Samhain, the Festival of the Dead

Samhain, the Festival of the Dead, is part of an Introductory Course in Wicca for incarcerated Wiccans, their families and friends, and prison Chaplains. It has been written to provide a greater understanding of Wicca as a spiritual practice and religion for those who seek to understand it, either as an incarcerated Wiccan or as someone who cares about incarcerated Wiccans.

Commonly celebrated by the populace as Halloween, Samhain (pronounced sow–rhymes with cow–win) is the cross-quarter holiday that falls between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.

Celebrated on October 31st, Samhain is the Festival of the Dead,when we remember and honor the ancestors. It is a magical time when the veil between the worlds of the dead and the living is thin, and in Wicca we celebrate death as a part of life, and to give positive value to the idea of going into the dark.

Also called All Hollow’s Eve. All Saints Eve, Blood Feast, BlooddHarvest, Calan Guef, Celtic New Year, Feast of Spirits, Last Harvest, Hallowmass, Martinmas, Third Harvest. and Winter’s Eve, Samhain is associated with goddesses Bhavani, Carlin, Cerridwen, Hecate, and Moingfhion, and the god Oengus Mac Oc.

The Celtic people saw Samhain as a key point of the year’ s turning, a chance to begin anew. The eighth-century scholarly monk Bede noted that custom named November the “blood month,” and he attributed this to the slaughter of beasts in preparation for winter provisions. With the surplus from summer burned on a balefire, our peace made with the dead and preparations made for the winter, our ancestors may well have seen this as a key departure point from the old cycle into the new. This is why Pagans today refer to this festival as the Celtic New Year.

The season of Samhain is associated with ghosts, spirits and the dead walking. It is the season of the Hag, the Crone aspect of the triple Goddess who midwives us–with great compassion–from birth to death. She is Rhiannon, goddess of transition, Ceridwen, goddess of the cauldron of transformation, and Hecate, weaver of wisdom and guardian at the crossroads. The Crone Goddess is celebrated to some extent in the “crone witch” plastic masks and costumes that children wear at Halloween.

Today Witches celebrate Samhain through ritual by naming, honoring, remembering and speaking to and with the dead, and commemorating all or our dead ancestors. Samhain serves as a reminder that life contains death, but it also contains the mystery of rebirth and the movement of the cycle onward.