30 Oct Hallowe’en and Samhain Traditions
The 31st of October – Hallowe’en – is a time of celebration for many people. For some, it’s an excuse to wear fancy dress, and perhaps to go from door to door trick-or-treating and get some goodies from your neighbours, or to hold a party for your friends and family.
For others, however, it’s a much more serious and important date. In Christian churches, as the night before All Hallows’ Eve, it is an occasion for prayer and worship. For modern pagans, sunset on the 31st marks the beginning of the Samhain festival (usually pronounced sow-in or sah-win), which was once celebrated by the ancient Gauls and is today considered to be the most important date on the pagan calendar. It marks the end of the harvest season, the beginning of the dark half of the year, and is the counterpoint to the Beltane festival at the beginning of May.
These celebrations have a lot in common – not just the date – one having drawn from the other over the years. Many of these traditions are familiar, while some are a little more unusual – and you may be surprised at the origins of these customs.
With Hallowe’en falling this year on a Friday, many a high street will be filled with revellers in fancy dress costumes. Some will be traditionally spooky – witches, vampires and zombies are popular – whilst others choose characters from modern pop culture. All of them – whether they know it or not – are echoing traditions which date back at least as far as the 16th century.
It was thought by the ancient Celts that Samhain was a date when the otherworld – the land of spirits, faeries and other creatures – was closer to ours, and the barriers between were thinner, allowing the spirits to come through. Wearing costumes is thought to have been either a way of imitating and celebrating the spirits at this liminal time, or a way of disguising oneself from them, and thus avoiding their attention.
Jack o’ Lanterns
Carved pumpkin lanterns are, today, one of the most common images of Hallowe’en. They are very popular and easy to make – just scoop out the insides (and make a delicious pumpkin pie with them), carve a creepy face into the outside and set a candle inside. Whilst entertaining and fun to look at, they were originally made for a more serious purpose – the face is intended to represent spirits or goblins, and serves to protect the bearer (or the home it stands outside) from harm.
The pumpkin itself, however, is native to the American continent, so was not originally part of the European tradition. What did we use before Christopher Columbus brought pumpkin seeds to Europe? Turnips – not quite as impressive!
Ghosts and Ghouls
However, whilst some see it as scary, others see it as a source of comfort. If the world of spirits is closer, then the spirits of your ancestors and lost loved ones are closer, too. Some pagans celebrate this with the tradition of the Dumb Supper. This is a meal held in silence to honour the departed dead; a place is set for them, and they are served alongside all the living participants. In the silence, you can commune with your departed loved ones, and feel close to them once more.
Many aspects of Hallowe’en and Samhain traditions come from this idea that it is a liminal time – a night on the threshold between our world and the other world. Alongside communication and communion with ancestors, many forms of divination are connected with this night.
As with so many traditional superstitions, many revolve around the concept of love; so, for example, you may find young women gazing into a mirror by candlelight to see the face of their future spouse. Alternatively, at midnight on Hallowe’en, you can try to peel an apple in one long continuous strip and throw it over your left shoulder. It’s said that it will fall into the shape of your future partner’s initial.
Talented psychics, like myself and my team, are of course able to offer guidance and advice at any time of the year – not just at Hallowe’en!
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