.
Wiccans believe that the veil between the worlds is thinner than usual during Samhain. Communicating with deceased friends and family members is common. Also fortune telling and the use of tarot cards. Many within the Wiccan tradition perform rituals during Samhain to honor ancestors, and to ward off evil spirits.
Within Wicca, a total of three harvest festivals are celebrated per year. Samhain is one of them. As the Celts considered Samhain to mark the end of the old year, so too is the case for many within Wicca. New Year's celebrations are therefore common during this period. There are often happy events with campfires and festive dinners. But it can also mean the traditional "dumb supper", a feast that is eaten in total silence to honor one's ancestors. Plates with food and extra chairs are set out for the deceased. The food left on the plates after the feast is left as offerings at the front door overnight.
How to celebrate Samhain today?
There are many ways to celebrate or pay attention to Samhain today. You can reflect on the year that has passed and set new goals for the coming year. You can take care of a deceased family member’s or friend’s grave. It can also be a good idea to go out into nature and appreciate the season's vibrant colors and new scents. Samhain is usually considered a good time to communicate with the dead, and for divination. Wiccans often honor relatives and friends who are no longer with us.
A simple ritual you can perform during Samhain is to write down things on a piece of paper that you want to let go of. It can be about letting go of old habits or unwanted thoughts. Maybe you have an enemy you are ready to let go of? The piece of paper can then be burned up. In this way, you make room for new habits, thoughts and feelings in the coming year.
Symbols and offerings
Within the Wiccan religion, it is very common to have an altar at home that you decorate with colors, food, drink and incense fitting for the holiday. Before Samhain, you can decorate with candles in yellow, orange, black, red, gold and silver. The food on the altar should preferably be food that is in season: apples, corn, pumpkin, pears, bread and nuts are just a few examples of what is suitable. Beverage can be wine, cider or water. When Wiccans decorate their altar for Samhain, it is also very common to use photographs of deceased family members and friends.