Among the many meanings of Samhain there are these, it marks the end of the third and final harvest, it is a day to commune with and remember the dead, and it is a celebration of the eternal cycle of reincarnation as well as the Celtic New Year.
Samhain marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter for the Celts, with the day after Samhain being the official date of the Celtic New Year.
In European traditions, Samhain is the night when the old God dies and the crone Goddess mourns him deeply for the next 6 weeks. The popular image of her as the old Halloween hag menacingly stirring her cauldron comes from the Celtic belief that all dead souls return to her cauldron of Life, Death, and rebirth to await reincarnation.
Unfortunately our crone Goddess has been the object of fear and revulsion of modern societies, and this was definitely not the way our pagan ancestors viewed her.
Samhain is popularly known today as Halloween, a contraction of the words “Hallowed Evening,” and it retains much of the original form and meaning it had long ago in Celtic lands, despite the efforts of the church to turn it into an observance of feasting and prayer for their vast pantheon of saints.
Even after their efforts so much Samhain lore and practice remained within the popular culture that the church was finally forced to Diabolize Samhain into a night boiling with evil spirits.
The pagan Samhain is not, and never was, associated with evil or negativity.
The idea that evil spirits walk the earth at Samhain is a misinterpretation of the pagan belief that the veil of consciousness which separates the land of the living from the land of the dead is at its thinnest on this night.
In nearly all the western pagan traditions, deceased ancestors and other friendly spirits are invited to join the Sabbat festivities, and be reunited with loved ones who are otherwise separated by time and dimension of existence.
While it is true that Samhain is no more evil than any other holiday, it is also a fact that evil does exist, and pagans have always been aware of this.
Our ancestors sought to protect themselves on this night by carving faces in vegetables to place near windows or at the perimeters of their circle. These were the forerunners of our present day jack-o’-lanterns. Today it is still custom to leave candles in windows to guide the earth-walking spirits along their way and to leave plates of food out for the visiting spirits.
It was this custom of leaving out food which evolved into our modern trick or treat.
The jack-o’-lantern is at least two thousand years old. They were designed to frighten away evil spirits who were following deceased loved ones and blocking their way into the land of the dead, and also to protect the living.
Today they are seen as offering protection through the dark October nights.
The third and final harvest is in relation to livestock. The predominately herding cultures of Britain and Eastern Europe slaughtered much of their livestock before Samhain rather than trying to feed the animals on the foliage through the long winters.
A great Samhain feast would then have fresh meat, with Pig being a traditional meat especially in the Middle East where they were sacred to the Goddesses of that region. It was an effort to wipe out Goddess worship that the Jews (and later Muslims) banned the consumption of pork.
So what do we pagans/wiccans do on Samhain?
We gather to celebrate the lives of loved ones who have passed on and we invite their spirits to join us in the celebration. We gather to celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of winter. We gather to celebrate with our friends and families the end of the harvesting season.
Our children go trick or treating and carve pumpkins. We have parties, we drink apple cider and eat great feasts.
We celebrate life, death, and rebirth! Blessed Be!
* An excerpt of this Samhain article was taken from the book: SABBATS By: Edain McCoy.