Halloween and Samhain are often thought of as the same thing … an easy assumption to make. Held at the same time of year, both are celebrations and are dedicated to the dead. The traditions of Halloween are widely believed to have originated from Samhain and therein lies the similarities.
Halloween is a festival remembering the dead and for warding off evil spirits. Some say the tradition of trick ‘n’ treating are from the 16th century where people celebrated by going house-to-house in a costume reciting verses/songs in exchange for food with the original meaning of impersonating the souls of the dead. In the 18th century, Ireland and Scotland included pranks while visiting door-to-door. Others say this tradition derived from the Christian church. All Hallows’ Day was a time for honouring the saints and praying for the departed souls who had not yet reached heaven. The early Christian church celebrated All Hallows’ Eve on 13th May (it was switched to 1st November in 835 and there are conflicting suggestions as to why). The celebrations included baking and sharing soul cakes with children going door-to-door collecting soul cakes in exchange for praying for the dead.
Samhain has pagan Celtic origins. It is the summer’s end where everything is dying but although it is an end, it is also the beginning of Winter and on the pagan wheel of the year, it’s the start of the new year. The dual aspect of life and death is represented by affirming rebirth while we’re in the midst of death and darkness. This is the last of the harvest festivals before winter descends. Bonfires are lit to protect and to cleanse. At Samhain, ancestors and loved ones are remembered and honoured. It is a magical time of year where the veil between worlds become thin allowing communication with our ancestors who may offer us guidance and healing. Rituals performed at this time can often give closure.
For me, Samhain is an inner journey and a time when we give thanks to our ancestors and families. Linked with the turning of the wheel, it’s a time for reflection, letting go and planting those seeds (ideas) which will flourish come spring. Asking spirits/ancestors for guidance for the coming year is a comfort and gives focus.
Halloween has lost its meaning of praying for those souls in purgatory and warding off evil spirits but there is of course an echo with dressing up as ghosts and ghouls (impersonating the dead) and knocking on doors. Instead of soul cakes and songs/verse though the refrain is ‘Trick or treat!’
How can we celebrate Halloween?
I am sure you know how Halloween is celebrated but did you know that apple bobbing has its roots in Celtic celebrations? Today it is a fun game where children (and adults) try to capture apples in water with their teeth alone. For Celts the apple was a representation of the goddess (cut an apple in half, the seeds form a pentagram shape). It was thought that the apple could be used to determine marriages in a form of divination. Girls placed the apple they had bobbed under their pillow and would dream of their future lover.
Pick your own pumpkin
In Dorset, The Pumpkin Picking Patch at Fordingbridge have planted 150000 seeds, over 15 varieties of pumpkins and gourds on 30 acres across 2 sites (the other site is at Sompting near Worthing). Not only can you pick your pumpkin but their are Halloween crafts and activities as well as locally sourced food to eat.
Many families join in pumpkin carving. In our house the carving can turn into a competition!
Attend an organised event
There are organised events you can attend such as a pumpkin parade.
In Poole, Upton Country Park usually have a pumpkin parade and treasure hunt. Keep an eye on the events on their website.
Lots of people celebrate by decorating homes with Halloween themes and spending time with family and friends. There are many recipes relating to Halloween on Pinterest as well as ideas for costumes.
How can we celebrate Samhain?
Here a few ways you might like to consider.
Walk in nature
Be mindful as you walk and experience everything using your senses. Feel the energy returning to the earth and reflect on life and re-birth as shown in nature all around you.
Remember your ancestors
Remember ancestors by sharing stories with your family. Learn about your family history. Gather heirlooms, photographs and mementoes and light a candle. Thank them for being a part of your life. Sit quietly and write down any anything that comes to you.
Reflect on the past year
If you write a journal or diary, take time now to review it. Think about anything you’ve created in the past year and how it has grown from those early ideas. Consider how you’ve grown, what you have achieved, what challenges you may have overcome, what you may have learnt. Ask yourself what do you need to change in your life? Concentrate on one area. Release what is no longer needed. Move forward.
Use a form of divination that you feel comfortable with. There are many free online resources. Try the tarot readings at The Glastonbury Tarot and choose the spread you feel drawn towards. Ask the I Ching a question that is relevant to the guidance you are seeking. (The two links above are free to use). At home I use my Inner Realms Tarot but there are many tarot sets available to buy. Note down any sensations, thoughts and feelings you have. Choose one thing to act upon in the next 12 months.
Whether you celebrate Halloween or Samhain or a mixture of both, stay safe knocking on doors and enjoy your rituals.