Dark Shadows of Samhaine

Posted by Jodie, 19 April 2009 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Samhaine - day of the dead

Samhaine (pronounced Sow-en) it is a traditional Celtic festival in which people have gathered over the centuries, eaten together, drunk and marked the seasonal changes. Samhaine marks the end of the Celtic year, end of the harvest and beginning the dark half of the seasons. On this night people celebrate and also remember and honour those who have past. Traditionally it is believed to be the night in which the thinnest veil exists between the living and the dead, the cloak drops for one night and ancestors walk again. As such during celebrations the Celts often used to dress as spirits, paint their faces white, leave out sweets, and carve and light pumpkins to attract their past loved ones and repel negativity from the home. Fires, bells and drums were used to repel negative spirits. Halloween has formed from this festival, celebrated going into winter (Oct 31st in the Northern Hemp/ end of April in the Southern hemp).

It is the night of the Dark Goddess, destruction of the old, and a night when traditionally Priestesses and Druids used herbs and tranced to meet with the ancestors. It was a time for deep trance work, scrying, cursing and releasing the old. The Crone Mother is in her prime and we honour her knowledge and the gift of sacred wisdom. Many Crone Goddesses, War or Destroyer Goddesses are honoured this night. Morrigain, Macha, Badb, Scatha, Calleach… A cauldron of water (womb of the Goddess) is consecrated and drunk for the wisdom of the Crone. It was also a traditional time for slaughter moving into winter. The Celts believed that the smell of blood and grain that was burning called the ancestors to begin the night. Modern pagans do much the same, but often in the form of a roast dinner.

The local community would burn messages into the fires for the dead, carve pumpkins’, feast, tell stories, celebrate and do apple bobbing. In Celtic Goddess culture there is a time for every season both in the land and in ourselves. Samhaine is the tide of death and darkness. It is the time to look inward, a time to let go, a time to face the past, and a time in which the Ancestors Law is strong and processing feelings surrounding grief or honouring those who have past is celebrated as richly as the light and birth of spring.

It is customary to set a place at the table for people who have past at the Samhaine feast. Sometimes a window was left open to the west to invite the loved one in, with a candle in the western window or door to help guide their path home. We honour the natural, creative and transformative power that death and stillness brings, and through this slowing down and honest reflection we give ourselves true balance. As the leaves fall and plants focus in on their roots it signals the time of darkness, the time for dealing with the past before the time of Birch, new beginnings.

Symbols of Samhaine often used in offering….

Rosemary: The herb of remembrance, laid out or burnt for the dead

Apples: life after death and a symbol of the divinity of the Mother Goddess

Pomegranates: Seeds of death and rebirth

Dittany of Crete: thrown into fire to honour those past

Pumpkins: Carved to attract and welcome loved ones and scare and repel negativity from the home during the night of the thinnest veil

Fumitory: underworld and protection

Red poppy’s: Sacrifice, visions, moon, mother

Deadly Nightshade: ointment that was traditionally used over bodies and placed on brooms, once

absorbed into the skin gave the feeling of flying

Sage: cleansing and purification

Acorns/ oak leaves: wisdom from the past and life contained within

Things to do on Samhaine

Carve pumpkins and place candle in them around your home

Make recipes with apples or pumpkins (pumpkin soup, roast pumpkin, apple crumple, baked apples, and pumpkin pie)

Do apple bobbing (very popular with kids)

In the week leading up to Samhaine think about something from your past you need to let go and give yourself time to reflect and do ritual to work through it

Cook a roast dinner on Samhaine night, add grain and rosemary for the smell of Samhaine, or if you are vegetarian roast vegetables in rosemary  

Write a poem to a person close to you who has died, or write a note with things you wanted to say before they died, then burn it with rosemary into a fire and let it go

Keep a writing pad by your bed, and place mugwort under your pillow. Many people find they dream about spirits, the Goddess or remember past friends or relatives during this tide

Invite friends and family over on Samhaine night and have a rich feast to celebrate the dark half of the year beginning and the move towards Winter

Meditate, do journey work, dance

Do ceremony that honours the Crone’s and their wisdom and drink from her cauldron

Spend time in the garden or in nature on Samhaine night. Put incense, herbs, sweets, fruit and candles in your garden. The Celts during this night often burnt herbs and did vision quests either connecting with the Fae or the ancestors on the night when the veil is at its thinnest


The richness of darkness and death move amongst us, the Earth stands still, cold to her bones. For a moment we move through this wonderful transition, a moment of stillness and profound darkness now waiting until the light of winter solstice dawn, we move deep into the caves of our souls and truly see ourselves, ready to be birthed again as the wheel of the year turns..

Image copyright © 2008 Wytchy Ways. Used with permission.