How to Celebrate Samhain: The Pagan Festival

Getting to know the History, Superstitions, and Ways to Celebrate it.

Image courtesy of Sage Goddess.

Many people hear October 31st and almost immediately think of Halloween. However, that’s not the only event happening on that day. Samhain, beginning on October 31st and ending the evening of November 1st, is an important festival celebrated all around the world. It celebrates death and birth and is a time many people use to remember those who have died. It is believed that during this time of year, the veil between the living and the dead is very thin, so it makes it easier to communicate with spirits. That is why Halloween and Samhain are often thought to be the same thing. 

representation of Samhain the Celtic festival
Samhain is a Celtic Festival that is Celebrated on October 31st and November 1st. Image Courtesy of Patheos.

The History of Samhain 

Learning all About the Origins of the Samhain Festival

Samhain began as a Celtic religious tradition. It was one of the four fire festivals celebrated by the Celts and was seen as the most important one. Similar to how many holidays are on specific dates, this festival occurred between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. During this time, the Celts believed the barrier between the living and the dead was so weak that people could easily communicate with spirits. 

Those who participated in the festival would harvest crops. After the harvest, celebrants gathered in their communities to light a wheel on fire that represented the sun. This sun was used for prayers. Those who participated would take a light from the flame and use it to light their hearths at home. 

Because the veil was so thin, the Celts would leave offerings outside of their homes to offer to the fairies or spirits that came to visit. Celts would dress up as different monsters or animals so the spirits that crossed over during the time of the festival were not tempted to kidnap them. There are certain monsters associated with this festival such as the Pukah, which is a shape-shifting animal. 

As time passed, the traditions changed. In the Middle Ages, Samghnagans, which were more personal Samhain bonfires, occurred closer to the farms to protect the families. Jack-o-Lanterns also made an appearance during this time, but instead of the pumpkins we all know and love, they used to be made of turnips! Can you imagine walking around town and seeing a bunch of people with carved turnips outside of their homes? Maybe if it never changed to pumpkins, we’d be having turnip pie.

This was just a brief summary of the history behind Samhain, but just by this glimpse of it, you can see how interesting the festival is and how it brought about many of the fun traditions we know today. 

Getting the apples ready for bobbing
There are many superstitions that surround the Samhain Festival. The tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween comes from this Celtic culture. Image courtesy of Learning Lift Off. 

What are Some Samhain Superstitions?

Diving Into The Folklore Surrounding This Pagan Festival

Like Halloween, there are many superstitions that have been formed around this holiday. On this night, there is believed to be strong connections to the spiritual world. Since there is this belief, many superstitions come with it. In this section we will explain some of these beliefs. 

Are you hearing these footsteps too? If you are walking down the street on the night of Samhain and hear footsteps behind you, it’s probably best that you don’t turn around to see who it is. It is believed that if you hear these noises, it is probably a spirit following you. Of course, it could also just be other kids running down the street trick-or-treating. 

Does this ring a bell? If you ring a bell on Samhain, it is supposed to keep evil spirits away from you. Keep a bell around if you choose to celebrate on October 31st!

It’s a good night to bat around. If the bats start flying around early on October 31st, it means that good weather is on its way. In England, they thought bats were messengers between witches and the devil. 

You know what they say, “If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive.” Supposedly, if you see a spider on this night, it could be an ancestor watching you. So, you might want to consider not squashing that spider on Samhain. If you get on its bad side, bad things could potentially be coming your way.

Bobbing for apples or bobbing for your soulmate? As you know, bobbing for apples is a popular fall tradition. In England, it is a known superstition that when bobbing for apples, the first girl to successfully retrieve an apple will be the first to marry. So, if you’re looking for love, you better practice your apple bobbing skills!

Stare into your reflection. It’s also old folklore that if a woman carries a lantern and holds it above water on this night, the reflection will show her future soulmate. So ladies, if you really want to know, get your lanterns ready.

These are just a few of the many superstitions that are believed to be true on Samhain. If you are interested in folklore and superstitions, you can probably find many more on different websites. Getting to learn the meanings behind certain symbols and objects is one of the fun ways to celebrate this time of year. 

Pumpkins and Candles can be used as decorations for Samhain
There are many different ways to celebrate Samhain. You can choose to celebrate privately or with your community. Image Courtesy of Dimitra Fimi.

The Many Ways You Can Celebrate Samhain

Introducing Ideas of How you Can Celebrate This Festival

So you’re new to celebrating Samhain? No worries! In this section, we will be talking about different ways for you to celebrate. First, you need to decide if you want to go down the more personal route or community-based route. 

There are many personal ways to celebrate Samhain. Take a look at the following few options and see if any of these work for you. 

  • Decorate your home. One of the ways to get into Samhain is to decorate your home with various symbols and the colors orange and black, which represent the festival. You can decorate with a variety of different items, and any decorations you would probably use to decorate for Autumn would work. You can place pumpkins, candles, and corn stalks around your house to get in the spirit. 
  • Take a walk. Use this time to get into nature and explore what it has to offer. Take in the smell of the fresh breeze on a cool fall day. Observe the leaves that are changing colors and falling to the earth. Reflect on life itself and the meaning of death. 
  • Visit the cemetery. If one of your loved ones passed away, you can visit their gravesite. Reflect on the ways they impacted your life and how they may still be impacting your life after their passing. You can even leave some flowers or a wreath at their site as an offering. 
  • Update an area of your home. Pick a room in your house and change around the furniture, update the furniture, or redecorate it. Get rid of whatever you don’t need. This gives you the opportunity to celebrate transformation. 
  • Create an altar in honor of your loved ones. Gather photos and other items that remind you of your loved ones and set them on a desk or table. Arrange them in a neat order along with candles. Here you will be able to thank them for what they gave you and wish them well. Sit and observe what happens. Write down whatever messages you received from the spirits who have talked to you.

If you are looking for more community based ways to celebrate Samhain, look at these options.

  • Have a bonfire. At this bonfire, write down something you’d like to stop doing and throw it in the fire. Have others at the fire join you in doing this. Focus on the things you would like to change about yourself and imagine them being released in the fire. 
  • Have a community potluck. If possible, try to host a community potluck. Invite your neighbors, family, friends, and anyone else who would like to celebrate. Have everyone bring a different meal so you can have a feast. Here, you can talk about the different ways you have all celebrated and can give each other different ideas of what to do. You can also share the different experiences you have had. Sharing and reflecting is an important part of this festival. 

Whether you are looking into celebrating by yourself or with your community is up to you. Many people celebrate the festival in many different ways. If you celebrate in other ways, you can share your plans with your friends and give them ideas. Just make sure that however you choose to celebrate, you remember the real meaning of Samhain. 

Hopefully this article gave you a brief background of the history and meaning of Samhain. If you are looking into celebrating or want to know more about the day, read different articles and see the attached links in this post. 

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Gabby Haduch

Gabrielle Haduch is a senior double majoring in marketing and accounting at the University of Pittsburgh. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.
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