October 31st marks the ancient festival of Samhain. A time for reflection.


Falling on October 31st, between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, the festival of Samhain takes its name from sam, meaning “summer,” and fuin, meaning “end.” It marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new cycle of the Celtic year.

Having the new year in the winter months followed the principle of dark coming before light in the measuring of time, as can be seen in certain sacred or religious events such as Passover beginning at sunset.

Today the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain is more widely known as Hallowe’en. This name is derived from the Christian All Saints’ Day on November 1st, hence October 31st being All Hallows’ Eve, which was shortened to Hallowe’en.

This is a time of completions and new beginnings. It marks the end of the season of reaping and the start of the season of resting.

In Scottish folklore, the Cailleach, old woman of winter, is reborn each Samhain, when she smites the earth with her staff to bring the snow and the winter. She rules the dark part of the year until Imbolc, when she drinks from the Well of Youth and metamorphoses into Bride, who heralds the regeneration and growth of spring. In other versions of the tradition, with the arrival of Beltane she throws her staff under a holly tree or gorse bush and turns into a stone.

In Ireland, Samhain was the main calendar festival of the year and was celebrated with the lighting of beacons to mark the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.

It was traditionally a time when the boundary between the mortal world and the Otherworld was believed to be at its thinnest, when spirits could visit the human realm, and thus a time for remembering the ancestors and commemorating the departed. As the nights drew in and the storytelling season began, people exchanged stories of the dead. Yet it was also a time for divination, for looking ahead at what was to come.

In fairy lore, Samhain is a time of fairy rades―dark counterparts to the bright processions at the beginning of summer. These rades often have associations with the Underworld, or land of the dead. In the Scottish “Ballad of Tam Lin,” the Queen of Fairies holds a mortal man, Tam Lin, captive in fairyland, but he is rescued by his true love during the fairy rade at Hallowe’en.

This is an excerpt from The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies.