History & New Traditions of Halloween, Samhain, & Wintersnight.

Updated: Oct 30, 2019


There are many historically documented traditions which fall into the fall harvest season category, some of which still carry on today. Most of these traditions are very similar, country to country, which is also extremely fascinating! What I wish to propose is that we can take all those traditions, and make them our own.

I’ve had a strong call to all things magical, spiritual and ceremonial, since I was a small child. The force was strong with me. (haha!) I could see earth bound human spirits, as well as non-human entities from the time I could remember. I also remember being terrified.

I understand it all … now. It has taken a good number of years to come to terms with everything I am, have been and continue to be. But that’s another story.

Some background: Last year, I had my curiosity satiated by having my DNA tested through ancestery.com. I had an inkling that I came from a tight lineage of Nordic/Germanic blood lines, Ha! I had no idea how tight that DNA circle was going to be. I’ve included the image to give you an idea….

For that reason, I feel compelled to go into some historical traditions I’ve found from my own historical line - the Norse, Germanic, Celt shamanism traditions for Halloween. And then also detail the traditions I've developed myself. Maybe this information can help you, at some point.

Hindsight is Foresight

I believe we have come full circle in our spirituality as humans. We are in a time where we won’t be burned, ridiculed or tortured for our rituals. Or at least not in North America.

There is something about remembering who we are, and where we are from. It’s it important to be able to look into ourselves, our ancestry lines, our history, and our forefathers, in order to pull from the ancient and impeccably transferred birthright of knowledge and celebrate the Earth as she is.

The best teachings you will receive are from your own lineage, from your own ancestors. How perfect is it that in order to honour the holiday of the dead, we need to glean from our own elders, and likely, our own dead? My family’s traditions are very much steeped in Lutheranism and Catholicism, so all those ancient ways were lost in just a couple short generations. So, I personally, have to go into the history books and remember what the traditions from my ancient ancestors were, and then I get to marry them to my own existing traditions! How much fun is that?!

I suppose what I’m saying is; yes, we love Halloween, and yes it’s about honouring traditions and our dead, but I would encourage you to make it your own. Don’t worry about the “do’s’ and “don’ts”. Even if you are a practicing pagan, Christian, heathen, Shaman …. Make these old holidays your own. Start new traditions, make your own magic.

New World Traditions

I thought I’d let you in on my own personal Halloween practices. The reason being; to dispel the myths and stigmas associated with any non-Christian practices … we can do whatever, and be whatever we want, sisters!

My own practices usually include the traditional Americanized trick or treating, with commercialized decorations and costumes. Taking the kids door to door. I usually dress up too - depending on my own level of motivation, and how cold it is (I’m in Alberta, so it’s dealers choice for weather!) - in full costume or just face and hat costume.

I will take a walk around my property and visit all the selenite I have placed on the corners, touching them and replacing them with renewed energy. I feel into my land, and my own family, seeing what guidance there is to absorb.

As I go, I also talk to my guides, asking for any other information I may need in regard to the protection bubble I have over my property and home: does it need repair, are there holes, does it need an energy boost etc.

I will also have a fire that day; we have a large fire pit in our back year that is perfect for such occasions. I will light sage or incense, or both, around the house and property, asking for blessing and protection from my guides and my ancestors.

I will write out two intentional lists to burn:

  1. What will I choose to let go of this month?

  2. What will I encourage, and enjoy seeing newly this month?

These lists I will then burn in the fire pit as an offering to my guides, ancestors, and creator in order to release the intentions while the spirit veil is thin.

I conclude with a beverage around the same fire, and I enjoy the cool night for as long as I can. If it’s a clear night, I will admire the twinkling heavens, which always gives me a great sense of peace and wonder.

Goddess Wreath

Old World History

  • The Norse calendar calls the month of October Haustmánuður.

  • The last summer month is called harvest month. The Vikings were mainly farmers who were very dependent on the weather, so all their months were strongly associated with farming practices.

  • Our ancestors and beloved Dead are honoured and given attention at this time, but they may also be hailed rightly at any other holiday, as there is a strong streak of ancestor worship in the Northern Tradition.

  • The Celts called October 30 Samhain (pronounced sow-an). Nordic groups call it Winternights, as winter is the expected following season Hela, Goddess of the Dead, is honoured on this day

  • Mordgud the guardian of the Underworld

  • Nidhogg the corpse-eating dragon

  • Hlin the Goddess of Grief

  • Hermod who walked the road to Hel.

  • Because the veils between the worlds are thin at this time, Vor the goddess of divination may be honored.

  • Baldur, Nanna, and Hoder may be honored in their after-death form as deities of light in darkness.

Samhain is the Celtic New Year when the Celts believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and dead was thinnest.  It’s also the end of harvest, which is probably why they equate it with the end of the year and the beginning of the new year.

Samhain has the characteristic ancestor veneration that we do.  It arrives on the sunset of October 31st and ends on the sunset of November 1st.  It’s celebrated with bonfires, disguises (so evil spirits don’t recognize the people), and sacrifices and gifts made for the dead.  There is a ritual of leaving doors open so that the spirits of kind ancestors can come into the home and visit.

More History From https://www.albany.edu

The Druids celebrated this holiday "with a great fire festival to encourage the dimming Sun not to vanish" and people "danced 'round bonfires to keep evil sprits away, but left their doors open in hopes that the kind spirits of loved ones might join them around their hearths". On this night, divination was thought to be more effective than any other time. Also, during the celebration, the Celts "wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes". Crops were burned and animals were sacrificed (The History Channel Exhibits- The History of Halloween). The spirits were believed to be either "entertained by the living", or to "find a body to possess for the incoming year". This all gives reasons as to why "dressing up like witches, ghosts and goblins, villagers could avoid being possessed." (Navarro )

Roman Influence

By 43 A.D., "Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory." For the 400 years they occupied Celtic lands, two Roman festivals: Feralia (the commemoration of the passing of the dead) and a day to honour Pomona (the Roman goddess of fruits and trees). The apple served as a symbol for Pomona and which might have been incorporated into Samhain by the practice of "bobbing for apples" (The History of Halloween).

Christian Influence

When "local people converted to Christianity during the early Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church often incorporated modified versions of older religious traditions in order to win converts." Pope Gregory IV wanted to substitute Samhain with All Saints' Day in 835, but All Souls' Day (Nov. 2nd) which is closer in resemblance to Samhain and Halloween today, was "first instituted at a French monastery in 998 and quickly spread throughout Europe" (MSN Learning & Research- Halloween). In the 16th century, "Christian village children celebrated the vigil of All Saints' by doing the Danse Macabre. The Seven Brethren whose grizzly death is described in the seventh chapter of the deuterocanonical book of Second Macabees" is also said to have resulted in children dressing up in grizzly costumes to signify these deaths. (Thomas )

Modern Halloween

Halloween came to the United States when European immigrants "brought their varied Halloween customs with them". In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants including the Irish fleeing from the potato famine in Ireland in 1846. By combining Irish and English traditions, Americans began the "trick-or-treat" tradition. In the later 1800's the holiday became more centered on community and in the 1920's and 1930's, Halloween became "a secular, but community-centered holiday". In the 1950's leaders changed Halloween as a holiday aimed at the young to limit vandalism. This all led to what Halloween actually is like today. (The History Channel Exhibits: The History of Halloween)

Every Witches Dream

The term 'witch' can be triggering for some, and empowering for others. Halloween is the time of year to embrace all that we are able to do. We, as women, are witches by definition simply because we speak our truth, have no use to patriarchal mentality and do what we wish. These are all things that we were not able to do, even a short 50 years ago - and women of colour still cannot do some of these things!

I encourage you to be the witchiest witch you choose to be, because you can.

If there is nobody to empower you, empower yourself!

If there is nobody to hear your words, speak them anyway!

If there is nobody who supports you, know all of us women do! You have a place here in the Circle.

Love and light and many blessings!

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