Carving a Magical o’Lantern
The original jack-o-lanterns were carved out of turnips and cabbages. The carving of pumpkins, gourds, and other fruits of the harvest season is still in wide practice today. Although this has survived as a secular tradition and is now part of the fun of the Halloween celebration, it can take on a much greater significance.
You will need these things:
1 medium pumpkin
Felt tip pen
Votive candle or tea light
Long kitchen matches
Meditate on the symbol of the pentagram, for its use here will be twofold. The pentagram when viewed upright has many connotations. In this ritual, it will be used as a symbol of protection. The inverted pentagram is frequently subjected to controversial associations, and for this reason it is not often used.
While the inverted pentagram is a symbol of undeniable power and often brings with it a sense of fear, in this exercise, we will look at the inverted pentagram in a new way. As you meditate on the upright pentagram and its protective associations, think of it as a shield, deflecting any unwanted and unwelcome influences. When you view the pentagram in its inverted position, think of it as a channel or conduit through which benevolent energy may pass . One way to visualize this dual power of the pentagram is to imagine the point of the star at the top as an impenetrable psychic weapon against undesired energy. It is the proverbial athalme against which those spirits that enter without love or trust must fall. When turned upside down, imagine the pentagram to be a doorway; between the two uppermost points of the star is the veil between the worlds through which the spirits you invoke may pass. The purpose of the magical lantern is to ward off unwanted spirits, while at the same time acting as a beacon for those with whom we wish to visit us on Samhain night. The dual use of the pentagram is to take advantage of both of its associations so that it may function as a portal as well as a shield.
Use the knife to carve the pentagram directly onto the top of the candle. You should use the entire edge of the knife, not just the tip . Lay the blade across the candle surface so that the wick is in the center of the knife. Your first cut will be from the upper right to the bottom center, then from the bottom center to the upper left, from the upper left to the right (centered ), from right to left (centered ), and finally from left to the upper right, making an inverted pentagram.
After you have placed the invoking pentagram onto your candle you may bless and dress the candle and set it on your altar. Since the candle is small and its symbolism powerful, some essential oil (pine or garlic, for warding off evil) and powdered incense will suffice for candle dressing. A simple charm can be spoken:“May my beloveds from beyond the veil Follow your gentle glowing light. Illuminate their journey On this sacred night of nights.”
Now prepare your pumpkin by thoroughly washing and drying its surface. Spread out the newspapers and place the pumpkin on top of them and keep the bowl handy. Using the pen, draw an octagon around the stem of the pumpkin. This will be your guide for cutting the top. You want to draw the octagon so that there is plenty of room between the cuts and the stem, but not so large that it encroaches upon the sides — the octagon should not be seen when you view the pumpkin from its side.
Place the tip of the knife at the edge of one of the lines of the octagon and press it directly into the pumpkin at an approximate 20-degree angle pointing towards the center of the pumpkin. Remove the knife and repeat this all around the octagon. By cutting at an inward angle instead of straight down, you are ensuring that your lid will function correctly; if you cut straight down, the lid will fall into the pumpkin instead of resting on top. Once you have finished cutting, pry the top off and trim any hanging strings or seeds. Next, use the spoon to scoop out all of the seeds and place them in the bowl. Scrape the inside of the now-hollowed-out pumpkin of any loose strings. Pay special attention to the bottom. You want this to be as level as you can make it because this is where your candle is going to sit.
When you have cut all five edges, you can push the pentagon out from the center. Next, cut out the triangle above the pentagon and push it out. Continue cutting out the triangles and last, cut out the pie shapes. If you make a mistake and cut all the way through one of the “arms” of the pentacle, you can salvage the design by rejoining the cut segments with toothpicks. If you go out of the lines, you can remove any remaining pen markings with a little rubbing alcohol. Place the candle inside the pumpkin and light it with a long match or joss stick. Replace the lid, but if your pumpkin is on the small side , the inside of the top will scorch. You can leave the lid ajar, or just set it off to the side while the candle is burning. Your lantern is now ready for display, and it will surely frighten the unwelcome away.Provenance Press’s Guide To The Wiccan Year: A Year Round Guide to Spells, Rituals, and Holiday Celebrations Judy Ann Nock
In your mortar and pestle, combine equal parts of pine (needles or resin), clove buds, and dried ginger root. Grind them together into a fine powder. Place the mixture in the center of a three-inch round piece of black felt. Gather up the edges and tie them closed with a red thread. Wear this herbal charm on your person, or keep it in your pocket. The pine will deflect evil, while the clove is sacred to Hecate, and the ginger is an offering to the dead.
• Eat the seeds and share them with your companions, should there be any present.
• Extinguish your candles and release the directions . Open the circle and give thanks to the goddesses invoked. Sleep and have enchanted dreams of benevolent visiting spirits.Provenance Press’s Guide To The Wiccan Year: A Year Round Guide to Spells, Rituals, and Holiday Celebrations Judy Ann Nock
How To Celebrate the God & Goddess at Samhain
In some Wiccan traditions, by Samhain, the Goddess has entered her incarnation of Crone. She is the Old One, the earth mother, the wise one we turn to when we need advice. She teaches us that sometimes we must let go in order to move on. The God, at Samhain, is the Horned One, the stag of great antlers, the god of the wild hunt. He is the animal that dies so that we may eat, and the grains and corn that once lived in the field before our harvest. We can honor these late-fall aspects of both the Goddess and the God in one ritual.
Begin by casting a circle, if your tradition requires it. Prior to starting the ceremony, place three sheaves of corn or wheat around the ritual space. You’ll also need a statue or other image of the God and of the Goddess at the center of your altar. Around the statues, place five candles — red and black to represent the dark aspect of the Goddess, green and brown to symbolize the wild God, and white for the hearth and home.
Place a plate of dark bread, enough for each person present, near the center of the altar, along with a cup of wine or cider. Circle the altar. The youngest person present will act as the Handmaiden, and the oldest as the High Priest (HP) or High Priestess (HPs). If you’re performing this rite as a solitary, simply take on both parts. The HPs lights the red and black candles, and says:
A pair of candles is lit
in honor of the Goddess.
She is Maiden and Mother throughout the year
and tonight we honor her as Crone.
Next, the HPs lights the brown and green candles, saying:
A pair of candles is lit
in honor of the God.
He is wild and fertile and animal
and tonight we honor him as the Horned God.
The Handmaiden takes the bread and walks the circle with the plate, allowing each person to tear off a chunk. As they do so, she says: May the blessings of the Goddess be upon you. The cup of wine or cider is passed around, and each person takes a sip. As they do, the Handmaiden should say: May the blessings of the God be upon you.
The Handmaiden then lights the fifth candle, for the hearth, saying:
This candle is lit
in honor of hearth and home.
The mother and father, the Goddess and God,
watch over us tonight as we honor them.
The HPs then takes over, saying:
We light these five candles
for the powerful Goddess
and her mighty horned consort, the God,
and for the safety of home and hearth.
On this, the night of Samhain,
when the Goddess is a wise Crone,
and the God is a wild stag,
we honor them both.
The Handmaiden says:
This is a time between the worlds,
a time of life and a time of death.
This is a night unlike any other night.
Ancient ones, we ask your blessing.
Goddess, great Crone, mother of all life,
we thank you for your wisdom.
Horned God, master of the wild hunt, keeper of the forest,
we thank you for all that you provide.
At this time, the rest of the group may also say thanks. If you wish to make an offering to the God and Goddess, now is the time to place it upon the altar.
Once all offerings have been made, and thanks given, take a moment to meditate on the new beginnings of Samhain. Consider the gifts that the gods have given you over the past year, and think about how you might show them your gratitude in the coming twelve months. As the old year dies, make room in the new year for new things in your life. You may not know yet what’s coming, but you can certainly imagine, dream and hope. Tonight, this night between the worlds, is the perfect time to imagine what things may come.
End the ritual in the way called for by your tradition.
- Decorate your altar with symbols of the God — antlers, acorns, pine cones, phallic symbols — and representations of the Goddess, such as red flowers, cups, pomegranates, etc.
- If your tradition honors a specific pair of male and female deities, feel free to substitute their names in this ritual wherever it says God or Goddess.
Samhain Ritual to Honor the Forgotten Dead
As Samhain rolls around and the veil grows thin each year, many people in the Pagan community take the opportunity to hold rituals honoring the dead. This may take the form of setting up an altar to honor the ancestors, or to hold a vigil for those who have crossed over in the past year. In general, we’re pretty good about remembering those who have touched us, whether they were family of the blood or of the spirit.
However, there’s one group that is typically overlooked at this time of year. It’s the people who passed through the veil with no one to mourn them, no one to remember their names, no loved ones left behind to sing their names with honor.
Think of the people out there, not just in your community, but around the country who are buried with no headstone, because there was no one to pay for a marker. Consider the old woman in a nursing home or care center, who died with no children or nieces and nephews to bid her farewell in the final moments. What about the homeless veteran who used to panhandle on your city’s streets, who one day just stopped showing up at the corner, and is now buried in an unmarked plot with dozens of others just like him? How about the children who are lost, for whatever reasons, in our world, and die alone, whether by violence or neglect or illness? What about those who were once remembered, but now their gravestones lie untended and ignored?
These are the people that this ritual honors. These are the ones whose spirits we honor, even when we do not know their names. This ritual can be performed by a solitary practitioner or a group. Keep in mind that while you can perform this rite as a standalone ritual, it also works well being incorporated in at the end of your other Samhain rituals.
You will need a collection of candles in colors and sizes of your choice – each will represent a group of forgotten people. If there’s someone specific you know of, who died alone, choose a candle to represent that person as well. For this sample ritual, we’ll use a candle for men, one for women, and another for children, but you can group people in any way that works for you.
If your tradition requires you to cast a circle, do so now. Even if your tradition doesn’t require it, it’s a good idea to have designated sacred space of some sort for this ritual, because you’re going to be inviting the dead to stand outside and watch you. You can do a simple delineation of the circle with string, birdseed, salt, or other markers. Another alternative is to simply create sacred space around the participants. Or, you can do a full-on circle casting like this one: How to Cast a Circle
Decorate your altar as you normally would for Samhain, and include the collection of unlit candles in a prominent position. Safety tip: put the smaller ones at the front, and the taller ones behind them, so there’s less chance of you setting your own sleeve on fire as you light them.
Particularly if you’re doing this during the Samhain season, there’s a lot of activity crossing back and forth over the veil, so it’s a good idea to take a moment to meditate and get grounded before you begin. When you’re ready to start, say:
- Now is the season of Samhain. It is the season of our ancestors, of our glorious dead, of those who have fallen and crossed over the veil from this world to the next. This is a time for us to honor them and pay tribute.
- Tonight, in the darkness, under this starry sky, we remember those who were forgotten. Tonight we memorialize you, the unknown, the unloved, the unwanted of our world. Whoever you may have been in life, tonight, now, in death, you are ours as you watch from the other side, at least for a little while.
Light the first candle, representing the group of your choice. Again, for purposes of this ritual, we’ll assign this candle to the women:
- Women who were lost to us, how did you pass? Were you old and alone, crossing over with no one but your own ghosts to keep you company? Were you young and healthy, taken from us unexpectedly, your crossing as much a surprise to you as to anyone else? Does your body lie in a cold office somewhere, waiting to be claimed? Or do you lie under the stars tonight, in a field or a forest where you’ll never be seen? Forgotten women, your spirits are with us tonight, watching us from outside the circle. We remember you, and want you to know you are honored. You are remembered.
Light the second candle, for the second group you are honoring:
- Men who were lost to us, how did you pass? Did you die in a strange place, far from your family and friends, lost to everyone but your own demons? Were you in the prime of your life, or creeping along against the ravages of old age, watching as disease and neglect took their toll upon you? Are you buried in an unmarked plot in a potter’s field somewhere, or do you lie under these glorious stars tonight? Forgotten men, your spirits are with us tonight, watching us from outside the circle. We remember you, and want you to know you are honored. You are remembered.
Light the next candle, for additional groups you may be honoring:
- Sweet children, crossed over from this world to the next. Your lives were far too short, for whatever reason, and you left us before you grew. On the other side, perhaps there is a mother to hold you when you need to feel loved, a father to comfort you when you are afraid, a big brother or sister to guide you on your journey. Wherever you may lie, and whether you were big or very, very small, your spirits are with us tonight, watching us from outside the circle. We remember you, and want you to know you are honored. You are remembered.
- All of you, women, men, children… you may have crossed over unnoticed when you left this world, but for now, you are remembered. You are unforgotten. You are honored by us this night of Samhain, and if it helps you along your journey, then so may it be. Know that this night, you are with us in memory and spirit. Know that you are no longer the lost and unreachable dead.
Take a moment to meditate on what you have just said. See if you can feel the presence of the lost ones as you stand at your altar. You may notice a distinct shift in the energy you’re feeling, and that’s normal. It’s also why this next part of the ritual is very important: you’ve invited them to watch you, and now you need to send them on their way.
- Spirits, guests from the place beyond, it is time. We have honored you and celebrated your names, though we may not have known you in life. Now is the time for you to move on. Go back to the places from which you came, to the places in which you belong as one of our beloved dead. Go back, knowing that this night, you were honored and remembered. Go back across the veil, and remain in that world. You will not be forgotten again, and we will honor you with our memories. Farewell, rest easy, and may the coming parts of your journey be worthy of you.
Take a few minutes to get yourself centered. End the ritual in whichever way you normally do, breaking down the sacred space. Extinguish the candles, and offer a quick final blessing of farewell to each group as the smoke drifts away into the night.
Samhain Ancestor Rite for Families with Children
If you’re raising kids in a Pagan tradition, it can sometimes be hard to find rituals and ceremonies that are both age appropriate and celebrate the aspects of the particular Sabbat. Factor in that small children tend to have a shorter attention span, and the days of standing in a circle for an hour watching someone chant are pretty much out of reach. That said, there are plenty of ways you can celebrate the different Sabbats with your children.
This ritual is designed to celebrate Samhain with younger kids. Obviously, if your children are older, or you have younger kids who are very focused and mature, you may not need a “kids ritual.” However, for those of you that do, this is a rite you can complete, from start to finish, in about twenty minutes. Also, keep in mind that you are the best judge of what your child is ready for. If he wants to paint his face, bang a drum and chant, let him do so – but if he’d rather participate silently, that’s okay too.
One of the best ways to have a successful ritual with small children is to do the prep work ahead of time. This means that instead of doing stuff while they stand there fidgeting and playing with their shoelaces, you can work in advance. For starters, if your family doesn’t have an altar for Samhain yet, set it up before you begin. Better yet, let the kids help you put things on it.
Use a basic altar setup for this ritual – feel free to raid your Halloween decorations for ghosts, witches, skulls, and bats. If your kids are old enough to not burn the house (or themselves) down when near an open flame, you can use candles, but they’re not required for this ritual. A nice alternative is the small LED tealights, which can go on your altar safely.
In addition to your Samhain decorations, place photos of deceased family members on the altar. If you have other mementos, such as jewelry or small heirlooms, feel free to add those. Also, you’ll want an empty plate or bowl of some sort (leave this on the altar), and a bit of food to pass around as an offering – if you’re working with kids, you might want to have them help you bake bread ahead of time for ritual use. Finally, have a cup with a drink in it that the family can share – milk, cider (always a great option in the fall), or whatever you may prefer. Obviously, if someone is sporting a cold or runny nose, you might wish to use individual cups.
If your tradition requires you to cast a circle, do so now. Keep in mind that not all traditions do so, however.
Gather your family around the altar, and ask each child to stand quietly for a moment. You can use the word “meditate” if your kids know what that means, but otherwise just ask them to take a few minutes to think about the different family members that have crossed over. If your child is too young to know anyone who has passed away – and that happens a lot – that’s okay. They can simply think about the family they have now, and all the living people who are important to them.
A quick note here: if your child has recently lost a pet, feel free to encourage them to think about that deceased pet. Fido and Fluffy were just as much a part of your family as anyone, and if it comforts your child to think of them at Samhain, let them do so. You may even wish to put your deceased pet’s photo on the altar next to Grandma and Uncle Bob.
After everyone has taken a moment to think about their ancestors, and before anyone starts to fidget, begin the ritual.
Parent: Tonight we are celebrating Samhain, which is a time when we celebrate the lives of the people we have loved and lost. We are going to honor our ancestors so that they will live on in our hearts and memories. Tonight, we honor [name], and [name].
Go through the list of specific people whom you wish to honor. If someone has died recently, start with them and work your way back. You don’t have to unleash the names of every single person in your family tree (because it could be Yule before you finish), but it’s important to mention the people who have had the most impact on your life. If you want, to help the kids understand who everyone was, you can go into more detail as you name the ancestors off:
“Tonight we honor Uncle Bob, who used to tell me funny stories when I was a kid. We honor Grandma, who lived in a cabin in Kentucky where she learned to make the best biscuits I’ve ever had. We honor cousin Adam, who served in the Army and then bravely fought cancer before he crossed over…”
Once you’ve named off all of the ancestors, pass the plate of food around so each family member can take a piece. These are to be used as offerings, so unless you want little Billy sneaking a bite out of his, you might want to forgo cookies in favor of plain bread, broken into chunks. After each family member has a piece of bread (or whatever) for their offering, everyone gets to approach the altar, one at a time. Adults should go first, followed by the oldest child, working down to the youngest.
Invite each person to leave their offering on the altar on a plate or bowl for the ancestors. As they do – and here’s where you get to lead by example – ask them to send up a prayer to the gods of your family’s tradition, the universe, or your ancestors themselves. It can be as simple as, “I leave this bread as a gift for those who came before me, and thank you for being part of my family.” If you wish to name individual ancestors, you can, but it’s not necessary unless you want it to be.
For smaller children, they may need some help with putting their bread on the altar, or even with verbalizing their thoughts – it’s ok if your little one just puts their bread on the altar and says, “Thank you.”
After everyone has made their offering on the altar, pass the cup around the circle. As you pass it, you can say, “I drink in honor of my family, of the gods, and of the bonds of kinship.” Take a sip, and pass it to the next person, saying, “I share this with you in the name of our ancestors.”
Once everyone has had their turn, replace the cup on the altar. Ask everyone to join hands and close their eyes for a moment.
Parent: Ancestors, family, parents, brother and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, we thank you. Thank you for joining us this Samhain night, and for helping to shape us into who we are. We honor you for that gift, and thank you once more.
Take a moment for quiet reflection, and then end the rite in whatever way works best for your family.
Ritual To Celebrate the Cycle of Life and Death
Samhain is a time like no other, in that we can watch as the earth literally dies for the season. Leaves fall from the trees, the crops have gone brown, and the land once more becomes a desolate place. However, at Samhain, when we take the time to remember the dead, we can take time to contemplate this endless cycle of life, death, and eventual rebirth.
For this ritual, you’ll want to decorate your altar with symbols of life and death. You’ll want to have on hand a white candle and a black one, as well as black, red, and white ribbon in equal lengths (one set for each participant). Finally, you’ll need a few sprigs of rosemary.
Perform this rite outside if at all possible. If you normally cast a circle, do so now. Say:
Samhain is here, and it is a time of transitions.
The winter approaches, and the summer dies.
This is the time of the Dark Mother,
a time of death and of dying.
This is the night of our ancestors
and of the Ancient Ones.
Place the rosemary on the altar. If you are doing this as a group ceremony, pass it around the circle before placing on the altar. Say:
Rosemary is for remembrance,
and tonight we remember those who have
lived and died before us,
those who have crossed through the veil,
those who are no longer with us.
We will remember.
Turn to the north, and say:
The north is a place of cold,
and the earth is silent and dark.
Spirits of the earth, we welcome you,
knowing you will envelope us in death.
Turn to face the east, and say:
The east is a land of new beginnings,
the place where breath begins.
Spirits of air, we call upon you,
knowing you will be with us as we depart life.
Face south, saying:
The south is a land of sunlight and fire,
and your flames guide us through the cycles of life.
Spirits of fire, we welcome you,
knowing you will transform us in death.
Finally, turn to face the west, and say:
The west is a place of underground rivers,
and the sea is a never-ending, rolling tide.
Spirits of water, we welcome you,
knowing you will carry us
through the ebbs and flows of our life.
Light the black candle, saying:
The Wheel of the Year turns once more,
and we cycle into darkness.
Next, light the white candle, and say:
At the end of that darkness comes light.
And when it arrives, we will celebrate once more.
Each person takes a set of ribbons — one white, one black, and one red. Say:
White for life, black for death,
red for rebirth.
We bind these strands together
remembering those we have lost.
Each person should then braid or knot their three ribbons together. As you do so, focus on the memories of those you have lost in your life.
While everyone is braiding or knotting, say:
Please join me in chanting as you work your energy and love into your cords:
As the corn will come from grain,
All that dies will rise again.
As the seeds grow from the earth,
We celebrate life, death and rebirth.
Finally, ask everyone to take their knotted ribbons home with them and place them on their personal altar if they have one. That way, they can be reminded of their loved ones each time they pass by.
Note: Rosemary is used in this rite because although it seems to go dormant over the winter, if you keep it in a pot you’ll get new growth in the spring. If there’s another plant you’d rather use, feel free.
ALL HALLOW’S EVE
Sly does it. Tiptoe catspaws. Slide and creep.
But why? What for? How? Who? When! Where did it all begin? “You don’t know, do you?” asks Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud climbing out of the pile of leaves under the Halloween Tree. “You don’t really know!” —Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree
Samhain. All Hallows. All Hallow’s Eve. Hallow E’en. Halloween. The most magical night of the year. Exactly opposite Beltane on the wheel of the year, Halloween is Beltane’s dark twin. A night of glowing jack-o’-lanterns, bobbing for apples, tricks or treats, and dressing in costume. A night of ghost stories and séances, tarot card readings and scrying with mirrors. A night of power, when the veil that separates our world from the Otherworld is at its thinnest. A “spirit night”, as they say in Wales.
All Hallow’s Eve is the eve of All Hallow’s Day (November 1). And for once, even popular tradition remembers that the eve is more important than the day itself, the traditional celebration focusing on October 31, beginning at sundown. And this seems only fitting for the great Celtic New Year’s festival. Not that the holiday was Celtic only. In fact, it is startling how many ancient and unconnected cultures (the Egyptians and pre-Spanish Mexicans, for example) celebrated this as a festival of the dead. But the majority of our modern traditions can be traced to the British Isles.
The Celts called it Samhain, which means “summer’s end”, according to their ancient twofold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltane to Samhain and winter ran from Samhain to Beltane. (Some modern covens echo this structure by letting the high priest “rule” the coven beginning on Samhain, with rulership returned to the high priestess at Beltane.) According to the later fourfold division of the year, Samhain is seen as “autumn’s end” and the beginning of winter. Samhain is pronounced (depending on where you’re from) as “sow-in” (in Ireland), or “sow-een” (in Wales), or “sav-en” (in Scotland), or (inevitably) “sam-hane” (in the U.S., where we don’t speak Gaelic).
Not only is Samhain the end of autumn; it is also, more importantly, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Celtic New Year’s Eve, when the new year begins with the onset of the dark phase of the year, just as the new day begins at sundown. There are many representations of Celtic Gods with two faces, and it surely must have been one of them who held sway over Samhain. Like his Roman counterpart Janus, he would straddle the threshold, one face turned toward the past, in commemoration of those who died during the last year, and one face gazing hopefully toward the future, mystic eyes attempting to pierce the veil and divine what the coming year holds. These two themes, celebrating the dead and divining the future, are inexorably intertwined in Samhain, as they are likely to be in any New Year’s celebration.
As a feast of the dead, this was the one night when the dead could, if they wished, return to the land of the living, to celebrate with their family, tribe, or clan. And so the great burial mounds of Ireland (sidhe mounds) were opened up, with lighted torches lining the walls, so the dead could find their way. Extra places were set at the table and food set out for any who had died that year. And there are many stories that tell of Irish heroes making raids on the Underworld while the gates of faery stood open, though all must return to their appointed places by cockcrow.
As a feast of divination, this was the night par excellence for peering into the future. The reason for this has to do with the Celtic view of time. In a culture that uses a linear concept of time, like our modern one, New Year’s Eve is simply a milestone on a very long road that stretches in a straight line from birth to death. Thus, the New Year’s festival is a part of time. The ancient Celtic view of time, however, is cyclical. And in this framework, New Year’s Eve represents a point outside of time, when the natural order of the universe dissolves back into primordial chaos, preparatory to reestablishing itself in a new order. Thus, Samhain is a night that exists outside of time and, hence, it may be used to view any other point in time. At no other holiday is a tarot card reading, crystal reading, or tea-leaf reading so likely to succeed.
The Christian religion, with its emphasis on the “historical” Christ and his act of Redemption 2000 years ago, is forced into a linear view of time, where seeing the future is an illogical proposition. In fact, from the Christian perspective, any attempt to do so is seen as inherently evil. This did not keep the medieval church from co-opting Samhain’s other motif, commemoration of the dead. To the church, however, it could never be a feast for all the dead, but only the blessed dead, all those hallowed (made holy) by obedience to God—thus, All Hallow’s, or Hallowmas, later All Saints and All Souls.
There are so many types of divination that are traditional to Hallowstide, it is possible to mention only a few. Girls were told to place hazelnuts along the front of the firegrate, each one to symbolize one of her suitors. She could then divine her future husband by chanting, “If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.” Several methods used the apple, that most popular of Halloween fruits. You should slice an apple through the equator (to reveal the five-pointed star within) and then eat it by candlelight before a mirror. Your future spouse will then appear over your shoulder. Or, peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand, reciting, “I pare this apple round and round again; / My sweetheart’s name to flourish on the plain: / I fling the unbroken paring o’er my head, / My sweetheart’s letter on the ground to read.” Or, you might set a snail to crawl through the ashes of your hearth. The considerate little creature will then spell out the initial letter as it moves.
Perhaps the most famous icon of the holiday is the jack-o’-lantern. Various authorities attribute it to either Scottish or Irish origin. However, it seems clear that it was used as a lantern by people who traveled the road this night, the scary face to frighten away spirits or faeries who might otherwise lead one astray. Set on porches and in windows, they cast the same spell of protection over the household. (The American pumpkin seems to have forever superseded the European gourd as the jack-o’-lantern of choice.) Bobbing for apples may well represent the remnants of a Pagan “baptism” rite called a saining, according to some writers. The water-filled tub is a latter-day Cauldron of Regeneration, into which the novice’s head is immersed. The fact that the participant in this folk game was usually blindfolded with hands tied behind the back also puts one in mind of a traditional Craft initiation ceremony.
The custom of dressing in costume and “trick-or-treating” is of Celtic origin, with survivals particularly strong in Scotland. However, there are some important differences from the modern version. In the first place, the custom was not relegated to children, but was actively indulged in by adults as well. Also, the “treat” that was required was often one of spirits (the liquid variety). This has recently been revived by college students who go ‘trick-or-drinking’. And in ancient times, the roving bands would sing seasonal carols from house-to-house, making the tradition very similar to Yuletide wassailing. In fact, the custom known as caroling, now connected exclusively with Midwinter, was once practiced at all the major holidays. Finally, in Scotland at least, the tradition of dressing in costume consisted almost exclusively of cross-dressing (i.e., men dressing as women, and women as men). It seems as though ancient societies provided an opportunity for people to “try on” the role of the opposite gender for one night of the year. (Although in Scotland, this is admittedly less dramatic—but more confusing—since men were in the habit of wearing skirtlike kilts anyway. Oh well …)
To Witches, Halloween is one of the four High Holidays, or Greater Sabbats, or cross-quarter days. Because it is the most important holiday of the year, it is sometimes called “The Great Sabbat”. It is an ironic fact that the newer, self-created covens tend to use the older name of the holiday, Samhain, which they have discovered through modern research. While the older hereditary and traditional covens often use the newer name, Halloween, which has been handed down through oral tradition within their coven. (This often holds true for the names of the other holidays, as well. One may often get an indication of a coven’s antiquity by noting what names it uses for the holidays.)
With such an important holiday, Witches often hold two distinct celebrations. First, a large Halloween party for non-Craft friends, often held on the previous weekend. And second, a coven ritual held on Halloween night itself, late enough so as not to be interrupted by trick-or-treaters. If the rituals are performed properly, there is often the feeling of invisible friends taking part in the rites. Another date that may be utilized in planning celebrations is the actual cross-quarter day, or Old Halloween, or Halloween O.S. (Old Style). This occurs when the sun has reached fifteen degrees Scorpio, an astrological “power point” symbolized by the Eagle. The celebration would begin at sunset. Interestingly, this date (Old Halloween) was also appropriated by the church as the holiday of Martinmas.
Of all the Witchcraft holidays, Halloween is the only one that still boasts anything near to popular celebration. Even though it is typically relegated to children (and the young-at-heart) and observed as an evening affair only, many of its traditions are firmly rooted in Paganism. Incidentally, some schools have recently attempted to abolish Halloween parties on the grounds that it violates the separation of state and religion. Speaking as a Pagan, I would be saddened by the success of this move, but as a supporter of the concept of religion-free public education, I fear I must concede the point. Nonetheless, it seems only right that there should be one night of the year when our minds are turned toward thoughts of the supernatural. A night when both Pagans and non-Pagans may ponder the mysteries of the Otherworld and its inhabitants. And if you are one of them, may all your jack-o’-lanterns burn bright on this All Hallow’s Eve.The Witches’ Sabbats Mike Nichols; Wren Walker