ManyNeopagans, including Wiccans, and modern-day Druids
trace their annual seasonal days of celebration
back to Celtic times in Europe. They celebrate the most important of their four major
Sabbats, called Samhain, on or near OCT-31 each year.
Modern misconceptions about Samhain/Halloween:
Fundamentalist Christians and most other
evangelical Christians believe that the Bible is free of error (i.e. inerrant). Many also believe that when followers of non-Christian
religions worship their Gods and Goddesses, they are in fact worshipping either Satan or some of his demons. This
belief is based on clear, unambiguous passages from the
Thus, many of them view all non-Christian religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam as well as Wicca and other Neopagan religions, etc.) as forms of
Satanism. During the 1980's and early 1990's. many equating Neopagan religions with their view of Satanism as
perpetrators of Satanic Ritual Abuse, Many
fundamentalists assumed that Wiccans, Druids, etc. perform the most hideous and
obscene criminal acts at Halloween. These beliefs were profoundly hurtful, untrue, and are
not often seen among other Christian groups. Fortunately, such abuse largely dissipated by 1995 when it was found that organized Satanic and other ritual abuse was a hoax: no hard evidence has ever been found that it has existed.
According to a leading authority on Paleopagan Druidism, Isaac Bonewits, 1much propaganda about Halloween can be traced back to "books written by
Fundamentalist [Christian] preachers over a century ago", especially "Two
Babylons or the Papal Worship," written by Alexander Hislop in 1873.
The following are believed to be accurate:
Neopagan religions are modern faith traditions which are reconstructed,
in part, from the beliefs and practices of ancient aboriginal faiths, typically
Religious Satanism is a completely separate group of faith groups, with
an opposing code of ethics, concepts of deity, and ritual practices that are unrelated to
that of Neopagans.
Neither Satanists, nor Neopagans nor anyone else in North America engage in
motivated human sacrifice. Wiccans have been known to sacrifice a peach or apple, but
nothing higher than fruit on the evolutionary scale.
Samhain is neither a Celtic god of the dead, or the
major Sun god. Celtic history does mention an obscure hero by that name who was unrelated to death. In Gaelic, "sam" means summer; "fuin" means
"end." So, "Samhain" means "end of the warm season."
"Samhain" is pronounced as if it were written "Sowen."
Celtic deity that is sometimes mentioned in Christian literature is the sun God
"Muck-Olla". He didn't exist either in Celtic times. He seems to be a
non-Druidic "boogey-man" from Yorkshire, England. Celtic sun Gods were named
"Lugh", "Lleu" or "Llew."
Ancient Druids were not bloodthirsty killers of humans. All of the stories of human
sacrifices by Druids are traceable to a single passage in one of Julius
Caesar's books. And that passage is probably simply a centuries-old example of wartime
The ancient Celts did not carve pumpkins, as none existed in Europe during Celtic times.
Celtic celebration of Samhain in ancient times:
Samhain is sometimes pronounced "sah-van", although many Neopagans pronounce it as "sow-in" (where "ow" rhymes with
"cow"). Samhain is Irish Gaelic for the month of November. Samhuin
is Scottish Gaelic for All Hallows, NOV-1.
A language expert has commented that the "mh" in Samhain and Samhuin "would
originally have been pronounced like an "m" made without quite closing your
mouth." At the present time, the original pronunciation is still heard.
Some tighten it to a "v" sound (typical in the south) or loosen it to a "w"
sound (typical in the west and, especially, the north). In "Samhain" the "w"
pronunciation would be most common." 10
In ancient times, Samhain formed the dividing day between years. It was a time that was
neither in this year or the next. Bonfires were lit - often on the tops of hills. Samhain
Seen as the beginning of the cold season. It is balanced by the corresponding seasonal
day of celebration called Beltain (or Bealtaine, Beltaine, etc) which signals the
start of summer, 6 months later. Both of these are fire festivals. The ancient Celts
probably held them exactly mid-way between an equinox (when day and night were equal) and
the following solstice (when the nighttime was shortest or longest).
In ancient times, Samhain would probably have
been centered between the Fall equinox and the Winter solstice,
and celebrated about NOV-5 to NOV-7.
Samhain was a time when the veil between this world and the next was at its thinnest. The Celts
believed that upon death, everyone went to a beautiful place free of hunger, pain and
disease. It was called "Tir nan Og", sometimes translated as "Summerland".
They had no concept of Heaven and Hell like that
seen in Christianity and Islam. Many believed that two separate and nearly
identical worlds existed. When a person on Earth died, they were transferred to the "ghostworld";
when they were born on Earth, they had been transferred from the ghostworld to Earth. "The
pagan idea used to be that crucial joints between the seasons opened cracks in the fabric
of space-time, allowing contact between the ghostworld and the mortal one." 2
The Celts celebrated rituals at this time to make contact with their ancestors who had
died before them. This contact was not at all made in an atmosphere of dread, fearing some
retribution from the dead. Rather it was done in a spirit of expectation, in the hopes of
obtaining guidance from those in the next world. It was believed that:
"The spirits of dead friends
sought the warmth of the Samhain fire and communion with their living kin." 3
Samhain was considered a time when the veil between the present and the future was at its most transparent.
Rituals were performed to foretell future events, through various methods of divination.
The Celts believed that the future could be predicted most effectively at this time.
A time when the herds of domesticated animals were brought down from their summer
pasture and culled for the winter. The Celts slaughtered their weak animals that could not
be expected to survive the winter. They reduced the size of the herds to match the
available food supply.
A time of uninhibited feasting.
A time of increasing nervousness as the days continued to shorten and as winter
approached. There were often questions whether the food would last until the next harvest.
After the arrival of the Gregorian calendar, Pagans are believed to have moved Samhain
back about a week to OCT-31.
Neopagan celebration of Samhain in modern times:
Most modern day Wiccans and Druids have attempted to reconstruct Celtic beliefs, rituals, and other practices as accurately as
possible,. A Wiccan, or other
celebrate the Sabbat alone, as a solitary practitioner. Or they might gather with others
in a coven, which typically might include 6 or more adults. A typical celebration of Samhain might
Scheduling the celebration to a day near October 31. Wiccans often avoid Halloween,
to avoid interruptions from "trick or treaters."
Decorating their altar with autumn flowers, pine-cones, small pumpkins, decorative
A ritual purification of each participant; they often take a solitary bath.
Casting (creating) a sacred circle within which their ceremonies are conducted. The
circle is usually marked with four candles of various colors aligned at the four cardinal
directions. The purpose of the circle is to confine the Wiccans' healing powers within it.
It is not created to provide protection against demonic powers as some Cowans
(non-Wiccans) have suggested.
Performing rituals of divination to predict the future. This may involve tarot cards,
runes, I Ching, etc.
Performing rituals to contact loved ones who have died. ''There
is a recognition of our close ties with our ancestors and a recognition
that the veils between the worlds are thin at this time of year."
9 They do not perform
séances, as do Spiritualists. They do not summon or order back the dead. "They do, however,
believe that, if the dead themselves wish it, they will return at the Sabbat to share in
the love and celebration of the occasion."4
Consecrating and sharing cakes and wine (or perhaps muffins and cider).
Banishing (a.k.a. closing or grounding) the circle.
In past years, because of the fear of attacks from misinformed Cowans, these rituals
had been rarely
performed in public. However, in recent years, an increasing number of Neopagans
have been coming out of the (broom) closet and performing public rituals
for all to enjoy.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Statement by Cat Chapin-Bishop. Included in: Eric Goldscheider, "Air,
spirit, fire, water, earth, nature, death, rebirth, Paganism: Living room
altars, ancestral foods are key in pagan homes," Boston Globe, at: