October 13, 2012

Samhain ~ A Brief History

Image from Magickal Graphics
Most people know of October 31st as Halloween but long before there were children dressing up as goblins and witches, Halloween was known as Samhain (pronounced "Sow-ween"). Contrary to popular belief Samhain is not the name of a Celtic god of death, however it is a Celtic celebration of the end of summer and a time to honor the dead.

Honoring Our Ancestors

Samhain is the time of the year when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. and it's the perfect time to honor our ancestors who came before us. You can do this in many ways, you can make an ancestor alter and decorate it with pictures or mementos of loved ones who have past, you can set and extra place at the table so that they might know there is always a place for them, or you can simply light a candle and meditate and remember them.

The Witches New Year

Samhain is the third and final harvest festival in the Wheel of the Year, and is celebrated as the Witches New Year. It's a good time to reflect on the past year and if you find you have left something unresolved this is the time to resolve it.

Pumpkins and Jack-O-Lanterns

Pumpkin carving is a popular part of modern America's Halloween celebration, but did you know the practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack."

Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, simply "Jack O'Lantern."

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack's lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o'lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o'lanterns.

Costumes and Candy

Dressing up in costumes and going "guising" was prevalent in Scotland and Ireland at Halloween by the 19th century. In the mid-1800s, American began to steer Halloween away from "scary" things and moved toward parties, By the early 1900s Halloween parties focused primarily on festive costumes, games and foods. By the 1950s, Halloween had evolved to a holiday that catered mainly to children. The practice of trick-or-treating was revived during this time. The first mass-produced Halloween costumes appeared in stores in the 1930s when trick-or-treating was becoming popular in the United States. Today whether you make or buy your costume you can be anything you want to be, I think this year I'll be a Witch :)


  1. This is one of the best and most concise descriptions of Samhain I have ever read. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Your welcome Bella, I am glad you decided to follow my blog.