The Bookworm Is Spooky: Samhain

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I would love any and all feedback so feel free to reply to this email or contact me at my preferred internet lurking places down at the bottom. If you know about some resources I’ve missed, please feel free to send your suggestions along.

The Origin Story of Halloween
or
Samhain, what’s that?

Halloween is my favorite holiday, hands down. The dressing up, the decorating, the spookiness, and the candy, it warms my weird little heart. So how did this wonderfully strange celebration come about? Well, it started with the Celtic Pagan holiday Samhain.

“To the ancient Celts, Samhain marked the most important of four Celtic fire festivals,” according to Diana Rajchel in her book Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween. It was the start of the winter season when they let their hearth fires burn out for the night and the veil between the worlds grew thin. During that night, the dead walk and the world goes from being ruled by the god and the goddess to that of the Crone. The Celts dressed as animals and “fearsome creatures” to keep from being kidnapped by unfriendly faeries and later, evil witches. (Rajchel 18)

When Christianity came to Ireland, the church converted the holidays along with the people either by rescheduling it or renaming it in honor of a saint. Pope Boniface tried the latter in the fifth century, but the fire festival continued so he moved it back and declared November 1st All Saints Day. Later they added All Souls Day on November 2nd when the festival still wouldn’t stop. But the night before November 1st retained a life of its own going by Allhallows eve, Hallowe’en, or Hallowmas. No matter its name, it became a “repository for most of the original Pagan practices.”

Those practices came to the US with the Irish Ulster Protestants when they immigrated in the nineteenth century, including parties, games, and masquerade parades that were so fun they were joined by their non-Irish neighbors. It caught on as entertainment for children but by the 1930s “the tradition of Halloween pranking became a significant and expensive problem in many American communities,” so by the 50s most cities had trick-or-treating events, to distract troublemakers. By the 70s, the holiday was commercialized and became for everyone no matter their age, including the LGBT community in New York who adopted it as “a day to celebrate their true selves.” (Rajchel 20) In the 80s, as the Pagan (North America) and Wiccan and Traditional Witch (UK) movements grew, more traditional and solemn Samhain celebrations began gaining popularity.

Today Samhain is considered the Witch’s New Year, a spiritual sabbat very much separate from the secular Halloween. “Often it is a quiet, solemn occasion in private Pagan households. Many see it as the most important ritual of the year,” according to Rajchel, “It is still a day to honor the dead and to think about death along with other things that we fear. It is still a time to meditate and reflect, and people still perform divinations, enjoy feasts, and sometimes light bonfires.” (47)

It’s a great time for spells, divination, and communing with the dearly departed. The threshold/in-between state of this time of year is supposed to be extra magical, so get out there and do some magick!

Exploring Further

On Topic

Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween by Diana Rajchel- This is one of a series of books published by Llewellyn on the Sabbats and it is quite comprehensive. It has history, recipes, invocations, and traditions new and old for the holiday.

Off Topic

The Witch Wave with Pam Grossman– A great witchy podcast full of interesting insights and diverse interviews on magick and art.

Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness– Can’t wait for season three of Queer Eye? Yeah, me neither, but Van Ness, who is one-fifth of the Fab Five, and his podcast help fill that void. Plus he has really interesting conversations with interesting people.

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo- Pretty much everyone should read this book. Oluo lays out common misunderstandings and questions in an approachable and no-nonsense manner. Even the most seasoned social justice warrior would probably learn something, plus it’s a joy to read.

A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole- Speaking of joy, this royal romance was a lovely, fun ride with excellent characters and a believable, funny story. It’s the second in the series, and while the first is great too, you don’t have to read it to enjoy this one. 

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal- An alternate history where a meteorite crashes into 1950s Washington DC and gives a whole new urgency to the space race. The main character is a WASP pilot and human computer who fights to try and get women an active role in space flight. It’s a bit thick but boy, does it read fast.

Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward- A quick but well put together guide to writing characters who are different than you respectfully. Written in the 90s but super relevant now.

When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele- This memoir of one of the founders of Black Lives Matter is beautifully and poetically written, both heart-breaking and hopeful. If you have any doubts as to why the movement is necessary, this will make you understand, viscerally.

“Africa” by Weezer– I’m not sure why everyone seems to be covering this Toto song lately but I will probably never get it out of my head at this rate. This cover won’t eclipse the original but putting Weird Al Yankovic their video was a stroke of genius and makes it so worth watching.

My next newsletter on Satanism and the Left Hand Path will be coming to my subscribers this weekend, so be sure to subscribe!

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