Halloween decorations include representations of witches, caldrons, broomsticks, black cats … all things that are, supposedly, connected with the craft of a witch. ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ – the celebration that the term ‘Halloween’ is actually derived from – actually falls on November 7th. Interestingly, October 31st is an actual holiday for those who practice witchcraft.
Samhain – also known as Third Harvest, Samana, Old Hallowmas, and Samhuinn – is traditionally celebrated on October 31st, although some celebrate on November 1st. Samhain means ‘end of summer’ and it is the final Harvest in a series of three. Samhain is considered the witch’s New Year. The dark winter half of the year begins on this holiday (or Sabbat), and it is one of two ‘spirit nights’ – the other is called ‘Beltane’. Samhain is considered to be a magical time when the laws of time and space are suspended – temporarily – and the Thin Veil between the worlds is lifted so that communication with ancestors and the departed is easier. This is a time that witches study the Dark Mysteries and honor the Dark Mother (symbolized by the Crone) and the Dark Father (symbolized by the Crone’s consort). One of the symbols of Samhain is the jack-o-lantern, and two of the colors that are representative of the holiday are orange and black.
In Celtic countries, the ‘Feast of the Dead’ was celebrated by leaving offerings of food on altars and doorsteps as offerings to the spirits of the wandering dead. The spirits who had no descendants, or who were lost, were provided apples that were buried along the sides of roads and paths. Since this was considered to be a night of magic and chaos, turnips would be hollowed out and carved to represent protective spirits. The Wee Folke, a part of Celtic lore, were considered to be out pulling pranks, and traveling after dark on this night was not considered a good idea. To fool the spirits, people would dress in white and wear disguises. Clearly, the Halloween gained many of its customs from the Celtic ‘Feast of the Dead’. Instead of leaving food and offerings to the dead, we hand out candy to children. And, in theory, our very own ‘wee folke’ (our children) will do ‘tricks’ if they are not offered ‘treats’. And our children wear disguises to fool each other rather than to fool the spirits. But the connection very clearly exists between our modern celebration of Halloween and the ancient pagan traditions of the Celts.