Samhain is the Irish word for Halloween. This is when we celebrate the end of summer and the start of the dark half of the year. Many of you reading this will already have your own Samhain traditions and ways of celebrating Halloween.
The veil between our physical, material world and the spirit world is at its thinnest at this time of year. We can feel the change starting to happen in the weeks leading up to Samhain and many of us feel more ‘witchy’ during this time. This is when we want to get back to basics and be more practical in our witchcraft.
Traditional Halloween activities are still practised widely in Ireland. Check them out below – you might find that some are worth adding to your celebrations.
Honouring Your Ancestors
The dead can wander freely between our world and theirs on this night. Ancestors were welcomed into the home, but efforts were also made to keep harmful spirits out. People disguised themselves as malevolent spirits in the hope that they would frighten away harmful spirits and avoid being harmed themselves. We still dress up at Halloween, but this is also the perfect time to honour our ancestors. You could set up an altar to one of your ancestors and perhaps include a photo or a memento of them. Remember them, sit in stillness with them, and talk to them often during this time. Record any insights, or thoughts that occur to you. They may also communicate with you through signs and symbols. Trust your intuition.
Carving Faces Into Turnips
Long before pumpkins were common in Ireland, people used to carve faces into turnips and put a candle inside to light them up. These scary faces served the same purpose as dressing up to ward off malevolent spirits.
Barm brack is a traditional Irish fruitcake. A brack with tokens baked in it is eaten at Halloween. Each token represents a possible future for the recipient. This is all for fun of course. Nowadays bracks usually have only a ring inside and children are always excited to see who’ll get it.
A traditional brack would include:
- A ring – the recipient would be the first to marry
- A pea – won’t get married this year
- A cloth – means poverty
- A coin – riches
- A thimble – a girl will remain unmarried
- A button – a boy will remain unmarried
- A matchstick – an extremely unhappy and possibly abusive marriage. This token is usually left out these days!
Barm Brack Recipe by Darina Allen of Ballymaloe
50g natural glacé cherries, halved or quartered
300ml hot tea
1 egg, whisked
175g soft brown sugar
225g self-raising flour
1 level tsp mixed spice
50g candied peel
Put the dried fruit and cherries into a bowl. Cover with hot tea and leave to plump up overnight.
The next day, line a loaf tin with silicone paper. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Add the whisked egg, soft brown sugar, flour and mixed spice to the fruit and tea mixture. Stir well. Put the mixture into the lined loaf tin.
Cook in for about 1½ hours or until a skewer comes out clean.
Leave to cool on a wire rack. Keeps very well in an airtight tin.
Before Trick or Treating became so popular, bonfires were lit on Halloween – again with the intention of warding off malevolent entities. Treats were eaten (especially chocolate covered and toffee apples), and people danced around the fire in their scary costumes. Most older Irish people would probably say that this is their most enduring memory of Halloween.
Hang an apple from somewhere – a doorway works well for this. Everyone takes turns trying to take a bite from the apple while holding their hands behind their backs. Small prizes can be given to the first to take a bite and the first to eat all the apple, or to the person who takes the most bites.
In these times of Covid, it’s probably best to have a separate apple for each person.
Bobbing for Apples
Kids love this game! Fill a large bowl with water and put in apples with a coin stuck into each. Each person must try to take a bite from an apple. If they manage it, they get to keep the coin.
Place a sweet, or a cherry, on top of a small mound of flour. Each person must take away some flour with a knife. Whoever tips over the sweet gets to keep it. As you can imagine, there’s a temptation to cheat in this game, but kids love it all the same.