Us autumn lovers are in love with Halloween and then there’s us pagans who also love Halloween and recognize the traditions of Samhain (pronounced Sow-win – don’t worry, many have said Sam-hane at least once and only a**holes won’t let you live it down lol). Before I devoted myself to the mystic path, and way before my Christian phase in my late teens/early twenties, my psychic senses have always strengthened during Samhain. It’s never been a full-blown “I see dead people” kind of vibe. It’s a somber feeling where those who have passed on are on my mind and my ability to sense what’s beyond the veil couldn’t be ignored. My connection to Celtic culture was a distant love in the past, but currently, I’m more eager to learn more about pagan or indigenous cultures as it inspires my current beliefs and increases my respect for our ancestors and their history.
History.com has a decent summary of Samhain’s origins and evolution, but when learning about the culture of the ancient Celts, I prefer the Druid perspective. Tha gliocas an ceann an fhitich! is the Scottish Gaelic proverb “There is wisdom in a raven’s head.” It’s similar to the Irish proverb “To have a raven’s knowledge,” which was a way of affirming a seer’s ability. Those who sense the power of the changing seasons certainly gain some wisdom when Samhain comes around.
Druid Susa Morgan Black of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids presents Samhain as such:
‘To the ancient Celts, the year had two “hinges”. These were Beltaine (the first of May) and Samhain, or Samhuinn, (the first of November), which is also the traditional Celtic New Year. And these two days were the most magical, and often frightening times of the whole year.
The Celtic people were in superstitious awe of times and places “in between”. Holy sites were any border places – the shore between land and water (seas, lakes, and rivers), bridges, boundaries between territories (especially when marked by bodies of water), crossroads, thresholds, etc. Holy times were also border times – twilight and dawn marking the transitions of night and day; Beltaine and Samhain marking the transitions of summer and winter. Read your myths and fairytales – many of the stories occur in such places, and at such times.
At Samhain (which corresponds to modern Halloween), time lost all meaning and the past, present, and future were one. The dead, and the denizens of the Other World, walked among the living. It was a time of fairies, ghosts, demons, and witches. Winter itself was the Season of Ghosts, and Samhain is the night of their release from the Underworld. Many people lit bonfires to keep the evil spirits at bay. Often a torch was lit and carried around the boundaries of the home and farm, to protect the property and residents against the spirits throughout the winter.’Susa Morgan Black – Samhain Festival – Deeper in Samhain / Samhuinn
Crossing thresholds not bound by time and sensing the entities beyond, I feel, is something either you experience personally or more so through the observance of nature, such as the passing seasons. In either case, autumn holds power. Those of us who take in that power through more shamanic means revere this time rather than get caught up in the thrill of fearful tricks or treats (not that I don’t mind a good Halloween prank). As Samhain draws closer, I want to say with the considerations of the pandemic and the families and friends who have lost loved ones this year, be respectful of how the dead are grieved if you honor the existence of an afterlife or simply respect death itself. Samhain, representing letting go, sacrifice, endings, and transitions, will call you to at least do that.
For anyone who would like to read more about the Celtic lore behind Samhain, I recommend reading “Tlachtga and the Ancient Roots of Halloween/Samhain” by Luke Eastwood from druidry.org. And if you’d like to hear the song Samhain Eve by Damh the Bard, click here.
Please enjoy this time in safety.