What is Samhain?

Samhain, commonly pronounced "sow-enn" (sow rhyming with cow) is said to mean "summer's end" and is one of eight pagan sabbats, or holidays. It is often considered the most important date in the pagan calendar, and it marks the beginning of the spiritual year (although some pagans celebrate the new year at another sabbat, Imbolc).

Samhain falls halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice on October 31st. Many pagans begin their celebrations at sundown on the 31st, and continue festivities through November 1st and sometimes beyond. (In the southern hemisphere, where summer is just beginning, pagans are celebrating Beltane.)

What is the meaning of the holiday?

Wiccans and other pagans believe their ancestors marked the end of the harvest season and the coming of winter with ceremonies, feasts, and other observances. Today, modern pagans reflect on the transition in nature as well as in their own spiritual lives. As they look back in remembrance, pagans honor their ancestors and people they have lost. At the same time, they look ahead with renewed spirit for the coming year.

What is the connection with Halloween?

Many believe Halloween and Samhain share similar pagan roots going back to pre-Christian Europe and possibly ancient Egypt.

Although some Christians have concerns about Halloween celebrations, and some even want to ban the holiday because of its association with paganism, not everyone believes Halloween has pagan roots. This Catholic priest believes American Halloween customs are Christian in origin, as do these books on the history of Halloween.

What is Paganism?

The word "paganism" does not refer to one specific religion, but is used loosely as an umbrella term for a wide range of diverse religious traditions -- from Wicca and Witchcraft to Reconstructionist Religions such as Asatru. (Reconstructionists -- those who attempt to revive ancient pre-Christian religions -- often prefer the word "heathen.")

Definitions of paganism are a hotly contested issue on Beliefnet's discussion boards. Feel free to join the fray:

  • What Is Paganism?
  • Wicca vs. Witchcraft
  • What Are Reconstructionist Religions?
  • The Neopagans vs. the Recons
  • On Being Called a Pagan

  • Are Pagans Satanic?

    Contrary to popular stereotypes and misconceptions, modern pagans do not worship the devil, hold ritual orgies, cast "evil" spells, or practice animal sacrifice.

    (For their part, Satanists maintain that even their religion has nothing to do with worshipping the devil.)

    How do Pagans celebrate Samhain?

    The celebrations for Samhain are as individualistic as pagans themselves. Activities range from solitary, reflective walks in the woods, to ancestor rituals, to community feasts.

    Visit The Witches' Voice for Samhain events in your area.

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  • Religion & Ethics (BBC)
  • "A Brief History of Hallowe'en" by Peg Aloi (The Witches' Voice)
  • "A Pagan Primer" (The Cauldron)
  • "Halloween: Facts and Misinformation" (ReligiousTolerance.org)

  • Additional Resources:
  • Samhain on WiccaWeb.com
  • Norse Holidays and Festivals
  • Pagan Holidays (The Cauldron)
  • more from beliefnet and our partners
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