31st October or 30th April to 6th May in the southern hemisphere.
Samhain (pronounced ‘Sow-en’) is the cross-quarter festival that marks the start of the winter quarter of the year and the end of the autumn quarter. By Samhain, threadbare trees and colder nights make it clear that winter is near. Samhain is the time of the third and final harvest when, in earlier days, cattle were brought in from summer pastures. Excess livestock were slaughtered and the meat smoked or salted for winter. Samhain is a time for divination and honouring the dead, because the veil that divides the mundane and subtle realms is considered to be particularly insubstantial on this day.
To the Celts, this was the Feast of the Dead and the Night of the Wild Hunt. Samhain marked the Celtic New Year and was the most important of the festivals. It is a time of endings, but also a time of beginnings. Thus we relinquish the past and look to the future.
As with other festivals, Samhain is not constrained by the artificial midnight to midnight divisions of modern conception, and it is usually considered as starting at sundown on October 31st and ending at sundown on November 1st. Thus much of the celebration of Samhain does occur at the most appropriate time: Halloween.
The Christian tradition treats Samhain as a Festival of the Dead too, with the souls of departed saints remembered on 1st November (All Saints’ Day), and those of the non-canonized dead the following day (All Souls’ Day). The Church established All Saints’ Day in the seventh century when the Pantheon in Rome was consecrated as the Church of the Blessed Virgin and All Martyrs, recasting both the Festival of the Dead and the Temple to All Gods in terms of Christian theology.
Samhain marks the completion of the Gods journey to the underworld where he is Lord of the Underworld, the dread Lord of Shadow. This is the when we see the Goddess as the Cailleach, the Crone, the Wise One. She is the Dark Mother who devours the God that he may be reborn again.
Samhain is the time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest (also known as All Hallows Eve). It is a time when we remember and honour those who have died and we call on the spirits of the dead and our ancestors and invite them to feast with us and share their wisdom.
This is a good time for us to reflect on the year that has passed, the experiences you have shared, take stock of what has happened and learn from it to dispose of our outworn baggage, a time to look back to the past and forward to the future. Samhain is a profound time of the year, offering the opportunity of understanding.
Samhain is a good time for banishing magic, scrying and for sorting out unfinished business, it is also the time to face and acknowledge the dark side of ourselves.
Alternate Names: Samhain, Halloween, Hallowe’en, Celtic ‘Feast of the Dead’
Druidic Name: Samhuin
Christian Equivalent: All Saints’ Day, Allhallows, Hallowmas, Allhallowmas