The History of Samhain

Samhain is almost upon us.  Celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere on the 30th of April and the 01st of May, and in the Northern Hemisphere on the 31st of October and the 01st of November.

I know a few of you out there will pick up the 31st of October as being Halloween and yes you would be right, Samhain is the Pagan Festival that would eventually become Halloween.  However how many of you knew that Halloween actually falls in the first half of the year in the Southern Hemisphere?

Let's discuss the history behind this Festival and why it would fall on a different day from the Northern Hemisphere.

The History of Samhain.

Ancient Celts saw Samhain as the most significant of the four quarterly festivals.  It is the half way point between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice, during this time of year the family hearths where left to burn out while the harvest was collected.  

Once the harvest had been completed the people would join the Druid Priests to light a community fire using a wheel to represent the sun.  They would say their prayers and sacrifice cattle, the people would than take a flame from the communal fire to relight their family hearth.

This festival also marks the New Year, as it symbolised a time of death and rebirth, as it marked the end of the Summer season and the harvests, and the beginnings of the long nights of Winter. Celebrations would last three days typically with mead or beer and gluttonous feasts. 

It was believed that during this festival the world of the Gods, the Underworld and the Otherworld - the world of the ghosts and spirits -  would be made visible to humankind, as such offerings would be made to the Gods, typically thrown into the bonfires, to appease them so they would protect the people from the tricks of the beings of the Otherworld.

From Ancient Times to Christianity.

As with many Pagan holidays, as Christianity came into vogue, the Church would move or create a holiday to convert the people across to the new religion.  Samhain was no exception, however it is the one holiday that survived the most intact to the original holiday beliefs.

The first attempt to try to convert the holiday to a Christian holiday was made by Pope Boniface in the 5th Century, where he initially moved the celebration from the Northern Hemisphere date of 31 October to May 13th where he tried to make it a celebration of the Saints and Martyrs.  However this attempt would fail so it was moved back to the dates of November 1 and 2 being declared as All Saints Day and All Soul's Day in the 9th Century by Pope Gregory.

This move was more successful as the homage paid to the Saints and Martyrs more closely resembled the homage paid to the Gods and Ancestors under Samhain.

Slowly the food offerings made to the spirits and ancestral ghosts would become offerings to the poor as displays of generosity and goodwill, and the tricks and pranks that where once thought to be from the spirits was now attributed to spirit of the saints.

From All Hallows Eve to Halloween

Eventually All Hallows Eve would become Halloween eclipsing the Christian holiday of All Saints Day, and this would occur in the 19th Century with the Irish immigrants coming across the The America's.

A lot of the traditions that we now associate with Halloween actually come from the Pagan traditions of Samhain.  This includes the costumes, trick or treat and the offerings left on the alters to the ancestors.

How do Modern Pagan's Celebrate Samhain Today.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Samhain is celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere on 30 April and 01 May.  Which marks the half way point of the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  The modern Pagans of today still celebrate Samhain as their New Year.

Samhain today is now the celebration of death and rebirth as move from Summer and Autumn and the days of light to Winter and the days for darkness.

This is the time of year to reconnect with our Ancestors and honour those  who have died, as this is the time of year when the veil between our world and the Otherworld making contact with the Ancestors easier.

There are many different ways to celebrate this holiday depending on your spiritual or faith path.  However the focus is on honouring our Ancestors of the cycle of death and rebirth.

This is also the time of year where many Pagans and Witches will honour the Gods and Goddesses of the Underworld.

This is the perfect time to honour our dead, and think about how we have taken care of those who have crossed over, and the many traditions from around the world from Ancient Times to now who venerated their Ancestors.

Activities to do to Celebrate Samhain.

Create a Samhain Alter:

What you will need:

Photos of your Ancestors, or pets who has passed over that you would like to honour.

Marigolds which represent death and rebirth.

Chrysanthemums represent shining light into the darkness.

The favorite food and beverage of your ancestors.

Black. grey, white, purple, burgundy and orange candles.

Copal, Sweetgrass, Myrrh or Patchouli Incense.

Summon an Ancestor:

Add on tablespoon of their favorite liqueur or spirit to a glass of spring water.

Place it on the alter to summon the Ancestor.

Add photos of your relatives that have passed to strengthen the calling.

Give offerings of their favorite food they would find hard to resist  or serve them what you would cook them for dinner.

Go into a mediation and listen for their words.

Journal what came to you.

Create a Hectate Pillow:

This pillow is best made over the dark moon or Samhain, and is a great way to appeal to the Goddess Hecate to block nightmares and protect you at night.

What you will need:

Dried Lavender

Dried Mugwort

Dried Mint

Essential oil of Lavender.

Blend equal parts of the dried herbs, sprinkle a few drops of the essential oils over the dried herbs.

Allow this to dry than use it to fill a black pillow.

Release and Let Go Ritual:

What you will need:

Samhain decorations - bowls, baskets, pumpkins, jack o lanterns.

A festive beverage - cider, spiced wine, mead, beer, pumpkin spiced tea.

Your Chalice/drink cup

Black, orange or purple candles

A sad song - something that really tugs at the tear strings.

A list with your losses for the year.  If its a person a photo of them.

Your cauldron/ heat resistance container


Gather your ingredients and set up a Samhain Alter.

Take a few deep breathes and ground yourself.

Cast a circle of protection. 

Summon your spirit guides, Guardian Angels, Goddess/God of your choice, and your Ancestors.

Light the candles and place the list, photos or objects of your losses in the centre, name your losses out loud say something along the lines of.

"This is what I have lost this year. During Samhain night, I honor it"

Play the song that you have chosen and while it plays, meditate on your loss. Allow your thoughts to wander. If an emotion rises, don’t repress it.

When the music fades, take your object again. Name it and say:

“I release you. I let you go.”

Now, place the object in your cauldron, if its flammable burn it.

Then, fill your cup with the festive beverage. Name your greatest accomplishment of the year and hold a toast to it.  Don’t empty your cup completely. Pour the last sip of it on the ground as an offering to your Ancestors. 

 Happy Samhain!