What is SAMHAIN? Also known as Halloween: Everything You Need to Know

Samhain is a Sabbat celebrated by Neo Pagans, Wiccans & Witches. Some refer to it as Witches Eve. It marks an important point in the change of seasons. We’re all aware that the natural cycle of nature and the shift in energies. It is a super important turning point in the year and we should make time to take a moment and observe. Samhain gives us the time to honor the end of harvest season and welcome in the dark winter months that are coming. It also offers you the opportunity for reflection, renewal and acknowledge our inherent need to face death and our fears. So embrace this special time, connect with the dead, remember your ancestors and connect with the divine. Samhain is the perfect time to revere them in a way that works best for you. This article will offer you some history and ideas to do just that. Enjoy!




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What is Samhain?

Samhain is the last harvest festival of three (Lammas, Mabon & Samhain). Samhain means the harvest season has officially come to an end. All the crops are dying or dead, cattle is slaughtered. It marks the beginning of the dark side of the year, a time of death when the Goddess descends to the underworld. Samhain is a time for us to prepare for the thinning of the veil between our world and the spirit world. It’s a time to connect with the divinity of the Crone. With veil thinning, spirits and the departed become easier to connect with and so make this the perfect time for divination and magick.

Is Halloween the same as Samhain?

Samhain and Halloween are the same, however, Halloween pretty much only focuses on part of the celebration like the dressing up in costumes, letting your hair down at a party, playing games and the decoration of your home. Samhain is more encompassing of all that plus acknowledgement of nature, the shift in the energy of the season, the God & Goddess and all they have done for us over the course of the year, the thankfulness and reflection, the rituals and the magick. Both have a place and both offer great ways to celebrate this wonderful Sabbat.

What does the word Samhain mean?

Firstly, let’s make sure you are pouncing the word correctly. Samhain sounds like ‘SAH-win’.

Samhain is a Gaelic word meaning summers end.

The Samhain Festival – A Look Back in History

Ancients Celts saw Samhain as the most important fire festival (it is 1 of 4 fire festivals of a year) and is a cross quarter festival. It marked the completion of the harvest. It was a time when they brought back herds from grazing, completed any gathering that was left from the harvest and let their hearth fires burn out. They would partake in a community ritual where a Druid priest would relight to community’s sacred fire. The would take a piece if the fire home with them to use to relight their own hearths. It was considered unlucky to let your newly lit hearth go out on Samhain night, they believed that this omen meant dark times awaited them in the coming year. The fire was also used to light a bonfire or to light touches around their field. During this time the people would make offerings and scarifies (cattle or black sheep or black sow/pig) based on their needs. They would leave food at the edge of their villages for any wandering faeries or spirits. They too understood that this was a day when the viel between worlds thinned and they could be visited by different kinds of spirits both good and bad. Now the people could turn the energy and focus towards preparations for winter.

Crom Cruach Pagan God, Pre-Christian Ireland

NOTE: The Celts considered the faeries as unfriendly beings so as a way to prevent anything bad from happening to them they would dress up as different animals or scary looking creatures ... does this ring any bells?

The Church named November 1st as All Saints/All Souls Day. They did this back in the 9th century when Christianity was taking over Europe and in an attempt to convert all those who where not Christians. They tried to claim the Old Pagan holidays as their own with Samhain being one of them. They failed and All Souls day was add to November 2 because their attempt to displace Samhain from November 1st did not work and the pagan rituals continued regardless!

All Souls Day Medieval 9th Century

By the 1980’s the Pagan Wiccan and Witch movement had gained a lot of momentum with more and more people taking it upon themselves to practice more solemn/serious celebrations of Samhain. Many established covens and solitude Wiccan’s and witches (especially in the United Kingdom, England) could be found practicing the old traditions and rituals associate with Samhain. Most of which, would occur on the night of October 31st (Hallows-Eve/Halloween) or on the closest full moon.

What is the Origin of Halloween?

It is believed that the origin of Halloween comes from the migration of some Irish Protestants, who made their way to America in the 10th Century and brought with them their own Samhain (Halloween) traditions. These traditions included masquerades, parties and games. It wasn’t until the 1930’s when the tradition of trick-or-treating came into play. By 1950’s the majority of cities and towns in the USA had some kind of organized trick-or-treating event to keep troublemakers who liked to prank a little too much, at bay. It didn’t become super commercialize until the 1970’s where the celebration evolved from just being a children’s event to becoming a celebration for everyone to partake in.

The History of Trick-or-Treating

The practice of trick-or-treating originates from Old Irish, Scottish and Manx practices where the poor went from door to door with their jack-o-lanterns offering songs and prayers for the dead for payment of food (which came in the form of soul cakes and cookies with a cross on top).

INTERESTING FACT: In Somerset, England children used to go door to door on October 30th, Punkie Night (aka Mischief/Mischievous Night), to beg for money which they used to buy fireworks for Halloween, the neighbors and people they visited considered it unlucky to refuse the children!

The history of Halloween pranks actually has roots in old Pagan traditions thought to have been associate with the faeries where people either do pranks and blame it on the faeries and goblins or do the pranks to fool the faeries and goblins. It is common belief that the people on the receiving end of these pranks were usually the most unpopular members of a community. It is was very popular throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom for people to get up to harmless mischief on this night. People would pull pranks such as moving items to unusual places, turning road signs the wrong way, removing gates or making garden items go missing etc. It was also common at Samhain for people to create and wear masks (called mumming). With these masks they would go around villages and towns and beg for food, drink or money.

NOTE: If people were ungenerous to the mummers it was thought that those people would receive bad luck and misfortune in the year ahead … I see a common theme here …

What are Samhain/Halloween Practices?

Today’s modern twist on Samhain/Halloween practices usual involve some kind of horror movie, lots of candy and delicious treats, some trick-or-treating and definitely a pumpkin or two to carve (I usually do 2 or 3). You can find some great ideas very easily if you do a quick google search online. Bonfires are an old and new tradition. Our ancestors used to light a community bonfire and do protection rituals (to shield them from faeries & malevolent witchcraft). Bonfires often go hand-in-hand with fireworks. In Wales they had traditions of violent games that they would participate in around the bonfire and in Northern England they would run around with bells & horns. If you want you can gather garden debris and left overs and make your own bonfire in your garden or porch or even balcony. If you live in the city you can bring the bonfire aspect in doors and light a ton of candles for the same feeling and effect.

NOTE: In the Victorian times (1837 to 1901) people used to throw an effigy of an old women into the flames of a burning bonfire and call it the ‘burning of a Witch’ to help protect themselves from witchcraft.

The Welsh have a tradition where after the fires have burned down to cool ash, each member of that particular community would place a stone in the ashes to form a large circle. The next morning, everyone would come a check the stones. If a persons stone had been moved, it was thought that they had been claimed by the ‘fey‘ and they were expected to die within the coming year (how unfortunate!). In Ireland, the Irish people would put out their hearth fires on Samhain and would use homemade candles instead. The candles were made by the women of the house who would also make enough candles to give to their neighbors to pray over during Samhain and the coming dark winter nights.

Halloween Jack-o-lanterns

I think most people would struggle to think of Halloween without having a bright orange pumpkin image pop into your head. The Jack-o-lanterns were originally carved from turnips (Irish) or beetroots (England) and were carried on strings with a glowing piece of coal to make the spooky face light up in the dark. The pumpkins came later when the Irish brought the tradition to America.

INTERESTING NOTE: The term ‘jack-o’lantern’ comes from the old Christian legend about a black-smith called Old Jack, he was such an evil man that supposedly heaven and hell both refused him! He had nowhere else to go except to remain in purgatory where he roams the streets on Halloween night with only a turnip light, lightening his way.

Halloween Costumes – Dressing up

Who doesn’t like dressing up in costumes … I certainly do! This Halloween tradition stems from the Druids and ancient Celtics who used to dress up as animals or scary creatures. This practice was originally done to keep away wandering ghosts from their land. This has evolved into modern day trick-or-treating customs which can vary a lot depending on where you live in the world and what kind of tradition you practice. Now a days it’s not just an activity for children, many adults get into the Halloween spirit and dress up as well! Let’s check out some of the most popular Halloween costume ideas, maybe there’s something in the list that speaks to you …

Top 10 Classic Halloween Costumes:

  1. Witch (obviously lol)

2. Vampire

3. Clown

4. Pirate

5. Zombie

6. Animals

7. Devil/Angel

8. Monsters

9. Skeleton

10. Black Cat

Halloween Parties – A Monster Celebration!

What good is a Halloween costume with out a party to attend! We have all witnessed the increase of popularity in Halloween parties. Over the many years it has evolved from an ‘only children‘ event into a serious get together for adults. A Halloween party can be seen as a time to reflect on the past year and also double up as an event for singles to meet and be sociable and maybe meet the ‘one’ …

What Games Can You Play on Halloween?

If your hosting a Halloween party, whether its a small family gathering or a large community event, it’s always great to include some old Samhain traditional games, here are few to give you some ideas:

Apple bobbing:

This game dates back to the 14th century and is tied to courting rituals. It’s a pretty simple game. All you need to do is place some apples in a large tub of water.  Participants kneel before the tub and try to get an apple by only using their mouth. Sometimes, coins or other objects are hidden in some apples to add good luck to the victory of retrieving an apple. Depending on where your from, sometimes the person who can get the most apples will be announced the winner!

Snap apple:

This game you need one apple per participant, attache string to the stalk of the apple and tie the apple to the ceiling, or tree, or washing line. The person to bite or eat the apple first (up to you) wins! Superstition says that whoever succeeds in biting the apple first will be the first to walk down the aisle.

The Importance of Fire on Samhain

With days getting shorter and the darkness getting longer lighting a fire becomes much more important. Our ancestors didn’t have the luxury we have of electricity do they used candles and torches. At Samhain torches and jack-o-lanterns become more significant as they were believed to light the path for our ancestors who wandered across the thinning veil. Candles were (and still are) placed in the windows (typically in the West) so ancestors could find their way to the door of their family members.

Beautiful Halloween Bonfire

The Importance of Food Offerings for the Dead on Samhain

There is a specific tradition that takes place on Samhain where people set out food for dead family members and ancestors at the table where they would eat the meal in silence (some call this a dumb supper). Food eaten at this time are: Root vegetables, kale, apples, meat, nuts and bread. Why not bake some of your own soul cakes and leave them out for the spirits, ghost and souls of all those who have departed from this world and roam so closely to us on this special night?

The Scary Side of Samhain

There are many different spooky, wicked, scary, haunting, terrify ghouls, goblins and monster out there! They are thought to come out in full force on Halloween. This thought goes way way back. Samhain comes a wide variety of supernatural creatures, here are some of the scary figures people try and avoid on Halloween night:

  • Pucah/Pookah/Púca: a shape-shifting goblin who seduces and kidnaps. can bring good or bad luck, found mainly in rural areas in the form of rabbits, horses, or goats where they could run free and cause mischief 
  • Lady Gwyn/Wen – Goddess Cerridwen (crone), a women (sometime evil, sometimes benign) who appears in all white, sometimes without a head, a lost soul, chases travelers, in distress, murder or suicide victim, a death omen, or a class of spirits
  • The Dullahan: Is a headless horseman, malicious imp, appears on quiet road at night, death omen, calls out the name of the person who is going to die, the Dullahan rides on a black horse and carries his head in his arms, appears after festivals making Samhain a prime time for him to appear.
  • Ghosts: Are dead family members, ancestors and strangers, both malevolent and benevolent
  • Black Pig: The Irish considered this sightening to be an incarnation of the devil
  • Faeries: On Samhain the faery mounds open and a hunting party come out with a pack of black dogs, the hunt kidnaps human adults, usually the hunted are people who have done wrong by the community, sacrilegious, some legends identify the dogs as will-o-the-wisps that act as spirits trying to lure travelers at night to their death.
  • Aillén: A fire-breathing goblin who lures people in by playing faery music which sends them into a deep sleep
  • The Sluagh: These are restless spirits of the dead, known for torturing the living, particularly those who are in love. During Samhain, they used living people to do their violent dirty work, murdering cattle and other animals.
  • The Fomorians: They are an Irish supernatural race, taking the form of giants and come from under the earth or under the sea, they have the ability to control the forces of nature. 
  • Banshees: A banshee (derives from bean sí, meaning fairy woman) is a woman who announces the death of someone by letting out a high pitched wail, not necessarily evil, she simply has the ability to predict someone’s imminent death, seeing a banshee is a bad omen.

Samhain Divination

During this Sabbat apples, nuts, fire and ash all play a prominent part in the celebration and time of year. You might want to incorporate them into your divination practices. You can use apple peel and seed to seek information. Most divination questions revolve around marriage, health, career and wealth at this time. Divination can involve any method by which events are interpreted or explained so you should use whichever method you are most comfortable with. I like to use a scrying mirror, my favorite deck of Tarot cards, and a pendulum at Samhain.

Ideas to Celebrate Halloween

Here are some ideas to enhance your Samhain celebration. You can use one or combine as many as you like depending on your preferences, time commitment and personal practice style:

Samhain Altar Ideas

Seasonal colors: Burgundies, purple, orange, gold and black, white and silver

Things you can add to your altar:

  • Bones especially skulls
  • Dead symbols such as graves stones, dead relatives, dead ancestors, dead pets
  • Dried leaves
  • Nuts
  • Deities symbolizing death
  • Mulled wine and dark breads
  • Any offerings you want to offer to your ancestors
  • Apples
  • Pumpkins and other root vegetables
  • Straw & wheat

Samhain Food Ideas

  1. Butternut Lasagna with Mushrooms and Sage
  2. Irish Bangers and Colcannon
  3. Butternut Squash Soup
  4. Pumpkin pasta
  5. Apple Wafflesa
  6. Pumpkin Soup
  7. Barmbrack
  8. Pork Roast with Apple & Acorn Squash Stuffing
  9. Oktoberfest Sausages, Apple and Kraut
  10. Herb Roasted Chicken With Mashed Turnips
  11. Pumpkin Pancakes As a Samhain Meal
  12. Spaghetti Squash Meatball Casserole

Samhain Gods & Goddesses

Gods: The Horned God, Osiris, Herne the Hunter, Cernunnos, Anubis, Odin, Bran, death, dying and rising gods

Goddesses: All Crone Goddesses, Hecate, Cerridwen, Hel, Oya, the Morrigan, Lilith, Kali, Ishtar, Arianrhod, Rhiannon, Tlazoteotl, Nephthys, Persephone, Beansidhe, Inanna, Baba Yaga, Isis, Pomona and Cailleach Beara (Brigid’s crone aspect)


Samhain is a time of death, but it is also a time of celebration and even romance. We remember those who have come before us and those who still help and watch over us. It is always good for the soul to remember where we came from and count all the blessing we have in our lives. We should remember those who are less fortunate than us and give a little something back whenever we can. Hope you have a great Samhain and have learned something from this article that you can share with others. Let’s keep these sacred traditions alive! Blessed be 🙂




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