Northern Hemisphere: October 31 or November 1
Southern Hemisphere: April 30 or May 1
Pronounced: SOW-in, SAH-vin, or SOW-een
Themes: death, rebirth, divination, honoring ancestors, introspection, benign mischief, revelry
Also known as: Samhuin, Oidhche Shamhna, Halloween, Third Harvest, Day of the Dead, Feast of the Dead (Félie Na Marbh), Shadowfest, Ancestor Night, Feile Moingfinne (Snow Goddess), Winter Nights, Old Hallowmas, Calan Gaeaf
Of all the Sabbats, Samhain is considered to be the most powerful and important to Wiccans and other Witches, with many intense energies at play. This is when we honor the Death element of the life/death/rebirth cycle that forms the basis of the Wheel of the Year and all of Nature as we know it.
Wiccans understand that the death stage of the cycle is actually the most potent, as it is here that all potential for new life resides, waiting to be manifested into specific form.
Therefore, Samhain is the most fitting time for reflecting on our lives, looking back over the past year and identifying any circumstances or patterns of behavior we would like to allow to die, in order to make room for the new when the growing season begins again. By letting go of our old selves, we can move into the winter months ahead with clarity and acceptance of the ever-turning wheel of life and death.
The name “Samhain” has been translated from the Old Irish as “summer’s end,” and this date marked the beginning of the dark half of the year in the ancient Celtic world. This is the third and final harvest festival, the time to stock the root cellars with the last of the winter squashes, turnips, beets and other root vegetables, and to dry the last of the magical and medicinal herbs for winter storage. The fields are now empty of their crops, the once-green meadow grasses are dying back to gold and brown, and the leaves have peaked and fallen, leaving the trees bare and stark against the greying skies. The chill in the air that began with Mabon is now here to stay, and the weakened Sun gives barely a passing glance for a few short hours before descending again below the horizon.
Indeed, it can seem as if the world is dying at this time. But this feeling is alleviated by the gratitude we express for all the abundance of the past year, and the knowledge that the light will return again, as is promised by the Wheel. The perpetual life/death/rebirth cycle is characterized by both the God and the Goddess at Samhain.
In his Sun aspect, the God has aged considerably since Mabon. His power is nearly gone, and he descends into the Underworld, leaving the Earth to the darkness of winter. As the Horned God, or the God of the Hunt, he is a fully matured stag who gives his life so his people can survive the coming barren season. Wiccans say farewell to the God at this Sabbat, thanking him for fulfilling his life-sustaining roles over the past year and expressing faith that he will return, reborn, at Yule. In many traditions, the Goddess is said to be mourning the God at this time, yet she too knows that he will return, as she is now in her wise Crone aspect. From the aged Crone we learn that death is part of life, that the old must be released in order for us to learn, grow, and birth new manifestations.
It is interesting that the Goddess herself never dies, since the Earth remains steadily present throughout the year, no matter where the Sun may be. Yet she represents death and life simultaneously—she is both Crone and mother-to-be of the new God.