Watch this year’s Samhain class below
The word conjures images of caramel apples, jack-o’-lanterns, costumes, and of course all things “spooky.” This is one of those holidays that, try as the Catholic church may have, it never could separate from its Pagan roots.
Another name for Halloween is Samhain—usually pronounced “sow-iyn”—and, for many folks who identify as Pagan, like Witches and Wiccans, it’s one of the holiest days of the year. For Pagans like the Celts, this holiday and Beltane (May 1) signaled the Light and Dark Halves of the Year. For them, Samhain was New Year’s Eve, to be celebrated with all the pomp and bacchanal of such an auspicious date. And while today’s version may seem all fun and games, behind the masks and piles of candy lie darker traditions paying homage to the forces of life and death.
For ancient Pagans all over the Northern Hemisphere, the waning of the sun’s energy in mid-autumn heralded the end of the bright, warm, abundant part of the year. The Mother Earth has spent the last few months producing a massive bounty of crops. Now, She begins to transform from verdant, life-giving Mother, into a skeletal, steely-eyed Crone whose abundant cup no longer pours forth. At best She is apathetic to our existence, the teeming vegetation harvested, at worst, She veils the last crops with grey mold, hurls hail down on us while we attempt to chase down the last of the season’s rabbits.
Most plants and animals stop producing offspring; the days grow shorter, the nights longer. Then rain and snows come, and some groups refer to this time as “The Feast of the Snow Witch.” It was normal to see not only the land but members of your family and community, as well as livestock, die off during winter. Ancient people struggled with ways to ensure their safety and health through these long months, calling on ancestors to lend their wisdom and foresight as people peered into the unknown.
This “shutting down” of Earth was considered the primordial face of Chaos rising and assuming reign over a portion of the year.
Some folks describe this with the idea that the “veil between the worlds” was thinner—and the spirits of the dead would walk the earth. In other words, everything was going wrong, backward, upside down. Even the gods weren’t immune to this disorder, and many of the classic underworld journey myths take place at this time of year: The Greek goddess Kore/Persephone journeys to Hades; the Assyrian goddess Ishtar makes her descent; the Egyptian god Osiris is killed by his brother, Set, and resurrected by the great goddess Isis.
These forces of chaos and undoing were personified in many forms, including The Wild Hunt, also known as Wodan’s Army, and The Furious Horde. This was a procession made up of otherworldy creatures and entities that roamed the countryside from dusk to dawn, capturing and taking anyone they found traveling after dark. Depending on the region and era, the descriptions of the Wild Hunt run from surreal to macabre. Some include The Fae, elves, fairies, and pixies. Others include miscarriages, soldiers who died dishonorably, criminals left at the gallows, along side imps, goblins, hunting hounds. Folks who were swept up by The Wild Hunt were taken “under the Hollow Hills”, in other words into the lands of the Fae or the Dead.
One way people observed this holiday was to dress up and wear masks—a practice that goes back at least to ancient Greece—as a way to trick the dead souls and demons that wandered Earth.
People hoped that by blending in with the devils, they would be overlooked and spared misfortune in the coming months. Masking was also used to trick one another to prepare for the chaos of winter; placation for the mischief-makers usually came as a coin or a sweet treat; hence the “Trick or Treat” of today. A house that refused to pass out treats might have ended up with piss-pots overturned on their doorsteps and the walls splattered with rotting vegetables—the modern equivalent being a good old-fashioned TP-ing.
Even the tradition of jack-o’-lanterns has a darker side. The pumpkins we carve now are a 150-year-old American addition to a much older custom. For more than 2,000 years, people in Western Europe have been carving goblin, and demon faces out of turnips, rutabagas, and small gourds, tucking a light inside, and carrying them on poles or leaving them near their doorsteps to ward off the “evil spirits” floating around. But before people used turnips and gourds, it’s theorized that some Pagans, like the Druids, used human heads. They believed the head was the seat of the soul, and Celtic warriors would behead the soldiers they killed and mount their heads on poles outside their village to protect their lands.
Nearly every belief system on Earth has a festival dedicated to the forces of death, chaos, and ultimately rebirth, many of them at this time of year. In Mexico, Catholics celebrate Día de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, when families party in graveyards with their ancestors, sprucing up the gravesites and having picnics right on top of them. In India, Kali Puja is dedicated to the Great Destroyer goddess, Kali. Her temples run red with the blood of animals sacrificed to ensure prosperity for all.
Because the veil between the worlds is thin at this time of year, many people practice forms of divination— tarot, throwing bones, astrology, and other methods—reaching out to their ancestors and other-worldly beings for guidance as they prepare to move through the Dark Half of the Year.
In astrology, the sign that oversees this season is Scorpio, whose constellation is often described as moving “backward in the sky,” and the Tarot card connected to it is Death. Both archetypes emphasize sex and death—sex in the sense of a union of opposites, namely order and discord, and death in the sense of profound personal transformation, the kind that often requires a dying-off of the old self before the new self can be reborn.
All of this—the hedonistic celebration of life, the appreciation for the abundance of the Earth, and the powerful reckoning of inevitable death and the transition of our life force into “something else”—are why many Pagans view this time of year as the Holy of Holies. Plus, we can finally wear our cool clothes.
In the modern era, most Pagans don’t have the luxury of endless foggy moors to go searching for elementals or huge tracts of land to build bonfires.
Many witches will carve pumpkins, put on costumes, hold giant, loud parties, and hand out treats to any devils who come knocking because they know to make room for love and chaos—or chaos will make its own room—but also because, as one of my sister Witches, Sara, likes to say, “Life is for the living!” But many witches will also head out to local cemeteries and tidy up graves, volunteer at senior homes, offer divination services to their communities. Some will hold sacred gatherings with fellow Witches and feast while discussing their magical acts from the last month – the traditional way to worship Hecate, Greek Goddess of Witchcraft and Magic. And some will hold Dumb Suppers—silent meals at which the table is dressed in black, attendees don’t speak, and a place is set for the spirits of anyone who would like to attend from beyond the veil.
Pagans see the good in honoring the generations before them, the deeds and misdeeds that have added up to this moment. We are the accumulation of everything that has ever happened. Samhain is the season of coming to terms with that sacred burden, choosing what to leave behind, and what to carry forward.
So this Hallowe’en—sorry, Samhain—I recommend that you eat your fill of sweet treats, live it up, honor your dead, and pull a few pranks on friends and family. And then head bravely off into The Dark.
communing with ancestors, divination, shadow work
Star Anise, Vetiver, Oakmoss, Dragon’s Blood, Black Pepper
Beryl, Garnet, Amethyst, Labradorite, Moonstone, Unakite, Alexandrite, Flint
THEMES FOR MEDITATION
Choose an ancestor: what types of gifts have you received from them??
What do you want others to learn from your life?
Do some journaling on your feelings around Death and far-reaching transition.
Samhain Season Work
Spinning The Wheel weekly Podcast
Join me for my weekly romp through the Season’s astrology, holy days, and lunar work!
Eve of the Dead Procession 2023
In mournful dress with candles, relics, and a noise
A Funeral Spectacle to revere thee Spirits visiting on this Eve.
Please join us for this year’s Eve of the Dead Procession. Seems there’s no end to the End. In the tradition of Thee Wild Hunt and The Furious Host, let’s take our Beloved Dead for an evening’s jaunt, and see what other Spirits might like to go for a strolling haunt. We encourage anyone who would like to attend in a spirit of reverence and reverie.
Head here for more info.
Thesmophoria, The “Bitching Festival” for Demeter Thesmophoros and Baubo
In late October, bridging the time between Mabon and Samhain, we come upon a beautiful multi-day holiday from the Greeks called Thesmophoria. Greek femmes held this rite after all the pomp and ritual of the Eleusinian Mysteries. They dedicated this festival to Demeter Thesmophoros, a variant of Demeter who was the Law-Giver. Observed after the crops had been entirely pulled in, but before the seeds for next year’s planting were committed to the Earth. Women from all walks of life would leave their homes and jobs and head out to nature for their own recharge festival… read more.
The Goddess of The Betrayed: Samhain Season
I’m watching the sun go down today, and I’m thinking about the paradigm shifts born out of abuse. The Goddess of the Betrayed has many children.
When the Sun is at 15º Scorpio, approximately November 7th, is Solar Samhain. This stretch of the year, these last 6-8 weeks leading up to Winter Solstice, is the darkest part of the year. Even more ominous, in a sense, than the correlative time in Winter, because there we are heading into Spring. But now, we are heading only into further darkness, further into the unknown, further into Shadow, further into The Fear… read more.
Oct. 31st, 2017. 6 pm. Sun, Mercury and Jupiter in Scorpio, Moon in Pisces, Venus and Mars in Libra, Saturn in Sagittarius
The waning sunlight signals the descent.
Starlight, torches, candles, flashlights, cell phones, phosphorous lights our way as we pick tenuous steps out of the inky black.
The warm, wet, hot, dry, hard, cold Earth Opens.
We step down like we are disintegrating… read more.
Growing Death: Working with The Death Card during Samhain Season
Using The Death Card to Find Our Way at Samhain
While we begin the long slow descent into Winter, we go through a tremendous transformation. The Death Card is a loving guide on this descent. We are ostensibly becoming a very different person from who we have been for the last six months. We are transforming physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Given that the entire world is dying around us, the effect this has on us is profound. Death is one of, if not the most common form of deity on the planet… read more.
The Death Card – Tarot Circle Livestream
What Does The Death Card Represent? We finish October and prepare for Samhain Season through working with the Death Card from Tarot. No matter who you are, where you come from, or how you were raised, Death is Universal. At this point in The Wheel of the Year, we are seeing the Earth die off, it’s last thrust of vegetation spent. The Death card represents a profound moment or process of transition that we cannot refuse or come back from.
This two hour workshop will explore methods of getting closer to this archetype as well as ways to work with archetype in the coming season. A recording of this class is available for anyone subscribed at the Venus ($9) level and higher on my Patreon.
The Tower: The Posse of The Death Card, Part I
Previously, I’ve talked about the Death card. This card gathered a lot of baggage and folks often fear its message. Here, I look at the cast of supporting characters around the Death card, to maybe help understand why this card needs to be so spooky! Ultimately, behind every great Major Arcana card, stands a collection of other greats, doing support work. As a result, when we work with the cards together, it expands our understanding of what they represent, exponentially. These cards are sturdy but heavy-duty helpers as we move into The Underworld Journey of Winter… read more.
The Tower Card – Tarot Circle Livestream
This two hour workshop explores methods of getting closer to this archetype as well as ways to work with archetype in the coming season. A recording of this class is available for anyone subscribed at the Venus ($9) level and higher on my Patreon.
Judgement: The Posse of the Death Card, Part II
The posse of the Death card is The Tower, Judgement, and The Fool. In Part I, I explain why I have chosen these three cards to complement and expand on The Death Card. For that preamble, GO HERE.
Not many people seem excited to see this card. Even the word judgement can cause a lump in your throat, a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, or a dull chill to run over your skin. Many folks interpret this card like a sentence being passed by the Universe, a judgement on our deeds or actions, one that will result in some type of punishment, retribution, or rebuke. Karma, perhaps. Or that you’ve been “asleep” to the truth, and it’s time to wake up to reality, honey!… read more.
The Fool: The Posse of the Death Card, Part III
The Fool is the embodiment of potential and possibility. The Fool card is possibly the “cheeriest” of the three cards supporting The Death Card. Let’s break down the most universal symbols seen on most cards. First, we see the central image of an androgynous figure seemingly about to walk off a cliff. They seem not to be paying attention to their surroundings. Sometimes they are dancing. Other times, they seem to be strolling along. The body language of The Fool is loose and open. Unbothered or unconcerned by immediate events, they often are looking up and out, away from the edge… read more.
The Temperance Card – Tarot Circle Livestream
Into The Fire (of Enlightenment, relax)
As we roll towards the end of Samhain and beginning of Yule seasons, The Temperance card steps forth to take over guiding our process. What comes after Death? Practitioners of religions, spiritual and magical systems, and philosophies from all over the world have struggled with this question for millennia. Is it Nothing? Something? Either option is immensely daunting to our egos and sense of Self. In the Temperance card, we see an archetype that helps us combine the extremes of these states into something new. However, be forewarned traveler, it won’t be easy. We are stepping into the crucible.
A recording of this class is available for anyone subscribed at the Venus ($9) level and higher on my Patreon.