If you’re reading this post, chances are that you already know two things about Samhain:
1. It happens on the same night as Halloween.
2. It’s impossible to say it right. (Sol-win? So-win? Sew-in? It’s definitely not Sam-hain, right?)
In a nutshell, Samhain is the ancient Gaelic/Celtic end-of-harvest-season festival. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving in that sense, but often with the party atmosphere of New Year’s Eve. It has some commonalities with Día de Muertos (also on Halloween), including a commonly held view that the “veil between this world and the afterlife” is thinnest during this time of the year. Depending on who is celebrating Samhain — there are tons of modern versions — it can be everything from a somber night of offerings and prayer to an absolutely wild dance party on par with anything you’d see at Burning Man.
What’s the “right” why to celebrate Samhain? There isn’t one. It doesn’t come from a single tradition, but rather from a huge number of local celebrations in various parts of pre-Christian Europe, each with their own regional version of an end-of-summer holiday that, in some places, was called something like Samhain. (Soul-win? Saw-in? Sah-when?) Today, we call these cultures “Gaelic” or “Celtic,” but they were by no means a unified culture. It’s a bit like saying “European” today. Sure, there are some broad similarities in all European cultures, but it doesn’t take much digging to find some stark contrasts between then.
Some of those traditions survived into the Christian era, but most didn’t. In the 1700s, when the beginnings of the modern pagan and occult movements started to take shape, very little was known about what the “original” versions of Samhain were. Even today, with the help of modern archaeology and other scholarship, we only have fragments. What we do “know” is often questionable, coming from Roman and early Christian writers who filtered what they heard and saw through their own cultural perspectives. Modern Samhain is, in every meaningful sense, a best-guess version of how these ancient, half-remembered cultures might have celebrated the end of summer. It’s not something we should really be dogmatic about.
Which brings us to Halloween. Is it Samhain? Is it a corrupted and “wicked” version of All Saints Eve? Is it something completely different, even with all the ghosts, pranks, and parties? Or is the reality more nuanced?
As an American, Samhain is culturally impossible for me to separate from Halloween. Even if you skip the costumes and the candy, it’s still a night for celebration and fun. That’s not everyone’s tradition, obviously, but it’s just as legitimate as any other. It’s the part of Halloween that says it’s OK to be a little wicked, to make a little harmless mischief, to dance outside until the cold doesn’t bother you so much, and to indulge a little in food and drink. We have months of cold and darkness ahead, and it will be quite some time before the world turns green again. If there are forces out there who we can ask for a little help in getting through ’til spring, now’s the time to do it.
With all that in mind, this sigil speaks to the concept that every Samhain/Halloween will be safe for everyone, powerful for those who believe, and “wickedly” fun for those who need a little of that in their lives.