Samhain: Shadowfest (Strega), Martinmas (Celtic/Scottish)
Samhain, popularly known as Halloween, is the Witches’ New Year.
This is the last of the three harvest Sabbats marking the end of the growing seasons.
Celtic custom decreed that all crops must be gathered by sundown on April 31st.
It is a time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest.
Deceased ancestors and other friendly spirits are invited to join in Sabbat festivities and be reunited with loved ones.
In Ireland it is still custom to leave candles in the windows and plates of food for the visiting spirits.
Keep a fire lit or a candle burning all night to honour and welcome the dead.
If clothes are left outside overnight, they will take on bewitching powers for all who wear them.
Darkness increases and the Goddess reigns as the Crone, part of the three-in-one that also includes the Maiden and Mother.
The God, the Dark Lord, passes into the underworld to become the seed of his own rebirth (which will occur again at Yule).
Many Pagans prepare a Feast for the Dead on Samhain night, where they leave offerings of food and drink for the spirits.
Divination is heightened this night.
Jack-o-lanterns, gourds, cider, fall foliage can be used as altar decorations.
Samhain (pronounced SOW-in, SAH-vin, or SAM-hayne) is one of the Greater Wiccan Sabbats and is generally celebrated on October 31st, although some Traditions prefer the date of November 1st. The various names for this Sabbat are Samhain (Celtic), Shadowfest (Strega), Martinmas or Old Hallowmas (Scottish/Celtic), as well as Hallowe’en, Hallowmas, All Hallow’s Eve, Halloween, Day of the Dead, Feast of Spirits, Third Harvest, Samonios, All Saint’s Eve, Celtic New Year, Samhuinn, Celtic Winter, Samana, Festival of Pamona, Vigil of Saman, Vigil of Todos, and Santos. Though this Holiday is celebrated on October 31st, All Hallows Eve falls on November 7th, and Martinmas on November 11th. (Images to the left and below are by Anthony Meadows and from Llewellyn’s 1998 and 1999 Witches’ Calendars. Click on either image to go directly to Llewellyn’s Web Site.)
The symbolism of this Sabbat is that of The Third (and final) Harvest, it marks the end of Summer, the beginning of Winter. It is a time marked by death when the Dead are honored – a time to celebrate and "study" the Dark Mysteries. "Samhain" means "End of Summer". Its historical origin is The Feast of the Dead in Celtic lands. It is believed that on this night, the veil Between the Worlds is at its thinnest point, making this an excellent time to communicate with the Other Side.
Symbols for representing this Sabbat may include Jack-O-Lanterns, Balefires, Masks, The Besom (Magickal Broom), The Cauldron, and the Waning Moon. Altar decorations might include small jack-o-lanterns, foods from the harvest, and photographs of your loved ones who have departed from this world.
Appropriate Deities for Samhain include ALL Crone Goddesses, and the Dying God or the "Dead" God. Samhain Goddesses include Hecate, Hel, Inanna, Macha, Mari, Psyche, Ishtar, Lilith, The Morrigu/Morrigan, Rhiannon, and Cerridwen. Key actions to keep in mind during this time in the Wheel of the Year include return, change, reflection, endings and beginnings, and honoring the Dead. Other meanings behind this Sabbat celebration include the Wisdom of the Crone, the Death of the God, and the Celebration of Reincarnation.
Samhain is considered by many Pagans, Wiccans, and Witches (especially those of Celtic heritage) to be the date of the Witches’ New Year, representing one full turn of the Wheel of the Year. This is the time of year for getting rid of weaknesses. A common Ritual practice calls for each Wiccan to write down his/her weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment and toss it into the Cauldron fire. Other activities might include Divination, Past-Life Recall, Spirit Contact, Meditation, Astral Projection ("Flying"), and the drying of Winter herbs. It is considered "taboo" by some to travel after dark, or to eat grapes or berries.
Spellwork for protection and neutralizing harm are particularly warranted at this time of year, because Samhain is considered to be a good time to boost your confidence and security.
Many Witches use their own personal Besom, or Magickal Broom as a part of their rituals. Some Besoms are structurally different in shape from the flat ones sold today, being round on the end and having a smaller sweeping surface. They can, however, be fashioned flat or however you personally desire. These Magickal Brooms are commonly used for cleansing and purifying Sacred Space, but can be used for many other things… such as using one in place of a Wand, Athame, or finger to project your personal energy when casting your Circle.