Category Archives: The Sabbats

Pulling The Kail

Pulling the Kail


A Halloween method of love divination popular among the Irish and Scottish peasantry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was known as “pulling the kail.” It was carried out in the following manner: An unmarried woman, with her eyes shut or covered by a blindfold, would creep into a bachelor’s garden (or kail yard) and, as the clock struck the witching hour of midnight, grasp at random for a stalk and pluck it from the earth.


According to folklore, the size, shape, and texture of the plant were able to reveal the appearance of the woman’s future husband. If it was tall and straight, it was an indication that he would be strong and in good health. If it was shriveled, it meant he would be a sickly person. A well-grown stalk indicated that he would be a handsome man, while one that was crooked indicated marriage to a hunchback or a stingy man. A closed white stalk indicated an elderly mate, and an open green one meant a man who was younger. If any earth clung to the roots, this portended a man of great wealth, while roots that came out of the ground free of any dirt were indicative of precisely the opposite.


Even the way in which the heart of the stem tasted was used to determine the natural temper and disposition of the future mate. For instance, one that tasted sweet and tender indicated a man who was kind and gentle, but one that possessed a sour or bitter taste pointed to a man whose disposition was disagreeable.


If the plant possessed any abnormalities, they were believed to reveal the same physical or mental traits of the future husband. For instance, if it had a club root, the future husband would be afflicted with a club foot, and so forth.


In England, a variation of this method called for an unmarried woman to go into a garden at midnight on Halloween and cut a cabbage. This supposedly invoked an apparition of her future husband. If no apparition appeared, this was taken as an indication of spinsterhood.


Cabbage-stalk divinations were also performed by bachelors to find out if marriage was in the offing for them, and to discover what their future wives would be like. The shape of the stalk— long, short, thin or fat—was believed to reveal the shape of their future


Witch’s Halloween: A Complete Guide to the Magick, Incantations, Recipes, Spells, and Lore
Gerina Dunwich

A Welsh Bonfire Divination



In days of yore, it was a common practice in North Wales for families to take white stones—each one bearing the name of a different family member or a symbol marked to represent each person in the family—and cast them into a Halloween bonfire at the onset of the witching hour. On the morning of November 1, after the bonfire had died out, the ashes would be anxiously searched in the hopes of finding the white stones. It was believed that if any of the stones were missing, the persons whom they represented would die during the coming year.


Witch’s Halloween: A Complete Guide to the Magick, Incantations, Recipes, Spells, and Lore 
Gerina Dunwich

Throwing the Shoe Divination



The Irish have a simple method of divination known as “throwing the shoe.” A person wishing to know his future removes one of his shoes on Halloween night and tosses it over the roof of his house. If the shoe lands pointing away from the house, this is a sign that the wearer will soon be traveling in that direction. If the shoe lands pointing toward the house, no travel is forecast within the coming year for the wearer. Good fortune is indicated if the shoe lands with the sole down. However, if it lands with the sole up, this is said to be a sign of impending misfortune or even death.


The divinatory practice of “throwing the shoe” is mentioned in the court records of a seventeenth-century witchcraft trial held in the Orkney Islands of northeast Scotland: “Peter Holland’s wife came to the said Helen, the said Peter being sick, and asked at her whether or not her husband would die or live. The said Helen commanded her to take his left foot shoe and cast it over the house, and said if the mouth of it fell up, he would live, and if down he would die.”


Another Halloween divination involving footwear calls for a girl to remove both of her shoes upon retiring to bed on Halloween night and place them at right angles to one another to form the letter T. The following incantation must then be repeated:







The apparition of the girl’s future husband is then supposed to appear by her beside or come into view if she looks over her right shoulder. Oftentimes, he will show himself to her in a dream. If no apparition appears, this indicates that she will not marry before the next Halloween.


Witch’s Halloween: A Complete Guide to the Magick, Incantations, Recipes, Spells, and Lore
Gerina Dunwich

The Lost Meaning of Halloween

The Lost Meaning of Halloween

The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows

The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows
by Jack Santino


Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. The Celtic peoples, who were once found all over Europe, divided the year by four major holidays. According to their calendar, the year began on a day corresponding to November 1st on our present calendar. The date marked the beginning of winter. Since they were pastoral people, it was a time when cattle and sheep had to be moved to closer pastures and all livestock had to be secured for the winter months. Crops were harvested and stored. The date marked both an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle.

The festival observed at this time was called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld. People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living. On that day all manner of beings were abroad: ghosts, fairies, and demons–all part of the dark and dread.

Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., before missionaries such as St. Patrick and St. Columcille converted them to Christianity, the Celts practiced an elaborate religion through their priestly caste, the Druids, who were priests, poets, scientists and scholars all at once. As religious leaders, ritual specialists, and bearers of learning, the Druids were not unlike the very missionaries and monks who were to Christianize their people and brand them evil devil worshippers.

As a result of their efforts to wipe out “pagan” holidays, such as Samhain, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in it. In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples’ customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship.

In terms of spreading Christianity, this was a brilliant concept and it became a basic approach used in Catholic missionary work. Church holy days were purposely set to coincide with native holy days. Christmas, for instance, was assigned the arbitrary date of December 25th because it corresponded with the mid-winter celebration of many peoples. Likewise, St. John’s Day was set on the summer solstice.

Samhain, with its emphasis on the supernatural, was decidedly pagan. While missionaries identified their holy days with those observed by the Celts, they branded the earlier religion’s supernatural deities as evil, and associated them with the devil. As representatives of the rival religion, Druids were considered evil worshippers of devilish or demonic gods and spirits. The Celtic underworld inevitably became identified with the Christian Hell.

The effects of this policy were to diminish but not totally eradicate the beliefs in the traditional gods. Celtic belief in supernatural creatures persisted, while the church made deliberate attempts to define them as being not merely dangerous, but malicious. Followers of the old religion went into hiding and were branded as witches.

The Christian feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1st. The day honored every Christian saint, especially those that did not otherwise have a special day devoted to them. This feast day was meant to substitute for Samhain, to draw the devotion of the Celtic peoples, and, finally, to replace it forever. That did not happen, but the traditional Celtic deities diminished in status, becoming fairies or leprechauns of more recent traditions.

The old beliefs associated with Samhain never died out entirely. The powerful symbolism of the traveling dead was too strong, and perhaps too basic to the human psyche, to be satisfied with the new, more abstract Catholic feast honoring saints. Recognizing that something that would subsume the original energy of Samhain was necessary, the church tried again to supplant it with a Christian feast day in the 9th century. This time it established November 2nd as All Souls Day–a day when the living prayed for the souls of all the dead. But, once again, the practice of retaining traditional customs while attempting to redefine them had a sustaining effect: the traditional beliefs and customs lived on, in new guises.

All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallows (hallowed means sanctified or holy), continued the ancient Celtic traditions. The evening prior to the day was the time of the most intense activity, both human and supernatural. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead, but the supernatural beings were now thought to be evil. The folk continued to propitiate those spirits (and their masked impersonators) by setting out gifts of food and drink. Subsequently, All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, which became Hallowe’en–an ancient Celtic, pre-Christian New Year’s Day in contemporary dress.

Many supernatural creatures became associated with All Hallows. In Ireland fairies were numbered among the legendary creatures who roamed on Halloween. An old folk ballad called “Allison Gross” tells the story of how the fairy queen saved a man from a witch’s spell on Halloween.

O Allison Gross, that lives in yon tower
the ugliest witch int he North Country…
She’s turned me into an ugly worm
and gard me toddle around a tree…
But as it fell out last Hallow even
When the seely [fairy] court was riding by,
the Queen lighted down on a gowany bank
Not far from the tree where I wont to lie…
She’s change me again to my own proper shape
And I no more toddle about the tree.
In old England cakes were made for the wandering souls, and people went “a’ soulin'” for these “soul cakes.” Halloween, a time of magic, also became a day of divination, with a host of magical beliefs: for instance, if persons hold a mirror on Halloween and walk backwards down the stairs to the basement, the face that appears in the mirror will be their next lover.

Virtually all present Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic day of the dead. Halloween is a holiday of many mysterious customs, but each one has a history, or at least a story behind it. The wearing of costumes, for instance, and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons. Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This practice is called mumming, from which the practice of trick-or-treating evolved. To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures of the dead are among the favorite disguises. Halloween also retains some features that harken back to the original harvest holiday of Samhain, such as the customs of bobbing for apples and carving vegetables, as well as the fruits, nuts, and spices cider associated with the day.

Today Halloween is becoming once again and adult holiday or masquerade, like mardi Gras. Men and women in every disguise imaginable are taking to the streets of big American cities and parading past grinningly carved, candlelit jack o’lanterns, re- enacting customs with a lengthy pedigree. Their masked antics challenge, mock, tease, and appease the dread forces of the night, of the soul, and of the otherworld that becomes our world on this night of reversible possibilities, inverted roles, and transcendency. In so doing, they are reaffirming death and its place as a part of life in an exhilarating celebration of a holy and magic evening.

The Year Begins on Samhain

The Year Begins on Samhain

Samhain (pronounced sow-en) is honored on October 31. An alternative date for this sabbat is approximately November 6, when the sun is at fifteen degrees of Scorpio.

Samhain is one of the ancient Celtic fire festivals, and perhaps the most important day in the Pagan year. It is known by many other names, including Shadowfest, Hallowmas, Halloween, and the Day of the Dead, to name a few. Samhain marks the beginning of the time to study the dark mysteries, to banish weaknesses, and begin important inner work.

According to the mythological cycle, the god is dead. Some say the goddess is in mourning and enters the crone stage. For most Wiccans, she is in the mother stage, for although she mourns, she is pregnant with the god’s child and due to give birth at Yule.

Traditionally, Samhain was the time of the final harvest, the blood harvest, when any animals that would not survive the winter on fallow were slaughtered. It was considered unwise to eat any fruit or grain not harvested by this day. The Celts also considered it the start of the dark half of the year, which also coincided with the start of the new year.

Samhain Traditions

It is said that on Samhain, the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest point and the spirits of the dead can most easily pass through it. It is a time for Wiccans to contact their ancestors and honor them, as well as to speak to those who have recently passed on and relate messages to them.

The dumb supper is one way to honor the dead. Each participant brings a favorite food of the dead person and a token of remembrance. In one variation, small bits of each dish are put on a plate and placed outside overnight. In the other variation, an actual meal is celebrated in silence, with seats at the table for the dead and offerings of their favorite foods on their plates.

It is customary to cast the circle just before midnight and then those gathered go around the circle, taking turns saying what needs to be said to the deceased, and then placing offerings to them on the altar. The deceased can either be from the past year, or can be long-dead ancestors. Animals can also be honored. This ritual is very emotional and can last hours. After the ritual, a champagne toast is appropriate, and divination for the coming year is a popular post-ritual activity.

Samhain Deities

Crone goddesses such as Hecate (guardian of the crossroads), Inanna (aka, Ishtar; both underwent underworld journeys), Macha (mother of death), Cerridwen (keeper of the cauldron of the underworld), Lilith (protector of pregnant women and a death goddess), and Morrigan (goddess of death) are appropriate goddesses to invite to ritual, because the wisdom of the crone is honored at this time.

Because the god is dead at this time of year, there are very few gods associated with Samhain, but among the few options are Herne (god of the hunt) and the Horned God, a figure who represents the forest, the hunt, and the wild, fertile nature. He is sometimes associated with Cernunnos, but is often considered a god in his own right. Both are appropriate because Samhain was known as the “blood harvest,” a time when animals that would not survive the winter were slaughtered to provide meat for the people.

Other Samhain Associations

Appropriate colors are orange and black. Altar candles are usually black and white, and most witches wear black. A few significant herbs are belladonna, thyme (associated with dead souls), rosemary for remembrance, and mugwort to aid second sight. Commonly seen animals are nocturnal beasts such as the owl, cat, and bat. The jack-o’-lantern is a very popular symbol in America because the pumpkin is an American fruit that ripens in the fall. The candle inside it is a symbol of the white, pure energy through which spirits and faeries are commonly seen. The candle guides these spirits to believers. The besom, or broom, is also associated with Samhain. Stones associated with the holiday are obsidian, onyx, and carnelian.

To Bless The Dead (Samhain)



On Halloween night, anoint a black candle with three drops of frankincense or myrrh oil (or a blend of the two) to consecrate it. Light the candle’s wick with a match, and say:




Fill your mind with images of your deceased loved one. Take a black feather in your power hand and use it to trace the symbol of the pentagram in the air over the flame of the candle. Do this thrice, each time reciting the following incantation:

Witch’s Halloween: A Complete Guide to the Magick, Incantations, Recipes, Spells, and Lore
Gerina Dunwich

A Witch’s New Year Chant



The following chant is designed for coven use; however, it can be easily adapted for solitaries simply by changing the words “we” and “our” to “I” and “my,” respectively. On the thirty-first of October (the eve of the witches’ New Year), join hands to form a circle around a glowing jack-o’-lantern. Concentrate upon your New Year’s resolutions while repeating the following chant over and over, each time a bit louder and stronger until sufficient magickal energy has been raised and you feel your body tingling:




Gradually lower the chant, and then end it with:

So mote it be!

Don’t forget to uncast the circle.


Witch’s Halloween: A Complete Guide to the Magick, Incantations, Recipes, Spells, and Lore 
Gerina Dunwich