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by Dr Leo Ruickbie

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Hallowe'en / Halloween

What is Hallowe'en (Halloween)? Witchology.com explains the history, traditions and superstitions, from the origins of Hallowe'en in the Celtic Samhain to the traditional spells of Hallowe'en:

Hallowe'en / Halloween

Known as Hallowe'en (UK spelling), Halloween (US spelling), or Samhain, the 31st of October is a traditional Pagan holy day and Witches' Sabbath. Explore the following links to find out more about this magical time of year.
Hallowe'en Contents

Hallowe'en Interview

Kate Whiting talks to a witchcraft expert to find out more about the original pagan festival and how you can recreate a more traditional Halloween.
Hallowe'en Interview

Origins of Hallowe'en

Hallowe'en, All Hallows, or All Hallows' Eve, this is an ancient Pagan holy day, corrupted by Christians. Find out how they did it and why.
Origins of Hallowe'en

What is Samhain?

Samhain is the Celtic New Year. It means "Summer's End". Traditions differ, but it is usually pronounced...
What is Samhain

Hallowe'en Spells

Hallowe'en is undoubtedly the most magical time of the year in many people's minds, but do you know what special, seasonal spells are traditionally cast? This time of year requires a certain sort of magic.
Hallowe'en Spells and Magic

A Wiccan Hallowe'en

"Eko, eko, Azarak... Dread Lord of the Shadows..." How do Wiccans celebrate Hallowe'en? Do they even call it Hallowe'en?
A Wiccan Hallowe'en

Hallowe'en Misinformation

Samhain is not the Celtic God of Death. Hallowe'en is not a festival of evil. These and other common misunderstandings explained, and misinformation refuted.
Hallowe'en Misinformation

Hallowe'en Traditions

What are the origins of "Trick or Treat"? Dressing up, love oracles, pumpkins, Jack-O-Lanterns and footsteps of the dead... Find out more about the old folk traditions of Hallowe'en.
Hallowe'en Traditions

Hallowe'en Near You

Want to go to a Hallowe'en party or a Samhain ritual? The Witchology event guide brings together the spookiest destinations across the world. Find out where the nearest magical Hallowe'en event to you is with one click here.
Hallowe'en Events Guide

Hallowe'en on the Internet

What are the hot search trends this Hallowe'en (Halloween)? Read our report to find out who's typing what into Google for 31 October.
Hallowe'en on the Internet

Hallowe'en Gift Ideas

It's Hallowe'en and I don't have a thing to wear? Need some seasonal gift ideas? You won't find these unique designs in the shops.
Hallowe'en Gifts

Hallowe'en in Your Inbox

Don't have time to read all of this now? Want a copy to read later? Add your email to our mailing list and we'll send you this page and all the Hallowe'en (Halloween) information on the Witchology.com website.

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Free Hallowe'en Downloads

History of Hallowe'en
Find out about the history and meaning of Hallowe'en (Halloween) and Samhain. Based on a Press Association interview with Dr Leo Ruickbie in 2008.
Download pdf (540kb)

Hallowe'en / Halloween Spells
Hallowe'en is traditionally a time of spells and magic. Learn more about these old seasonal charms and modern Wiccan spellcraft for Samhain.
Download gif (352kb)
Download pdf (461kb)
More free downloads

Books for Hallowe'en:

History of Witchcraft BookOpen Source WiccaHistories of the Barbarians

Witchcraft to Go:

Aleister Crowley

Click here for more designs

Halloween and Samhain at Witchology Hallowe'en / Halloween / Samhain

Known as Hallowe'en (UK spelling), Halloween (US spelling), or Samhain, the 31st of October is a traditional Pagan holy day and Witches' Sabbath. Explore the following links to find out more about this magical time of year.

The Hallowe'en Interview (2008)


Dr Leo Ruickbie was contacted by Kate Whiting of the Press Association and interviewed on 7 October 2008. Below you will find a transcript of his original reply. Please note that 'Halloween' is American English and 'Hallowe'en' British English: both forms were used in the interview.

Interview Transcript

Kate Whiting: What is Halloween?

Leo Ruickbie: The word comes from All Hallows' Eve(n), a Christian term meaning literally All Saints' Evening, being the night before All Saints' Day. The Christian festival was grafted onto an existing older pagan Celtic celebration. In the Gaelic speaking world this was known as Samhain, Samhainn, or Samhuinn, but the form Samhain is generally used by today's witches and other pagans. Modern Pagans pronounce Samhain as sow-ain, or sometimes sow-in, but historically there were many regional variation. In Scotland they said sav-en, in Ireland sow-in, and in Wales sow-een.

KW: Witches are given a bad name by Halloween...

LR: Witches are seen as a figure of evil in modern culture but they're not casting themselves in that role. They follow a religion that is base upon European paganism and not with the Christian idea of worshiping the devil and sacrificing children. Hallowe'en is a Christian term.

KW: What is celebrated at Samhain?

LR: The Celts only had two seasons, summer and winter, and so Samhain, meaning 'summer's end' was a harvest festival and is now widely thought of as a New Year celebration (although the historical evidence for this seems not to extend beyond the 18th century). In practical terms there was the bounty of the last harvest to celebrate, as well as the long winter ahead to prepare for. Thus, in anthropological terms, it has a liminal status as a dangerous period of transition, here between the fruitfulness of summer and the fallow of winter. This is seen in the folkloric evidence that this time of year was thought to be one in which the natural and supernatural were particularly permeable. The traditional dressing up (guising) as ghosts and witches is an act of apotropaic magic, which is to say, an attempt to frighten away evil spirits by looking more scary than they are. In Ireland it was once believed that such evil spirits emerged from the cave of Cruachan in Connaught to work their mischief, stealing babies and leaving changelings in their stead. In Scotland the particular spirit is called a Samhanach, but the fairies should never be named except as 'The Good Neighbours', and in Wales the people feared the 'cutty black sow'. In Scotland, Wales and Ireland a tradition of bonfires was also formerly recorded, but this has now become transposed to Guy Fawkes' Night. The fire again expresses a dual message of celebration and protection (purification). This same liminality gave rise to the idea that this time of year was particularly suitable for divination and receiving messages from the otherworld. In modern paganism, particularly Wicca, Samhain is celebrated as a festival of the dead - a time to remember those who have passed away and honour the ancestors.

KW: What do modern-day witches think of the commercialised idea of Halloween and the way they are represented?

LR: They definitely distance themselves from that and they do see that it's a fairly negative representation, and to an extent that's come from our commercialisation of Hallowe'en. But there's still a traditional aspect to the modern festival.

KW: What kind of things could people do to recreate the old Samhain/Halloween traditions?

LR: There are lots of great games that have to do with divinatory practices, finding out things about your future, such as who you're going to get married to etc. Most of the traditional foods and games were simple and rustic in nature and won't take much of a bite out of credit-crunch pockets. A popular drink in the eighteenth century was 'Lambs' Wool', a concoction of milk and crushed and roasted apples. On St Kilda and in Yorkshire the custom remains of baking triangular seed-cakes. In Ireland a special supper was served called 'callcannon' or 'colcannon' and consisting of mashed potatoes, parsnips and chopped onions. This dish can be combined with a little magic. Various items can be hidden in it, foretelling the future for the finder. A ring means one will marry within the year, or if already married will have good luck. A thimble means that one will never marry - a variation has a thimble for a spinster and a button for a bachelor. A coin, traditionally a silver sixpence, means wealth. Additionally, a key would mean a journey. Such tokens can also be baked in a cake.

In Scotland we used to bob for apples in a large basin of water - and, of course, if one didn't get sufficiently wet in the attempt to retrieve an apple someone was always likely to give an obliging shove. In England one who was successful in retrieving an apple was said to be lucky in love. Pumpkins were an exotic vegetable then and we had to make do with hacking lanterns out of tough-as-old-boots turnips. Other traditions include leaving out little cups of milk and biscuits for the imps before going to bed in order to keep the house lucky - a custom also connected with Yule. One of my favourites is an old Highland divination made by hurling a shoe, held by the toe, over the house. One is fated to undertake a journey in the direction indicated, but if it lands sole up, then bad luck is foretold. Of course, it works best if you have a small Highland cottage - I'm not sure if I could get a shoe over my present house without taking a chimney pot off.

KW: How did we get from the old pagan festival of Samhain to what we know today as Halloween?

LR: It's a story of remarkable stubbornness in the face of a concerted effort to wipe out the old pagan traditions and shows that people have a deep need for ritual that extends beyond the dogmatic control of spirituality. The mass commercialisation of Hallowe'en was simply inevitable in today's consumer society and, despite being widely despised, has helped to prolong and even re-introduce the festival.

KW: Why is it important that we hold onto these old traditions?

LR: Modern witches believe that such traditions give us a sense of who we are and where we've come from, and I believe they are right. You don't need to be a pagan to celebrate Samhain and most of the people who practised some of the things I've talked about would have called themselves Christians. It's also important that we don't let people dissuade us from these traditional fun and games - and I think you know who I mean - because if we do, then we're letting them call the tune. It's a lack of understanding that leads people to think of Hallowe'en as some sort of diabolical sabbat, when its intention was always the exact opposite. It's also important that we shouldn't miss any excuse for a party!

KW: During your research, did you join in any Wican Samhain/Halloween celebrations and if so what did you do? What kind of rituals take place around Halloween?

LR: I've taken part in quite a number of Samhain rituals - I'll be going to a party in a castle in Germany this year. For Wiccans the event will involve a ritual commemorating the ancestors, both personal and in a wider spiritual sense. One of the most memorable rituals I took part in was held in an apple orchard in darkest Essex. It was a long walk from the station down a lane reputedly haunted by a headless horseman. Very atmospheric. Under the stars we called the elements, cast the circle, invoked the goddess and horned god (Cerridwen and Cernunnos), made a simple offering to the fire and passed round a drinking horn like the old Anglo-Saxon symbel. One of the chants sung that night went like this:

We are the old people,
We are the new people,
We are the same people,
Stronger than before.

KW: What kind of things could people do to recreate the more traditional feel of Halloween?

LR: In Scotland, rowan, elm and holly were all used as a protection against evil spirits, so a room decked with cuttings of these plants would provide a simple and traditional decoration. Bowls of nuts and apples - symbols of this season - are also attractive decorations. The special dishes and games I've mentioned will also help recreate the tradition as it has been practised by generations past.

Further Reading

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