Samhain: The Lore of Halloween

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History

Samhain is a pagan religious festival originating from ancient Celtic spiritual tradition. In modern times, Samhain, a Gaelic word pronounced “sow-win”, is usually celebrated from October 31 to November 1 to welcome in the harvest and usher in the dark half of the year. The barriers between the physical world and the spirit world (the veil) break down during Samhain, allowing more interaction between humans and denizens of the Otherworld.

Ancient Celts marked Samhain as the most significant of the four quarterly fire festivals.  After the harvest work was complete, celebrants joined with Druid priests to light a community fire using a wheel that would cause friction and spark flames. The wheel was considered a representation of the sun and used along with prayers. Cattle were sacrificed, and participants took a flame from the communal bonfire back to their home to relight the hearth.

 

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Christianity attempted to reframe Samhain as a Christian celebration The first attempt was by Pope Boniface in the 5th century. He moved the celebration to May 13 and specified it as a day celebrating saints and martyrs. The fire festivals of October and November, however, did not end with this decree.  In the 9th century, Pope Gregory moved the celebration back to the time of the fire festivals, but declared it All Saints’ Day, on November 1. All Souls’ Day would follow on November 2.

Neither new holiday did away with the pagan aspects of the celebration. October 31 became known as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, and contained much of the traditional pagan practices. Trick-or-treating derives from ancient Irish and Scottish practices in the nights leading up to Samhain. In Ireland, mumming was the practice of putting on costumes, going door-to-door and singing songs to the dead. Cakes were given as payment.

Wicca Today

A broad revival of Samhain resembling its traditional pagan form began in the 1980’s.  Wicca celebration of Samhain run the gamut from the traditional fire ceremonies to celebrations that embrace many aspects of modern Halloween, as well as activities related to honoring nature or ancestors.  Wiccans look at Samhain as the passing of the year, and incorporate common Wiccan traditions into the celebration.

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Celtic Deconstructionists Today

Samhain is often called Oiche Shamnhna and celebrates the mating between Tuatha de Danaan gods Dagda and River Unis. They celebrate by placing juniper decorations around their homes and creating an altar for the dead where a feast is held in honor of deceased loved ones.

Sources:

  • History.com
  • BBC
  • “The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween,” By Jean Markale
  • “Samhain: Rituals, Recipes and Lore for Halloween,” By Diana Rajchel.

Witchy History: October 15th, 1674

On October 15th in 1674, the Torsåker witch trials begin (the largest single witch trial in Sweden) with 71 people (65 women and 6 men) beheaded and burned.

The main accusation against the suspected witches was that they had abducted children and taken them to Satan’s Sabbat at Blockula, the legendary meadow of Swedish folklore where the Devil held his Earthly court during a witches’ festival.

Most of the witnesses were children. Confessions were obtained through whippings, beatings, bathing them in an ice-cold lake, and threatening to roast them in ovens.

Jöns Hornæus, grandson of the priest who oversaw the trial, describes the execution in his book, where he wrote down the exact words of his grandmother, the eyewitness Britta Rufina: Then they began to understand what would happen.

Cries to heaven rose of vengeance over those who caused their innocent deaths, but no cries and no tears would help. Parents, men and brothers held a fence of pikes.

Foundational Principles For The Application Of Magical Herbs

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Sachets
Herbs to be carried or placed in the house (over doors, windows, etc.) should be made into sachets. A sachet is a small bag or piece of cloth in which herbs are contained. In voodoo magic this is often called a “charm bag” or “root bag.”

Poppets
This is also known as the voodoo doll, although it has been in magical use at least 4,000 years and was only lately associated with voodoo. Though they have been made out of roots, potatoes, lead, bark, paper, and other materials, in magical herbalism poppets are usually fashioned of cloth and herbs. The poppet is a doll made to represent the person to be aided through magic.

Infusion
The infusion is the origin of the potion so identified with Witches. It is simply a process of soaking herbs in hot water. Use no metal pots when boiling water or during the steeping process, for they interfere with the herb’s powers. Keep the liquid covered during infusion so that little steam is lost.

Baths
Baths are often used in herb magic, for they are an easy way to spread an herb’s power over the entire body. There are two methods; one, make a sachet (use about one-half to one cup of the appropriate enchanted herb) of cheesecloth. Drop this into the warm bath water. A better method entails the preparation of an infusion (see above). Add the strained liquid to the tub.

Ointments
An old form of herb magic as well as medicine, an ointment is simply any fatty substance to which powdered herbs and/or oils have been added. To a cup of shortening or lard, add three tablespoons of the enchanted, powdered herb(s). Pound or mash them together while visualizing until well-mixed, then place in an airtight container to store.

Oils
Essential oils are used in numerous ways. They are worn on the body, rubbed onto candles, dabbed onto sachets and poppets, added to baths, burned on charcoal blocks, and smeared onto roots.

Incense
Basically, an incense is any combination of plant materials, perhaps combined with essential oils and a base, which are mixed together and burned or smoldered on charcoal. This type of incense is known as raw or granular. It is usually used in magic, rather than the stick or cone forms.