About Samhuinn Fire Festival – Beltane Fire Society

The membership of the Society has often celebrated the other quarter-day festivals. After the success of Beltane, Samhuinn was our next public event, first taking place in 1995. Our Samhuinn celebr…

Source: About Samhuinn Fire Festival – Beltane Fire Society

Forget Halloween. Edinburgh’s annual Samhuinn Fire Festival is a league of its own. Brought to you by the Beltane Fire Society, this unique and atmospheric event celebrates the Celtic new year, the end of summer and the beginning of winter. With amazingly detailed costumes, mythical creatures, fire, lots of drums, naked skin and enthusiasm the Samhuinn Fire Festival brings the epic Celtic tale of the Summer and Winter Kings to life, illuminating Edinburgh’s Old Town. That’s the Edinburgh way to wish summer farewell. Winter surely is coming!

This 31 October, Edinburgh’s cobbled Royal Mile will once again host the country’s most spectacular Hallowe’en night event. The Samhuinn Fire Festival celebrates the Celtic New Year, marking the end of summer and welcoming the onset of winter. The event, starting at 9pm, takes the form of a stunning torchlit performance along the Royal Mile to West Parliament Square, with wild drumming, acrobatics, fire-dancing and intricate costumes as dozens of volunteers act out battles between the forces of summer and winter.

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All Hallow’s Eve

Halloween.
Sly does it. Tiptoe catspaws. Slide and creep.
But why? What for? How? Who? When! Where did it all begin?
“You don’t know, do you?” asks Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud climbing out of the pile of leaves under the Halloween Tree. “You don’t really know!”
– Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree

Samhain. All Hallows. All Hallow’s Eve. Hallow E’en. Halloween. The most magical night of the year. Exactly opposite Beltane on the wheel of the year, Halloween is Beltane’s dark twin. A night of glowing jack-o’-lanterns, bobbing for apples, tricks or treats, and dressing in costume. A night of ghost stories and seances, tarot card readings and scrying with mirrors. A night of power, when the veil that separates our world from the Otherworld is at its thinnest. A “spirit night”, as they say in Wales.

All Hallow’s Eve is the eve of All Hallow’s Day (November 1). And for once, even popular tradition remembers that the eve is more important than the day itself, the traditional celebration focusing on October 31, beginning at sundown. And this seems only fitting for the great Celtic New Year’s festival. Not that the holiday was Celtic only. In fact, it is startling how many ancient and unconnected cultures (the Egyptians and pre-Spanish Mexicans, for example) celebrated this as a festival of the dead. But the majority of our modern traditions can be traced to the British Isles.

The Celts called it Samhain, which means “summer’s end”, according to their ancient twofold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltane to Samhain and winter ran from Samhain to Beltane. (Some modern covens echo this structure by letting the high priest “rule” the coven beginning on Samhain, with rulership returned to the high priestess at Beltane.) According to the later fourfold division of the year, Samhain is seen as “autumn’s end” and the beginning of winter. Samhain is pronounced (depending on where you’re from) as “sow-in” (in Ireland), or “sow-een” (in Wales), or “sav-en” (in Scotland), or (inevitably) “sam-hane” (in the U.S., where we don’t speak Gaelic).

Not only is Samhain the end of autumn; it is also, more importantly, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Celtic New Year’s Eve, when the new year begins with the onset of the dark phase of the year, just as the new day begins at sundown. There are many representations of Celtic Gods with two faces, and it surely must have been one of them who held sway over Samhain. Like his Roman counterpart Janus, he would straddle the threshold, one face turned toward the past, in commemoration of those who died during the last year, and one face gazing hopefully toward the future, mystic eyes attempting to pierce the veil and divine what the coming year holds. These two themes, celebrating the dead and divining the future, are inexorably intertwined in Samhain, as they are likely to be in any New Year’s celebration.

As a feast of the dead, this was the one night when the dead could, if they wished, return to the land of the living, to celebrate with their family, tribe, or clan. And so the great burial mounds of Ireland (sidhe mounds) were opened up, with lighted torches lining the walls, so the dead could find their way. Extra places were set at the table and food set out for any who had died that year. And there are many stories that tell of Irish heroes making raids on the Underworld while the gates of faery stood open, though all must return to their appointed places by cockcrow.

As a feast of divination, this was the night par excellence for peering into the future. The reason for this has to do with the Celtic view of time. In a culture that uses a linear concept of time, like our modern one, New Year’s Eve is simply a milestone on a very long road that stretches in a straight line from birth to death. Thus, the New Year’s festival is a part of time. The ancient Celtic view of time, however, is cyclical. And in this framework, New Year’s Eve represents a point outside of time, when the natural order of the universe dissolves back into primordial chaos, preparatory to reestablishing itself in a new order. Thus, Samhain is a night that exists outside of time and, hence, it may be used to view any other point in time. At no other holiday is a tarot card reading, crystal reading, or tealeaf reading so likely to succeed.

The Christian religion, with its emphasis on the “historical” Christ and his act of Redemption 2000 years ago, is forced into a linear view of time, where seeing the future is an illogical proposition. In fact, from the Christian perspective, any attempt to do so is seen as inherently evil. This did not keep the medieval church from co-opting Samhain’s other motif, a commemoration of the dead. To the church, however, it could never be a feast for all the dead, but only the blessed dead, all those hallowed (made holy) by obedience to God–thus, All Hallow’s, or Hallowmas, later All Saints and All Souls.

There are so many types of divination that are traditional to Hallowstide, it is possible to mention only a few. Girls were told to place hazelnuts along the front of the firegrate, each one to symbolize one of her suitors. She could then divine her future husband by chanting, “If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.” Several methods used the apple, that most popular of Halloween fruits. You should slice an apple through the equator (to reveal the five-pointed star within) and then eat it by candlelight before a mirror. Your future spouse will then appear over your shoulder. Or, peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand, reciting, “I pare this apple round and round again; / My sweetheart’s name to flourish on the plain: / I fling the unbroken paring o’er my head, / My sweetheart’s letter on the ground to read.” Or, you might set a snail to crawl through the ashes of your hearth. The considerate little creature will then spell out the initial letter as it moves.

Perhaps the most famous icon of the holiday is the jack-o’- lantern. Various authorities attribute it to either Scottish or Irish origin. However, it seems clear that it was used as a lantern by people who traveled the road this night, the scary face to frighten away spirits or faeries who might otherwise lead one astray. Set on porches and in windows, they cast the same spell of protection over the household. (The American pumpkin seems to have forever superseded the European gourd as the jack-o’- lantern of choice.) Bobbing for apples may well represent the remnants of a Pagan “baptism” rite called a seining, according to some writers. The water-filled tub is a latter-day Cauldron of Regeneration, into which the novice’s head is immersed. The fact that the participant in this folk game was usually blindfolded with hands tied behind the back also puts one in mind of a traditional Craft initiation ceremony.

The custom of dressing in costume and “trick-or-treating” is of Celtic origin, with survivals particularly strong in Scotland. However, there are some important differences from the modern version. In the first place, the custom was not relegated to children, but was actively indulged in by adults as well. Also, the “treat” that was required was often one of spirits (the liquid variety). This has recently been revived by college students who go ‘trick-or-drinking’. And in ancient times, the roving bands would sing seasonal carols from house-to-house, making the tradition very similar to Yuletide wassailing. In fact, the custom known as caroling, now connected exclusively with Midwinter, was once practiced at all the major holidays. Finally, in Scotland at least, the tradition of dressing in costume consisted almost exclusively of cross-dressing (i.e., men dressing as women, and women as men). It seems as though ancient societies provided an opportunity for people to “try on” the role of the opposite gender for one night of the year. (Although in Scotland, this is admittedly less dramatic–but more confusing–since men were in the habit of wearing skirtlike kilts anyway. Oh well…)

To Witches, Halloween is one of the four High Holidays, or Greater Sabbats, or cross-quarter days. Because it is the most important holiday of the year, it is sometimes called “The Great Sabbat”. It is an ironic fact that the newer, self-created covens tend to use the older name of the holiday, Samhain, which they have discovered through modern research. While the older hereditary and traditional covens often use the newer name, Halloween, which has been handed down through oral tradition within their coven. (This often holds true for the names of the other holidays, as well. One may often get an indication of a coven’s antiquity by noting what names it uses for the holidays.)

With such an important holiday, Witches often hold two distinct celebrations. First, a large Halloween party for non- Craft friends, often held on the previous weekend. And second, a coven ritual held on Halloween night itself, late enough so as not to be interrupted by trick-or-treaters. If the rituals are performed properly, there is often the feeling of invisible friends taking part in the rites. Another date that may be utilized in planning celebrations is the actual cross-quarter day, or Old Halloween, or Halloween O.S. (Old Style). This occurs when the sun has reached fifteen degrees Scorpio, an astrological “power point” symbolized by the Eagle. The celebration would begin at sunset. Interestingly, this date (Old Halloween) was also appropriated by the church as the holiday of Martinmas.

Of all the Witchcraft holidays, Halloween is the only one that still boasts anything near to popular celebration. Even though it is typically relegated to children (and the young-at heart) and observed as an evening affair only, many of its traditions are firmly rooted in Paganism. Incidentally, some schools have recently attempted to abolish Halloween parties on the grounds that it violates the separation of state and religion. Speaking as a Pagan, I would be saddened by the success of this move, but as a supporter of the concept of religion-free public education, I fear I must concede the point. Nonetheless, it seems only right that there should be one night of the year when our minds are turned toward thoughts of the supernatural. A night when both Pagans and non-Pagans may ponder the mysteries of the Otherworld and its inhabitants. And if you are one of them, may all your jack-o’-lanterns burn brightly on this All Hallow’s Eve.

Source:

by Mike Nichols

Permission is given to re-publish this document only as long as no information is lost or changed, credit is given to the author, and it is provided or used without cost to others. This notice represents an exception to the copyright notice found in the Acorn Guild Press edition of The Witches’ Sabbats and applies only to the text as given above. Other uses of this document must be approved in writing by Mike Nichols.

 

Celebrating Samhain

As October turns to November, thousands of Witches, Wiccans, Druids, and other Pagans in America, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere observe the sacred time of Samhain. Samhain is a festival of the Dead. Meaning “Summer’s End” and pronounced saah-win or saa-ween, Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest and the start of the coldest half of the year. For many practitioners, myself included, Samhain also is the beginning of the spiritual new year.

 

Originating in ancient Europe as a Celtic Fire festival, Samhain is now celebrated worldwide. The timing of contemporary Samhain celebrations varies according to spiritual tradition and geography. Many of us celebrate Samhain over the course of several days and nights, and these extended observances usually include a series of solo rites as well as ceremonies, feasts, and gatherings with family, friends, and spiritual community. In the northern hemisphere, many Pagans celebrate Samhain from sundown on October 31 through November 1. Others hold Samhain celebrations on the nearest weekend or on the Full or New Moon closest to this time. Some Pagans observe Samhain a bit later, or near November 6, to coincide more closely with the astronomical midpoint between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice. Most Pagans in the southern hemisphere time their Samhain observances to coincide with the middle of their Autumn in late April and early May, rather than at the traditional European time of the holiday.

Samhain also has been known by other names. Some Celtic Wiccans and Druids call it Calan Gaeaf, Calan Gwaf, Kala-Goanv, or Nos Galan Gaeof. In Welsh, it is Nos Cyn Calan Gaual. It also is known as Oie Houney. A medieval book of tales, the Yellow Book of Lecan, reports that common folk called it the “Feast of Mongfind,” the legendary Witch-Queen who married a King of Tara in old Ireland. In the ancient Coligny Calendar, an engraved bronze dating from the first century C.E.and dug up in 1897 in France, Samhain is called Trinouxtion Samonii, or “Three Nights of the End of Summer.” Variant spellings of Samhain include Samain, Samuin, and Samhuinn.

With the growth and spread of Christianity as the dominant religion throughout Europe, Samhain time took on Christian names and guises. All Saints’ Day or All Hallows on November 1 commemorated Christian saints and martyrs. All Souls’ Day on November 2 was a remembrance for all souls of the dead. With the coming of Christian Spaniards to Mexico, the indigenous customs of honoring the dead at this time of year mixed with Roman Catholicism and gave birth to the Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, in early November. Samhain shares the ancient spiritual practice of remembering and paying respects to the Dead with these related religious holidays of Christianity.

Halloween, short for All Hallow’s Eve, is celebrated on and around October 31. Although occurring at the same time of year and having roots in end-of-harvest celebrations of the ancient past, Halloween and Samhain are not the same, but two separate holidays that differ considerably in focus and practice. In contemporary America and elsewhere, Halloween is a secular folk holiday. Like its cousin, Thanksgiving, it is widely and publicly celebrated in homes, schools, and communities, large and small, by people of many paths, ethnic heritages, and worldviews. Furthermore, Halloween has evolved to be both a family-oriented children’s holiday as well as an occasion for those of all ages to creatively express themselves and engage in play in the realm of make-believe and fantasy through costumes, trick-or-treating, storytelling, play-acting, pranks, cathartic scary place visits, and parties.

In contrast, Samhain and its related Christian holiday counterparts continue to be religious in focus and spiritually observed by adherents. Although observances may include merry-making, the honoring of the Dead that is central to Samhain is a serious religious practice rather than a light-hearted make-believe re-enactment. Today’s Pagan Samhain rites, while somber, are benevolent, and, although centered on death, do not involve human or animal sacrifices. Most Samhain rituals are held in private rather than in public.

Samhain’s long association with death and the Dead reflects Nature’s rhythms. In many places, Samhain coincides with the end of the growing season. Vegetation dies back with killing frosts, and therefore, literally, death is in the air. This contributes to the ancient notion that at Samhain, the veil is thin between the world of the living and the realm of the Dead and this facilitates contact and communication. For those who have lost loved ones in the past year, Samhain rituals can be an opportunity to bring closure to grieving and to further adjust to their being in the Otherworld by spiritually communing with them.

There are many ways to celebrate Samhain. Here are a few:

      • Samhain Nature Walk. Take a meditative walk in a natural area near your home. Observe and contemplate the colors, aromas, sounds, and other sensations of the season. Experience yourself as part of the Circle of Life and reflect on death and rebirth as being an important part of Nature. If the location you visit permits, gather some natural objects and upon your return use them to adorn your home.
      • Seasonal Imagery. Decorate your home with Samhain seasonal symbols and the colors of orange and black. Place an Autumnal wreath on your front door. Create displays with pumpkins, cornstalks, gourds, acorns, and apples. Set candles in cauldrons.
      • Ancestors Altar. Gather photographs, heirlooms, and other mementos of deceased family, friends, and companion creatures. Arrange them on a table, dresser, or another surface, along with several votive candles. Kindle the candles in their memory as you call out their names and express good wishes. Thank them for being part of your life. Sit quietly and pay attention to what you experience. Note any messages you receive in your journal. This Ancestors Altar can be created just for Samhain or kept year round.
      • Feast of the Dead. Prepare a Samhain dinner. Include a place setting at your table or at a nearby altar for the Dead. Add an offering of a bit of each beverage being consumed to the cup at that place setting, and to the plate, add a bit of each food served. Invite your ancestors and other deceased loved ones to come and dine with you. To have this as a Samhain Dumb Supper experience, dine in silence. After the feast, place the contents of the plate and cup for the Dead outdoors in a natural location as an offering for the Dead.
      • Ancestor Stories. Learn about family history. Contact one or older relatives and ask them to share memories of family members now dead. Record them in some way and later write accounts of what they share. Give thanks. Share what you learned and have written with another family member or friend. Add names of those you learned about and wish to honor to your Ancestors Altar.
      • Cemetery Visit. Visit and tend the gravesite of a loved one at a cemetery. Call to mind memories and consider ways the loved one continues to live on within you. Place an offering there such as fresh flowers, dried herbs, or a libation of water.
      • Reflections. Reflect on you and your life over the past year. Review journals, planners, photographs, blogs, and other notations you have created during the past year. Consider how you have grown, accomplishments, challenges, adventures, travels, and learnings. Meditate. Journal of your year in review, your meditation, and your reflections.
      • Renovate. Select an area of your home or life as a focus. Examine it. Re-organize it. Release what is no longer needed. Create a better pattern. Celebrate renewal and transformation.
      • Bonfire Magic. Kindle a bonfire outdoors when possible or kindle flames in a fireplace or a small cauldron. Write down an outmoded habit that you wish to end and cast it into the Samhain flames as you imagine release. Imagine yourself adopting a new, healthier way of being as you move around the fire clockwise.
      • Divinatory Guidance. Using Tarot, Runes, Scrying, or some other method of divination, seek and reflect on guidance for the year to come. Write a summary of your process and messages. Select something appropriate to act upon and do it.
      • Divine Invocations. Honor and call upon the Divine in one or more Sacred Forms associated with Samhain, such as the Crone Goddess and Horned God of Nature. Invite Them to aid you in your remembrance of the Dead and in your understanding of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. If you have lost loved ones in the past year, ask these Divine Ones to comfort and support you.
      • Transforming Expressions. If you encounter distortions, misinformation, and/or false, negative stereotypes about Paganism and Samhain in the media, contact the source, express your concerns, and share accurate information. Help eradicate derogatory stereotyping with courteous, concise, and intelligent communications.
      • Community Connections. Connect with others. Join in a group ritual in your area. Organize a Samhain potluck in your home. Research old and contemporary Samhain customs in books, periodicals, on-line, and through communications with others. Exchange ideas, information, and celebration experience. Regardless of whether you practice solo or with others, as part of your festivities, reflect for a time on being part of the vast network of those celebrating Samhain around the world.

Celebrate Halloween

That special night, Halloween, is creeping up on us.
 This is an event everyone is familiar with. Magick and the Supernatural around this time of year aren’t anything strange – it’s something we all actively look forward to.
You’ll be familiar with the groups of young children who roam our streets hunting for candy and fun – dressed as all manner of Supernatural beasts and creatures.
I smile when I see the young “witches” having fun with their pointed hats and broomsticks. It’s fun and hard not to enjoy the funny image of cartoonish “witches”. Yet the whole carnival – Halloween in general – shows us how Magick and the legendary power of the Craft are so central to this annual celebration that almost everyone loves.
There’s no end of movies, books, and media that depict the power of Magick at Halloween. Some of the most popular movies of the last twenty years have featured great combinations of Magick with this time of year. From horrors to adventures – setting them at Halloween instantly makes it a more exciting mix.
The likes of Tim Burton have made a career out of focusing on the spooky vibe of Halloween. Horror movies, such as the Halloween series and Sleepy Hollow have all been set around this time of year and featured fantastical creatures and situations. Often, the use of Magickal abilities helps ramp up the fear factor.
More lighthearted movies like the Adams Family and Hocus Pocus are more whimsical – but they still contain example after example of extraordinary events. Even the fictional world of Harry Potter seemed to go into overdrive at Halloween.
Why do all these crazy things seem to happen at this one point in the calendar? The answer is simple – this has always been a time of year when Magick flows and the impossible seems possible.
Let’s look at the way in which Halloween has historically been linked to Magick. There has always been a clear connection between this time of year and the Magickal arts.
The mysterious festival of Samhain is the old Pagan festival on which Halloween rests. The ancient Druids of Ireland and Britain celebrated this night at the end of October as one of the most important nights of the year. Then, just as now, the veil between worlds is thin and provides Magickal opportunities like no other time of year.
Fairies and otherworldly creatures were known to be very active on this night. Bonfires were lit and the spirits of those who passed on were contacted. It was viewed as a time when Magick and the Supernatural were to be expected, and the world of the living and dead came closer together than any other time of year.
Echoes of these practices survive today. In Mexico, The Day of The Dead is celebrated on the first day of November. This is a special time to visit the graves and tombs of relatives, bringing offerings the deceased person loved in life, in order to honor their memory.
There’s a special atmosphere surrounding us that we can all feel. The changes in the seasons, makes us feel we’re changing from one period to another. It’s this great change that the Magick of Halloween and Samhain taps into.
The end of the harvest is vitally important in Halloween. The carving of scary and wild faces into the pumpkin again goes back to a Celtic tradition of using the fruit of the harvest to scare off any unpleasant spirits that slipped through from the other side.
Do you enjoy Halloween and all that comes with it? Have you ever experienced anything strange or supernatural at Halloween? Do you feel this is a special time of year? Please share your thoughts on our Facebook page, and as always, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask.

You Call It Hallowe’en… We Call It Samhain

Hallowe’en has its origins in the British Isles. While the modern tradition of trick or treat developed in the U. S., it too is based on folk customs brought to this country with Irish immigrants after 1840. Since ancient times in Ireland, Scotland, and England, October 31st has been celebrated as a feast for the dead, and also the day that marks the new year. Mexico observes a Day of the Dead on this day, as do other world cultures. In Scotland, the Gaelic word “Samhain” (pronounced “SAW-win” or “SAW-vane”) means literally “summer’s end.”

This holiday is also known as All Hallows Eve (“hallow” means “sanctify”) ; Hallowtide; Hallowmass; Hallows; The Day of the Dead; All Soul’s Night; All Saints’ Day (both on November 1st) .

For early Europeans, this time of the year marked the beginning of the cold, lean months to come; the flocks were brought in from the fields to live in sheds until spring. Some animals were slaughtered, and the meat preserved to provide food for winter. The last gathering of crops was known as “Harvest Home, ” celebrated with fairs and festivals.

In addition to its agriculture significance, the ancient Celts also saw Samhain as a very spiritual time. Because October 31 lies exactly between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice, it is theorized that ancient peoples, with their reliance on astrology, thought it was a very potent time for magic and communion with spirits. The “veil between the worlds” of the living and the dead was said to be at its thinnest on this day; so the dead were invited to return to feast with their loved ones; welcomed in from the cold, much as the animals were brought inside. Ancient customs range from placing food out for dead ancestors, to performing rituals for communicating with those who had passed over.

Communion with the dead was thought to be the work of witches and sorcerers, although the common folk thought nothing of it. Because the rise of the Church led to growing suspicion of the pagan ways of country dwellers, Samhain also became associated with witches, black cats (“familiars” or animal friends) , bats (night creatures) , ghosts and other “spooky” things…the stereotype of the old hag riding the broomstick is simply a caricature; fairy tales have exploited this image for centuries.

Divination of the future was also commonly practiced at this magically-potent time; since it was also the Celtic New Year, people focused on their desires for the coming year. Certain traditions, such as bobbing for apples, roasting nuts in the fire, and baking cakes which contained tokens of luck, are actually ancient methods of telling fortunes.

So What About Those Jack-O-Lanterns?

Other old traditions have survived to this day; lanterns carved out of pumpkins and turnips were used to provide light on a night when huge bonfires were lit, and all households let their fires go out so they could be rekindled from this new fire; this was believed to be good luck for all households. The name “Jack-O-Lantern” means “Jack of the Lantern, ” and comes from an old Irish tale. Jack was a man who could enter neither heaven nor hell and was condemned to wander through the night with only a candle in a turnip for light. Or so goes the legend…

But such folk names were commonly given to nature spirits, like the “Jack in the Green, ” or to plants believed to possess magical properties, like “John O’ Dreams, ” or “Jack in the Pulpit.” Irish fairy lore is full of such references. Since candles placed in hollowed-out pumpkins or turnips (commonly grown for food and abundant at this time of year) would produce flickering flames, especially on cold nights in October, this phenomenon may have led to the association of spirits with the lanterns; and this, in turn, may have led to the tradition of carving scary faces on them. It is an old legend that candle flames which flicker on Samhain night are being touched by the spirits of dead ancestors, or “ghosts.”

Okay, What about the Candy?

“Trick or treat” as it is practiced in the U. S. is a complex custom believed to derive from several Samhain traditions, as well as being unique to this country. Since Irish immigrants were predominantly Catholic, they were more likely to observe All Soul’s Day. But Ireland’s folk traditions die hard, and the old ways of Samhain were remembered. The old tradition of going door to door asking for donations of money or food for the New Year’s feast was carried over to the U. S. from the British Isles. Hogmanay was celebrated January 1st in rural Scotland, and there are records of a “trick or treat” type of custom; curses would be invoked on those who did not give generously; while those who did give from their hearts were blessed and praised. Hence, the notion of “trick or treat” was born (although this greeting was not commonly used until the 1930’s in the U. S.) . The wearing of costumes is an ancient practice; villagers would dress as ghosts, to escort the spirits of the dead to the outskirts of the town, at the end of the night’s celebration.

By the 1920’s, “trick or treat” became a way of letting off steam for those urban poor living in crowded conditions. Innocent acts of vandalism (soaping windows, etc.) gave way to violent, cruel acts. Organizations like the Boy Scouts tried to organize ways for this holiday to become safe and fun; they started the practice of encouraging “good” children to visit shops and homes asking for treats, so as to prevent criminal acts. These “beggar’s nights” became very popular and have evolved to what we know as Hallowe’en today.

What Do Modern Witches Do at Hallowe’en?

It is an important holiday for us. Witches are diverse and practice a variety of traditions. Many of us use this time to practice forms of divination (such as tarot or runes) . Many Witches also perform rituals to honor the dead; and may invite their deceased loved ones to visit for a time, if they choose. This is not a “seance” in the usual sense of the word; Witches extend an invitation, rather than summoning the dead, and we believe the world of the dead is very close to this one. So, on Samhain, and again on Beltane (May 1st) , when the veil between the worlds is thin, we attempt to travel between those worlds. This is done through meditation, visualization, and astral projection. Because Witches acknowledge human existence as part of a cycle of life, death, and rebirth, Samhain is a time to reflect on our mortality and to confront our fears of dying.

Some Witches look on Samhain as a time to prepare for the long, dark months of winter, a time of introspection and drawing inward. They may bid goodbye to the summer with one last celebratory rite. They may have harvest feasts, with vegetables and fruits they have grown, or home-brewed cider or mead. They may give thanks for what they have, projecting for abundance through the winter. Still, others may celebrate with costume parties, enjoy treats and good times with friends. There are as many ways of observing Samhain as there are Witches in the world!