Photo by Ellen Rogers

photo: Courtesy of Ellen Rogers

This Halloween, kids will put on cute costumes and collect candy from their neighbors. Grown-ups will wear sexy costume versions of anything — from handmaids to a bottle of sriracha — and eat their kids' Halloween candy. Wait, is that just me? Oh, never mind.

Meanwhile, witches all over the world will gather to celebrate Samhain, which falls on the same night as Halloween every year. What is Samhain, and what does it have to do with Halloween? A lot, actually — and the history of the holiday goes way back. Learn more about Samhain and how to celebrate it with your own altar. Blessed be.

Samhain isn't just the witch's Halloween — it's a separate, distinct holiday with its own significance.

Samhain is one of several Wiccan holidays that take place every year. The holidays are known as Sabbats, though, as I'll discuss below, and one needn't be Wiccan or a witch to celebrate Samhain.

Put simply, Samhain celebrates the thinning of the veil between our world and the dead. Similar to Día de los Muertos, Samhain is a time to remember those who have passed. Traditionally, those who celebrate Samhain welcome those spirits that are crossing into our world, as well as sending off lost souls into peace.

Samhain takes place every year on October 31.

October 31, during Scorpio season, is a seriously spiritual day among many traditions: There's Halloween, All Saint's Day, Día de los Muertos in Mexican and many Latinx cultures, Allantide in parts of England, and Día de la Canción Criolla in Peru. Almost all of these holidays reference the afterlife, and it's significant that so many traditions picked this day to celebrate, independent of one another.

In other words, there is a lot of magical energy flowing on this day.

Samhain is celebrated by all kinds of spiritual people.

People who practice witchcraft may be a part of the Wiccan religion, but not necessarily. Witchcraft is also part of neo-paganism and its myriad of splinter traditions, as well as other occult religions like Thelema. Even Judeo-Christian religions have some occult practices! The Kabbalah of Judaism and Christian mysticism are totally real things.

As for Samhain itself, anyone can celebrate the holiday. It isn't reserved just for Wiccans, because, as you can see, Wiccans aren't the only witches out there. Even folks that have no religious or spiritual affiliation can enjoy Samhain!

There's no set ritual guidelines for Samhain, but many celebrations have these elements in common.

Just like Christmas or Hanukkah, every family or group celebrates the Samhain a different way. You can't find people to agree that gifts should be opened on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning — it's the same with witchy holidays, too!

Still, most Samhain celebrations revolve around one basic ritual: honoring the dead. Folks may cast circles, open a doorway to the other side with chalk and chanting, and lay food out for wandering spirits. 

Unlike Halloween or the Día de los Muertos, Samhain is a somber holiday.

During a Samhain ritual, participants are expected to be respectful and quiet while the High Priestess+ or Priest+ conducts the ceremony. It will usually include a ritual prayer or chant, and every celebration may say something different. The important aspect is to uphold the solemn nature of the event — feasting and revelry usually occur afterward, because everyone loves to eat!

If you want to celebrate Samhain, check out this ritual below:

Of my favorite Samhain rituals comes from the Grimoire of Lady Sheba, which was first published in 1972. It goes like this:

Dread Lord of the Shadows, God of Life and Bringer of Death,

Yet as the knowledge of Thee is Death

Open wide, I pray Thee, Thy gates through which all must pass

Let our dear ones, who have gone before, return this night to make merry with us

And when our times comes, as it must, O Thou, Comforter and Consoler, 

Giver of Peace and Rest, we will enter Thy realm gladly and unafraid

For we know that when rested and refreshed among our dear ones, we will be reborn by Thy grace

You can create an altar with photos of departed loves one, black and white candles, and food or gift offerings. Use salt to create a safe circle, or draw an outline of a door in chalk on a wall, to give the wandering spirits a place to use. You can also ring bells or beat drums to call the spirits near. Most important, though, is reverence.

I hope you have a wonderful Samhain, Halloween, or however else you spend this holiday. As above, so below.