Samhain: Celebrations Then and Now

Samhain: Celebrations Then and Now October 23, 2020

As a Witch, I can say that Samhain is one of my favorite holidays. Even as a kid, this has been my favorite time of year. October in Michigan is beautiful when Autumn paints the trees in preparation for Winter. Pumpkin patches, hayrides, corn mazes, and seasonal decorations embrace everything that is fun and spooky about Halloween. And for me as a Witch, the celebration of Samhain adds a spiritual focus that I love.

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Samhain Celebrations Will Vary

Much like Jason Mankey, my Samhain practices do not necessarily look the same as another Witch or Pagan’s. For one thing, my Halloween and Samhain recognition and enjoyment tend to overlap throughout October. Activities and rituals I’ve held onto since childhood remain staples in my observances.

October is my season to celebrate the Witch! And as I’ve stated before, there has never been a better time to be one. So, my Halloween decorations tend to honor the witchcraft I practice (and yes, I do love a bit of adorable kitsch). So there are purple and orange lights, the fallen leaves provided by nature, a “potions provided here” sign, and an Ouija board mat in front of the door.  Ghost witches are hanging outside my home with the pumpkins and a skeleton or two.

Unlike my Heathen child, Ode,  or my Druid husband, Car, I do not work with the ancestors or the Mighty Dead on the regular. Throughout October, however, I light candles to honor relatives who have crossed the veil (many whom I only know through pictures and family stories). Because the veil is thinning (and I agree with Jason, who mentions it remains so into February), Samhain is my first opportunity to be with the ones who choose to remain silent throughout the rest of the year.

For me, the pinnacle of the celebration lands on October 31st as a day of contrasts. Spooky fun. Solemn remembrance. Spell-craft and divination. Family traditions. All of these have a place in my personal Samhain and Halloween. Additionally, the sabbat is part of my holiday season, starting at the Autumn Equinox and leading through to Yule and the New Year. My joy is found in celebrating these holidays in personal practice as well as through our family traditions and rituals.

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Embracing the Cliche. Sorta.

There are some people who get upset that these two holidays are combined in the public consciousness. I understand people get upset when their religion or spiritual path is maligned or taken in a trite manner. However, we are dealing with a culture that has held a particular view of witches and witchcraft for centuries.

This is never more clear than during the month of October. Why? Because Halloween is a secular holiday that (deep down) embraces superstitions about ghosts, witches, and other “dark dangers.” Halloween is a “whistling in the dark” celebration that at its core is an act of warding through recognition (these things are scary) and imitation (hide among them; they go away tomorrow). Therefore, stereotypes abound.

But, as I mentioned to someone in the 3PaaC FB Group lamenting a Halloween display at their workplace, now I tend to “embrace the cliche” (a few, not all of them; and yes, I got that from Phoebe Halliwell, ala a Charmed Halloween episode) in October while taking the opportunity to educate people about Samhain, modern witchcraft, paganism, and Wicca in general as the opportunity arises.

There are plenty of people who malign our witchcraft communities, especially this time of year. Even so, Halloween is special because it is a secular holiday that holds onto some of its ancient roots (loose ones but still). Samhain is part of that identity. Witchcraft, Wicca, and paganism is on the rise and has been for decades. People are beginning to learn these are spiritual/religious paths. The stereotypes may take time to overcome. But for me, Halloween and Samhain will always be linked and that’s a good thing.

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Samhain At This Present Time

Due to the difficult times we face, there are challenges for those who celebrate Samhain in a coven or group. Some people will meet but masked and socially distant. Others will partake in online rituals (one of which I will be leading for the Green Earth Witchcraft Tradition on Facebook on October 30th earlier in the day.

As a solitary, not a lot has changed in how my recognition of this time is spent. I’ll still spend a silent supper at our ancestor altar. My family will gather at our fire-pit to honor those who have crossed over. This year will be different for me because my brother died not long ago. There is still a lot of melancholy associated with that reality. But I believe it will provide comfort and closure as well.

Halloween celebrations will be changed. Trick-or-treaters will have to be handled with care (or porch lights remain dark). Families may opt to dress in costume and watch movies together instead. Parties may have to be outside or limited in numbers indoors. But there are ways around these difficulties if we listen to CDC guidelines and watch out for one another.

However, I believe we can hold onto our Samhain rituals, traditions, and celebrations of the past while adjusting for the present situation dominating our lives at this moment. We can enjoy all that these holidays (secular and spiritual) have to offer despite the circumstances. We can move forward into Yule, Christmas, and a (hopefully) healthier New Year.

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Celebrations Then and Now

In my experience, “then and now” are part and parcel of holidays in our lives and families. Traditions, rituals, memories, and cultural influences that will always color our observances.

For me, Halloween and Samhain share enough of an ancient origin (whatever it may be) that they are inextricably linked. Familiar energy that influences both holidays and brings that sense of “special.”

My wish for you this season is: hold onto all that made Samhain sacred “then”, so that however you experience it “now” be worth keeping as special and still beloved when looking back one day in the future.

Gwyn is one of the hosts of 3 Pagans and a Cat, a podcast about the questions and discussions between three pagan family members, each exploring different pagan paths and how their various traditions can intersect. The most practiced pagan on the path, Gwyn is a Green Earth Witch devoted to the Earth Mother, Hekate, Brighid, and Frigga. She is a Clairsentient Medium, Tarot Reader, loves writing and, spending time with her family, as well as working with herbs, essential oils, and plants. You can read more about the author here.

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