Samhain – Halloween – Season of the Witch

Samhain (pronounced Sow-een) is the third and final of the three Pagan harvest festivals, and one of the most important festivals in the witchy calendar. Set on 31st October, this is the harvest of nuts, berries, and meat! Traditionally our farming Ancestors would slaughter the livestock now to preserve over the Winter, as this would save them having to feed them precious grain and food supplies needed to sustain them over the harsh Winter months. Many of us feel a natural pull to start foraging and preserving – creating jams, infused liqueurs and healthy syrups.

Halloween Scene

If you hadn’t guessed already – I just LOVE this time of year. The colours, the cooler air, the baking – even the dark nights and rainy days I love it… and it’s not just me! there is something about this season that people just have an affinity with – a time to get cosy, light the scented candles, smother everything in pumpkin spice and eat soup. There are psychological reasons for it too.

According to psychology experts there are some distinct qualities about this time of year to which people feel deeply drawn. Autumn can fit into our lives in a similar way to that of a birthday or a new year. They’re all temporal landmarks, or moments that create a structure for how we see and use time. Research shows that experiencing temporal landmarks can boost motivation to pursue goals and in Autumn, a season we’re socially conditioned to associate with going back to school that motivation may be directed toward our careers in adulthood. Although I always dreaded the return to school so I’m not sure if that ticks my box.

Autumn Scene

There are possibly other reasons at play for our love of the Fall season – “During the summer, people tend to travel for vacation and have less predictable schedules. Once fall starts, most people resume their everyday routines, making it easier for friends to get together and socialize. There is a comfortable routine that this season brings,” says Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind.

The weather may also present some mental health benefits. The cooler temperatures and spectacular foliage encourage us to spend time in nature, which has been connected with improvements in our happiness, wellbeing, relationships, and sense of having a life purpose.

While researching the reason why we love Autumn so much I came upon some interesting info – I’d always assumed that here in the UK we used the term Autumn, and in the US it was Fall….apparently not! Fall originated in the UK!! The older of the two words is autumn, which first came into English in the 1300s from the Latin word autumnus. (we aren’t sure where the Latin word came from.) It had extensive use right from its first appearance in English writing, and with good reason: the common name for this intermediary season prior to the arrival of autumn was harvest, which was potentially confusing, since harvest can refer to both the time when harvesting crops usually happens (autumn) as well as the actual harvesting of crops (harvest). The word autumn was, then, a big hit.

Janie Olsen Fox
Art by Janie Olson

Poets continued to be wowed by the changes autumn brought, and in time, the phrase “the fall of the leaves” came to be associated with the season. This was shortened in the 1600s to fall. This was used in conjunction with “spring of the leaf” to describe these transitional times of the year. Eventually the terms were shortened to “spring” and “fall.”

No one really knows why the Americans decided to favour the word “fall” and “autumn” stuck in the UK – Personally I love the word Fall, but old habits die hard!!

Autumn Altar

What Samhain Means To Pagans

The last of the harvest is in – it is the end of the cycle of life and growth and the earth prepares to lie dormant. The sap in the trees begins its downward flow into the earth, the leaves turn from green to shades of red and gold, the seeds fall deep into the earth and death appears to come to the land.

The God, as Sun King is sacrificed back to the land with the seed until the Winter Solstice, and the Goddess, now as Crone, mourns Him until His rebirth at Yule. He travels the Underworld learning its wisdom. This is the time of the descent into darkness, of pre-conception, out of which new life, new ideas, will eventually emerge.

As the Crone, we now also honour our own inner wisdom. This is a time to descend deeper into reconnecting with our inner darker selves.

Wendy Andrew Welcoming The Ancestors
Art by Wendy Andrew

Traditionally, we say the “veil is thin” at this time – meaning that the barriers between this world and the other realms is less dense. It is the season of death, ghosts and the underworld. We can feel the connection to the world of spirit easily now. Samhain is a time for honouring the dead, our Ancestors and all those who have gone before.

This is a magical time, as the dark half of the year commences. Our ancestors would have huddled around fires, practicing divination and connecting with the spirit world! And planning for the year ahead. We naturally feel a need to withdraw from the world, to go within, like the Sun King, we feel the need to begin our own descent into darkness, into ourselves. Death is always followed by rebirth and while this is the end of the old year, it is the beginning of the new year. For the Celts, our ancestors, the day did not begin at dawn, it began at sunset, it began with darkness. Light is always born out of darkness, they are inseparable, interdependent, and necessary. Darkness is fertile with ‘all potential’. With the beginning of this dark phase comes the opportunity to rest and reflect on the past and to dream of new beginnings. The seed now hidden in the earth will germinate in its season. Look for the seeds in yourself!

Personal Development To Honour The Energies Of The Season

This time of year is the perfect time to start the journey of self-exploration and personal development. As the nights draw in it is a natural part of our psyche to want to also begin to turn our attention inwards. There is a duality about this time of year, as we feel the need to hunker down for winter, yet the consumer society is bombarding us with the need to gear up for the commercialism of Americanised Halloween and the impending Christmas festivities, we are pulled in different directions! No wonder there is so much stress and anxiety around this time of year! Now is the perfect time to start that shadow workThis is an updated blog, with links to shadow work journals that have pre written prompts and questions in them! Making it much easier if you are someone like me who struggles with journaling and free writing.

Samhain at its very essence is showing us to slow down and reconnect with our inner being, our ancestors, loved ones who have gone before – yet who are also still around us in their energy if we can tune in and hear them.

Ritual To Honour Your Ancestors

Honouring your ancestors is a very special thing to do at this time and can be done in many simple ways.

Think about all those beloved departed souls from your life, both family and friends, and of course our pet family! This is the perfect time to include children in the celebrations – place photographs of them on your altar. Offer them your hospitality, welcome their presence into your home. On this night lay an extra place for them to join you at the table – cook and eat their favourite dishes, talk about them – remember them, bring them closer. You and your children can make an offering for departed pets by leaving some dog or cat food outside on Halloween night, many night creatures appreciate this offering, and why just do it on one night!?…extend that hospitality throughout the dark cold days of the whole Winter season.

A Samhain Ritual to Honour the Dead

A simple ritual can be made by writing all the names of those you want to remember down on a piece of paper, I include my pet family. This can be done alone or with family and friends. After your Samhain feast you can all gather around a candle, have a fire-proof dish ready, take a few moments to reflect and remember on the names that you have before you. Switch off all the lights and sit gently in the darkness. Allow the darkness to enfold you. Ask for the presence of your ancestors to come to you. When you are ready, light the candle saying:

“We welcome our departed loved ones into this home and honour your presence amongst us”

Read the list of names aloud – maybe someone wants to say a few words about a particular person, or all of them, share some memories and stories! This is one way of honouring our people, to remember them with love and joy! When you feel you are ready to let them go, light the list of names, place it in the dish to burn away and just pause. This is often a moment when you feel your loved ones near. We are all energy – energy cannot be destroyed – when we pass through the veil we just transmute into different vibrations. Our loved ones only need to be thought of to be in our hearts and around us.

The Elements, Seasons and Qigong

2023 has seen me immerse myself into learning how to teach Qigong, an ancient Chinese mind, body and spirit exercise modality (for more information on what it is and how it can help you read my other blog here). It never ceases to amaze and fascinate me how there are the common themes that weave their threads throughout all cultures and history relating to the seasonal shifts, and how we are connected to the cycles of nature within them.

In Qigong, we work on building the Qi, the energy within us, connecting to the energy of the Earth and the Heavens (the Universe) and Nature, this Qi nourishes our blood which goes on to sustain our organs, which give us heathy bodies and longevity. We have the five elements that all correspond with different organs, meridians within our bodies, and seasons, as well as different animals. These elements are slightly different from the ones I am used to working with as a witch – Air, Fire, Water, Earth and Spirit (or Ether), the Chinese elements are Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth. In Qigong everything is about balance, the Yin and the Yang, the light and the dark – one cannot exist without the other, but when there is an imbalance between the two, that is when dis-ease occurs.

As we move into the Autumnal season, in Chinese medicine it connects with the lungs, which are associated with sadness, sorrow and grief, and large intestines, which are associated with letting go – absolutely the energies that we associate with Autumn! Each season and element not only has exercises that will help nourish and strengthen the organs, but also foods – so with Autumn, some of the foods are things like stewed apples, pumpkins and squash – foods that nourish and support our Yin, and as we bring these foods into our diets, we should also not eat the cooling foods associated with Summer, salads etc.

Eating seasonally, connecting in with Nature, working with the natural rhythms, cycles and seasons of the Earth are all things that I have been doing as part of my practice for many years, so when I came to Qigong, many elements of it seem so natural.


Samhain Correspondences

Associations of the Season – Here are some of the most popular associations of the season:

The Apple

The apple is a sacred fruit to pagans. There are many apple games played at Samhain which grew out of the belief in the Apple as a sacred and magical fruit. The Apple is a symbol of life and immortality. In Celtic tradition, apples were buried at Samhain as food for those souls who are waiting to be reborn. The Apple, cut crosswise, reveals the five-pointed star, or pentacle at its core, a symbol of the Goddess.

Apple With Core

The Pumpkin

Pumpkins are very much an American tradition which has been successfully marketed in the UK and Europe. Everyone loves them, especially of course, children. If you consider that the Celts regarded the human head as the Seat of the Soul, the concept of the carved pumpkin with a candle inside it as the Light shining from the Soul, it becomes just about acceptable… Apart from this the pumpkin has nothing to do with Samhain; however, it has weaved itself into our homes and associations of the season.

Autumn Pumpkins

The Cauldron

The Cauldron or Holy Grail is closely associated with Samhain. It is feminine, and is the cosmic container for all life and death, of transformation and rebirth.

The Besom Broom

The besom is used as this time both practically and symbolically. It sweeps away the last of the Autumn leaves, but is also used ritually to sweep out the old, to clean and clear away old energy, creating space for the new. Traditionally besoms are made from birch twigs – the birch is associated with purification and renewal. You can make a besom at this time of year by gathering a large bundle of birch twigs tied together. Drive a broom handle into the middle of the bundle – ideally hazel or ash.

Cauldron Shaped Candle


Corvids (Ravens, Crows, Magpies, Jackdaws etc), Owls, Spiders, Bats and Black Cats are creatures associated with Samhain and the night. Ravens and crows have long been associated with death, and several Goddesses and Gods are reputed to shapeshift into them, or have them as familiars, along with the other creatures mentioned.


The Acorn is the seed of the great Oak, representing wisdom, longevity, rebirth – a promise of strength to come. An acorn in your pocket is an amulet of good fortune to come. All nuts from our indigenous trees – walnuts, hazelnuts, conkers and so on – are pure potential and carry the attributes of the mother tree.

Colours of Samhain

Black for death and endings, orange for the vitality of life within death, purple for wisdom, insight and inspiration.

Samhain Altar

The Samhain Altar

Creating an altar is a really good way to create a visual tangible space for your spiritual practices. It helps to manifest your intentions, and gives you a focal point. Having a dedicated space for your own belief system will make it more likely that you will spend some time each day on your meditations, manifestations and rituals. An altar space is also a great way to honour the Ancestors.

There is no right or wrong way to create an altar space, and they are all individual and unique. Just allow it to unfold and place whatever you feel is appropriate for the time, season, what you wish to manifest or meditate on, have fun and allow your creativity to flow! (the featured image on this blog is my own Samhain altar for this year)

Here are some ideas for a Samhain altar:

  • A cauldron
  • Apples, nuts and berries
  • Black candles to honour the passage to the other side and the Ancestors
  • Photographs of deceased family, friends and pets
  • Crystals, associated with the earth
  • Soil in a dish
  • A candle
  • Gourds and pumpkins, leaves, twigs and branches

Autumn Wreath

Of course, the pagan Samhain is now so intertwined with the Americanised Halloween, and is also a real time to celebrate, get social and get into the party spirit! There are those that hate the commercialism of it all, but for me, it is a time when we are all celebrating together, pagans and muggles! (I use that term with endearment and respect, thank you to J.K Rowling for inventing that). The details in how we personalise it are less relevant than the fact that we can all celebrate something together.

Whether you take the kids out trick or treating, have a Halloween party, hold a personal or group witchy/pagan ceremony or ritual, or just spend time in quiet solitude, meditation and reflection, the fact we are all connected and honouring the season is what is important for me.

However you choose to celebrate, stay well, and keep the love of your Ancestors in your hearts.

Much love and green blessings,


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