Samhain, means "End of Summer", and is the third and final Harvest. The dark winter half of the year commences on this Sabbat.



Samhain, dates back to the ancient Celts who lived 2,000 years ago. Contrary to what some believe, is not a celebration of a Celtic god of the dead. Instead, it is a Celtic word meaning "summer's end." The Celts believed that summer came to an end on October 31st and the New Year began on November 1st with the start of winter. But the Celts also followed a lunar calendar and their celebrations began at sunset the night before.

Many today see Halloween as the pagan holiday. But that's not really accurate. As the pagan holiday of Samhain is on November 1st. But their celebrations did and still do, start at sunset on October 31st, on Samhain Eve. During the day on October 31st, the fires within the home are extinguished. Often families would engage in a good "fall" cleaning to clear out the old and make way for the new. Starting the winter months with fresh and clean household items. At sunset on October 31, clans or local villages begin the formal ceremonies of Samhain by lighting a giant bonfire. The people would gather around the fire to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. It was a method of giving the Gods and Goddesses their share of the previous years herd or crops. In addition these sacred fires were a big part of the cleansing of the old year and a method to prepare for the coming new year.

When the community celebration was over, each family would take a torch or burning ember from the sacred bonfire and return to their own home. The home fires that has been extinguished during the day were re-lit by the flame of the sacred bonfire to help protect the dwelling and it's inhabitants during the coming winter. These fires were kept burning night and day during the next several months. It was believed that if a home lost it's fire, tragedy and troubles would soon follow.

With the hearth fires lit, the families would place food and drink outside their doors. This was done to appease the roaming spirits who might play tricks on the family.

During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, and danced around the bonfire. Many of these dances told stories or played out the cycles of life and death or commemorated the cycle of Wheel of Life. These costumes were adorned for three primary reasons.

The first was to honour the dead who were allowed to rise from the Otherworld. The Celts believed that souls were set free from the land of the dead during the eve of Samhain. Those that had been trapped in the bodies of animals were released by the Lord of the Dead and sent to their new incarnations. The wearing of these costumes signified the release of these souls into the physical world.

Not all of these souls were honoured and respected. Some were also feared as they would return to the physical world and destroy crops, hide livestock or 'haunt' the living who may have done them wrong. The second reason for these traditional costumes was to hide from these malevolent spirits to escape their trickery.

The final representation was a method to honour the Celtic Gods and Goddesses of the harvest, fields and flocks. Giving thanks and homage to those deities who assisted the village or clan through the trials and tribulations of the previous year. And to ask for their favour during the coming year and the harsh winter months that were approaching.

In addition to celebrations and dance, it was believed that this thin veil between the physical world and the Otherworld provided extra energy for communications between the living and the dead. With these communications, Druid Priests, and Celtic Shamans would attempted to tell the fortunes of individual people through a variety of methods. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

The Romans began to conquer the Celtic territories. By A.D. 43 they had succeeded in claiming the majority of the Celtic lands. They ruled for approximately four hundred years combining or influencing many Celtic traditional celebrations with their own. Two Roman holidays were merged with Samhain.

Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead.

Pomona's Day of Honoring, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practised today on Halloween.

Various other names for this Greater Sabbat are Third Harvest, Samana, Day of the Dead, Old Hallowmas (Scottish/Celtic), Vigil of Saman, Shadowfest (Strega), and Samhuinn. Also known as All Hallow's Eve, (that day actually falls on November 7th), and Martinmas (that is celebrated November 11th), Samhain is now generally considered the Witch's New Year.

Symbolism of Samhain:
Third Harvest, the Dark Mysteries, Rebirth through Death.

Symbols of Samhain:
Gourds, Apples, Black Cats, Jack-O-Lanterns, Besoms.

Herbs of Samhain:
Mugwort, Allspice, Broom, Catnip, Deadly Nightshade, Mandrake, Oak leaves, Sage and Straw.

Foods of Samhain:
Turnips, Apples, Gourds, Nuts, Mulled Wines, Beef, Pork, Poultry.

Incense of Samhain:
Heliotrope, Mint, Nutmeg.

Colors of Samhain:
Black, Orange, White, Silver, Gold.

Stones of Samhain:
All Black Stones, preferably jet or obsidian.

Samhain to Halloween
With the coming of Christianity in the 800s AD, the early Church in England tried to Christianize the old Celtic festivals. Pope Boniface IV designated the 1st of November as "All Saints Day," honouring saints and martyrs. He also decreed October 31 as "All Hallows Eve", that eventually became Hallow'een.

Scholars today widely accept that the Pope was attempting to replace the earlier Celtic pagan festival with a church-sanctioned holiday. As this Christian holiday spread, the name evolved as well. Also called All-hallows Eve or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day). 200 years later, in 1000 AD, the church made November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honour the dead. It is celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls' day, are called Hallowmas.

The Evolution Of Halloween
"Trick-or-treating" is a modern tradition that probably finds it's roots in the early All Souls' Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called "soul cakes" in return for their promise to pray for the family's dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as "going a-souling" was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighbourhood and be given ale, food, and money.

"Dressing up" for Halloween gets it roots from dressing up around the sacred bonfire during the original Celtic festival. Some suggest, this practice originates from England, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world on Halloween. People thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes, so to avoid being recognized people would wear masks after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. In addition, these early English people, would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter or cause harm to their homes. A tradition obviously taken from the ancient Celtic pagans.