31st of October: Celtic Samhain (the Origins of Halloween)
Although the Halloween celebration, on October 31st, has become the most popular festivity of All Souls’ Day, exceeding even the borders of the Anglo-Saxon world, few people know that this celebration has its roots in the Celtic Samhain. Afterwards, the origin of this celebration will be revealed as well as its meaning and its relationship with the Celtic magic of Wicca.
- You may be interested in learning more about Celtic Wiccan Magic: an Ancestral Legacy
What is Samhain? Meaning and Relationship with Halloween
The Samhain celebration marks the end of the Celtic calendar and the beginning of the new year, coinciding with the end of the summer in the autumn equinox. Given that in the Celtic culture, the night precedes the day, this is celebrated on the night of the 31st of October. It was one of the four great celebrations of the ancestral Wiccan religion, which based its Wheel of the Year (calendar) on the four great Sabbats: the spring and autumn equinoxes along with the winter and summer solstices.
In Celtic Wicca, religious beliefs are mixed with the importance of harvest and gathering. In this regard, Samhain was also the most important celebration for the Celts, as they gave thanks for the harvest at the end of the summer by offering the new grain. Also, through their gods, they communicated with their deceased, since this was a day when the world of the living merged with that of the dead.
This last part of the celebration is the one associated with the Anglo-Saxon Halloween, which has gradually invaded other cultures becoming international. In the past, during this day, the Celts lit large bonfires to ward off the dead and gathered food from the neighbours to offer them to the gods.
Nowadays, on Halloween, children go from door to door hunting for sweets that may be kindly offered by the neighbours. Despite the present folkloric limitations, the Samhain celebration still has a very particular depth.
31st of October: the Celebration of the Celtic Samhain
The Wiccan magic believed in the existence of a Horned God that symbolises the manliness, the underworld and the hunting, and a Triple Goddess that represents the stages of life (the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone). The belief in gods (that mixed neopagans and occult elements) was mixed with the importance of the sowing and the harvest seasons.
That is why the Wiccans celebrated the seasons and the stages of life through the gods, relating concepts such as sowing-fertility, growth-maturity or harvest-death, etc., and Samhain is a good example of that.
According to Wicca, on the night of the 31st of October, that is during the autumn equinox, the God died in order to go back to the Goddess’s womb, who gave birth to him again in the winter solstice. He grew during the spring equinox and reached maturity in the summer solstice, which was the time when he fornicated again with the Goddess to impregnate her and give new life before he died again in the autumn equinox.
Therefore, Celtic Samhain celebrates the God’s death (as a rebirth) and thanks him for the fruits gathered during the harvest at the end of the summer. Therefore, this was a time when the two worlds (the death and the new life) touched each other, so there was the belief that the dead visited the living.
A Ritual for Samhain
The Wiccan purists and the Celtic tradition prevent the United States’ customs (Halloween) from taking over the traditional celebration of Samhain and keep alive one of the most important rituals of their culture, which is without doubt one of the most ancient and unusual.
Before initiating the ritual, those who celebrate it spend a few hours meditating in peace and quiet on the people that are no longer among us. Through their minds, they try to connect with the underworld. In this process it is very important to become aware that the body is simply a shell, and life, ephemeral, but that eternity and immortality live in the spirit.
To initiate the ritual, a fire is lit inside a cauldron (usually a copper one), which symbolises the Triple Goddess’ womb, and the flame represents the dying god. In the fire are burned some papers where we have previously written all those habits that we want to leave behind.
Also, a candle can be lit to welcome the deceased that visit us, but this must have patchouli oil and be put inside a carved pumpkin.
An altar with herbs, incense, scents, candles and other belongings can be laid and, holding a candle, we can recite some of the most popular Samhain prayers, like the one that begins by saying: “On this night of Samhain I mark your passing, O Sun King, into the Land of the Young…”.
While the paper is burning, we can also say a prayer like this one: “I create this fire within your cauldron to transform that which is plaguing me”. We need to visualise everything that we want to leave behind while the fire burns down the paper.
After thanking the Goddess, we bury the ashes and leave the candle burning inside the pumpkin the entire night. A prayer for the deceased is recited and we carry on with a feast to thank the gods for our food.