"Faust" by Luis Ricardo Falero
A Blessed Samhain, or Witch's New Year, to you!
First of all, how does one pronounce Samhain? I still occasionally slip into pronouncing it like "sam-hain," which is embarrassing. Neil Gaiman went on a talk show and joked about "Sam Hain: Private Eye" and now I can't get it out of my head. Anyway, I've heard that in Ireland it's "sow-in," in Wales it's "sow-een," and in Scotland it's "sav-en." And that's not even all of the ways to say it. Personally, I try to do the Irish pronunciation.
Samhain (Gaelic for "summer's end") is the most important sabbat for Wiccans and the most magical time of the year. It is the third and final harvest festival on the Wheel of the Year. It was a holiday celebrated by the Celts as a way to herald the coming winter and honor those who had passed. It is believed that the dead walk amongst the living on this holiday, and the tradition of leaving offerings of food for them is very old.
There is no specific deity for this season like there was for Lughnasadh and Mabon. In Wiccan tradition, the Horned God (a.k.a. the sun) dies on this day, so generally Samhain is all about the Goddess. Pagans honor crone goddesses on this season, and also various deities of death.
A lot of the time, Samhain and Halloween traditions are mixed together. Aside from the more common Halloween traditions that everyone is familiar with, here are a few ways in which Pagans celebrate Samhain.
- Samhain is a festival in which Pagans honor the ancestors, or the "beloved dead." Altars usually include the photographs and belongings of those who have passed away. Candles are left on windowsills to show loved ones the way back home. Apples are left on grave sites and at cemeteries.
- It's also time for yet another feast. Traditional foods in a Samhain feast include pumpkin, turnips, beats, apples, pomegranates, potatoes, popcorn, gingerbread, beef, poultry, and nuts. Some people prepare food that their beloved dead enjoyed. One plate of food would be left for the dead, either at the altar or the head of the table.
- Samhain is considered a great time for divination and meditation. Fun fact: using divination to find out who your future husband will be used to be so common on Halloween that at one point it was considered a "women's holiday." The game of "bobbing for apples" comes from an old divination practice. The apples would be hung from trees or the ceiling instead of floating in a barrel of water.
- You know, if it's a Pagan holiday you should just assume that fire is going to play a role somehow. One of the things that the Celts did on Samhain was light bonfires, and that tradition still survives. Sometimes Pagans write habits, feelings, or activities that they wish to let go of on a piece of paper and cast them into the fire. Other times they simply circle around and tell stories.
Mythical beings associated with the season:
Enid ("soul" or "life")
Melanie ("black, dark")
Esmeray ("dark moon")
Isra ("night journey")
Olaf ("ancestor's descendent")
Miyako ("beautiful night child")
Fun combo time: