Demystifying Samhain: Everything you need to know about the Celtic New Year

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Demystifying Samhain: Everything you need to know about the Celtic New Year

Samhain. It predates modern Halloween, and yet the word itself carries some negative connotations. When I tell people that I celebrate Samhain, they often ask me whether it’s an evil or satanic holiday. The purpose of this post is to demystify Samhain, teach you its sacred and ancient significance, and encourage you to create your own Samhain tradition that will deepen your appreciation of (and excitement about) Halloween and this mystical, magical time of year.

The word Samhain means Summer’s End in Gaelic (pronounced Sow-wen or Sow-wain). It falls on Halloween night and is considered the end of the Celtic year. On this day, so legend goes, the great God of the Sun dies, and leaves his widow, the Goddess Crone, to mourn him until Yule (Winter Solstice, 12/21) when he will be reborn and with his rebirth, light will return to the Earth. From 11/1-12/21, we are cast into literal and figurative darkness. With the Sun God gone, nights grow longer, plants and trees die back, and all around us begins to freeze and harden in the cold chill of late autumn and winter. I have always referred to the night of Samhain as the Velvet Curtain, a metaphor for the veil between worlds that is both thin and dark, comforting and protective, mysterious and magical. I wear a black velvet cloak during Samhain ritual to symbolize the darkening of Earth and the heightened magic of this night. There is something about October 31 that defies understanding. And yet you know the energy is different. The spirits are closer. The magic is stronger.

Samhain and related rituals were our wise ancestors’ way of putting language and imagery to the realities of life and death. The cycles of life are powerful, and the month of October is about reconnection with ancestors at a time when the distance between us and them isn’t so far. In my experience, beginning October 1 the spirit realm is more accessible than in previous months and remains that way (for divination, in particular) until midnight on October 31. Then, in November, the spirits return to their rest while we return to our life.

In Mexico, this magical time is known as los Dias de los Muertos and the dead are celebrated now, their legacies, traditions, and blessings remembered. I’ve spent time in Mexico during the end of October and there is literally nothing as beautiful as the graveside altars and ofrendas in bold colorful displays that pay tribute to lives well lived.

On October 31, you can do a simple ritual by lighting black, orange, and gold candles, putting out photos of deceased loved ones, and perhaps a few of their favorite things too. Then recite the following invocation as you watch the flame of your candles burn:

“On this night, the velvet curtain draws closed
and all around us, Spirits of our Beloveds embrace us.
I honor those who have gone before me,
clearing my path with their wisdom and love.
I honor those who are with me now,
guiding me and teaching me the sacred ways.
And I honor those who will come after me,
leaving a magical legacy they can follow.
On this night, I give thanks for [insert name of ancestor(s)]
and remember him/her for the love he/she gave.
May his/her memory live on in me, through me,
and so it is.”

Enjoy the End of Summer, dear ones. Don’t fear this time of year – celebrate it. Dance with the dead and learn from them. They only come this close once a year. Let the darkness and their presence be a source of comfort and magical awareness that feeds and replenishes you all year long.

4 thoughts on “Demystifying Samhain: Everything you need to know about the Celtic New Year

  1. Recently visited your website and am so impressed! I’m definitely going to be a regular here! Blessed Be!

  2. Two things: First, Samhain is celebrated November 1st. Samhain means November in Gaelic. This misconception that it is celebrated on October 31st is because the Celtic Day is from sundown to sundown. Secondly, BELTANE is the Celtic New Year. Samhain is the IRISH new year.

    All Gaels are Celts, but not all Celts are Gaels. Rhys and Frazier were confused because in the Southern Hemisphere, the two festivals are reversed, with Beltane falling on November 1st, and Samhain on May 1st, and now everyone’s got it backwards.

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