Everyone knows that witches in all their forms are a huge part of Halloween. We dress in witch costumes, serve cookies and cakes shaped like witch hats at our parties, and decorate our houses and yards with them. And late on Halloween night, we scare ourselves with movies about them. They are a much beloved and historical part of almost every Halloween celebration.
But did you know there are some folks who consider themselves the real deal? Have you ever wondered what they believe and how they celebrate Halloween? Well, grab a cup of your favorite brew and a few of those cookies and read on!
To start off, today’s Halloween was once known as Samhain. (Sow-when or Sow-ven) and It marks the beginning of the Celtic New Year. Agriculturally,The harvest is in and the seeds of the new crop await planting in the spring. Many witches acknowledge the coming darkness as a time of rest for both the land and the community. The months to follow are a time for reflection and making plans for the future. Those plans will be acted on with the coming of Spring. The days are growing short, and we start the new year by remembering the past one, and a promise of renewal for the next.
Many witches hold special rituals and celebrations to honor those who have passed during the year. One of the ways this can be done is to have a Dumb Supper. During a Dumb Supper, a place is set at table for departed ancestors, who are then invited to join the gathering and eat with the living. The first portions of food will be served to the departed, and the meal is generally eaten in silence. Once the meal is complete, we say goodbye to our loved ones and the food from their plate is left outside as an offering to nature.
Modern pagans and witches also believe that at this time, the veil that separates our physical world from the other world, is at its thinnest. This makes Samhain one of the best times to communicate with the dead. Tarot cards are a good choice for both foretelling future events, and communicating with loved ones. Messages are revealed by both the pattern in which the cards are laid out, and the position of specific cards within the pattern.
Another method is to meditate on the ashes of a dying fire. Omens and portents can be read in the shapes that appear in the embers. Looking for shapes in the smoke of a snuffed candle, or even leaves blowing in the wind, are also ways that the dead are thought to communicate at Samhain.
The tradition of pumpkin carving isn’t just something scary and fun. It actually originates from a legend Irish Christian settlers brought with them to America. The story goes that a black-smith called Old Jack had been so evil in life, that when he died neither Heaven nor Hell would take him. Jack was condemned to walk the earth each Halloween night, with no light save a carved out turnip with a tiny candle stump in it. Folks would leave these little turnip lanterns by their front doors, to keep Jack away. When the Irish came here, they found pumpkins more readily available, and began using them instead.
While all of this sounds full of mystery and magic, I don’t want you thinking that witches don’t have FUN on Samhain. Many covens and solitary witches combine both secular and spiritual activities. Traditional trick-or-treating and Halloween costume parties might come earlier in the evening, with more spiritual celebrations happening in the deep hours of the night. Large groups may even hold rituals in large spaces, and invite the public to attend. A quick Google search will tell you if a public ritual is being held in your area.