What is Samhain?

Two shapes move through the dark, silhouetted by a light in the distance. They carry a lantern. Photo by Anna Loscotoff.

Samhain (pronounced SOW-in in Irish and SAH-win in Oxford English) is the final spoke in the Wheel of the Year, a marker of the beginning of Winter.  You may have heard it called, “The Witches’ New Year” as it is the start of a new cycle; honoring ancestors, the end of harvest, and preparing to go inward with winter to start over again. It is believed that the veil between the living world and the spirit world thins at the end of Autumn, allowing our ancestors, spirits, and faeries to cross over.  

For the ancient pagans, Samhain revolved around a fire festival in which the family fire was left to die while the grazing animals were gathered from their fields and the final bits of the harvest were collected.  The community then congregated while a Druid priest relit the central fire using friction of a wheel and spindle.  Food was left at the edges of the land for wandering spirits and the Fae.  At the end of the ceremony, families relit their home fires, bonfires, and torches with the sacred fire. Bonfires and torches were burned at the edges of the fields to celebrate the end of harvest and direct their energy to turning inward- survival through winter. It was believed that their ancestors would come and visit at this time, along with other energies beyond the veil, both bad and good. By dressing as animals or other frightening beasts, individuals were protected from faeries, and later, witches. 

A woman leads the way, carting 6 lighted torches, with the orange silhouettes of other's following her.  Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2012.
A reenactment of the story of Harvest, Hoe’s Down at Full Belly Farms, October, 2012, Guinda, Ca.

In the middle ages, boys would light torches from the communal fire and run them to the edges of their land in an effort to protect it from supernatural harm.  Those who went out on Samhain carried carved turnips on strings with glowing pieces of coal inside.  These were called jack-o’-lanterns, named after a Christian legend of a blacksmith named Old Jack, who was so evil, neither heaven nor hell would allow him entrance. He was said to roam the road on Halloween night with nowhere to go, a turnip lamp lighting his way.  Carrying a jack-o’-lantern protected those who carried them from being kidnapped or harmed by that which came through the veil.

The torches and jack-o’-lantern were used to keep witches away,  but they were also used as guides for ancestors who had crossed the veil to commune with their families.  To let the fire burn down on Samhain night meant an ancestor may not be able to find their way home.

The lit up face of a jack-o'-lantern at night.  It has many sharp teeth and cat-like eyes.  Photo by Anna Loscotoff.
A jack-o’-lantern at night, guiding our way in the darkness and scaring away evil.

In the 5th century, as Christianity moved through Europe, Pope Boniface attempted to change the pagan tradition of honoring the dead to honoring saints and martyrs.  The celebration date was moved to May 13th, hoping the non-Christians would forget their pagan holiday.  The fire festival continued.  In the 9th century, Pope Gregory moved the holiday back, hoping to again pull the pagans from their festivals.  Instead of overlapping with Samhain, the church chose November 1st as All Saints’ Day, and later, Nov 2nd as All Souls’ Day. In time, Samhain began to be called All Hallows’ Eve, or the evening before Hallows’ Day (Saints’ Day).

When the Irish settled in America, they brought their traditions around Samhain and Halloween with them.  Turnips were not yet common in the new world and so pumpkins, being available, replaced turnip lanterns. All Hallows’ Eve during early America revolved around parties and games for children with an opportunity at courtship for those unmarried.  Non-Irish neighbors joined in the celebrations and took the traditions on as their own. By the 1920’s, pranking, mischief and violence took over Halloween.  The tradition of giving candy eventually took over (into the 1950’s)  as a successful alternative to reducing damage and easing the fear that had settled around the date.  

A skeleton ornament rides a bike with many textures in the background. In honor of the Day of the Dead. Photo by Anna Loscotoff.
On an October trip to San Antonio, TX, the city celebrated Dia De Las Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Photo by Anna Loscotoff.

Rituals for Samhain

Prepare A Path for you Ancestors

Many cultures today believe that their ancestors will visit on All Hallows’ Eve.  They clean their homes, prepare family meals, and line their walkway with lights; guiding their ancestors to the door.  You can follow in this tradition through the lighting of jack-o’-lanterns and lining you walkway with decorated paper bags lit from inside with LED tea lights.

Create an Altar for your Ancestor

Create a space to make your ancestors feel welcome.  Put out pictures of them or trinkets from their lives.  Write them letters or write down your memories of them.  This can be as simple as a mason jar with a few memories inside, to something much more complex.  You can also honor a group of ancestors, using family crests, slips of paper with family names, tartan patterns, anything that symbolizes the family line.

Create a “Dumb” Supper Setting

A dumb supper leaves space to feed your ancestors, the word dumb meaning silence.  This can be as simple as leaving a bit of food out on a plate over night for your ancestors, to a full dinner in which the living family members toast to the departed.  Traditionally, a white tablecloth was used and a bit of wine was spilled with each toast onto the cloth as an offering.  At least one seat should remain empty, more if possible.  The family eats in silence and observes what happens around them, watching for slight changes; a breeze, a moth, a noise, to signify a family member’s presence. 

Our Own Tradition – The Lighting of the Candles 

Every year since my daughter was little, after trick-or-treating, we light white candles.  We set them up in a base of rice or grain or sand. We each take turns lighting a candle and saying the name of a loved one that has passed. This is not limited to humans, we also light candles for our pets.  We allow the candles to burn down naturally through the evening.

A girl stands, her face lit by many white candles honoring her ancestors. Photo by Anna Loscotoff.
On Samhain, we light white candles in honor of our ancestors. We say their name as we light the candle and think of them. We allow the candles to burn down on their own.


My favorite book about Samhain; Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials)

Llewellyn’s 2021 Sabbats Almanac: Samhain 2020 to Mabon 


My favorite white candles for burning on Samhain

A Sinister History of Halloween Pranks

A Feast with the Dead: How to Hold a Pagan Dumb Supper for Samhain

The Pagan Dumb Supper: What It is and How to Host One

The Origins of the Word Halloween

Hoe’s Down at Fully Belly Farm (where many of these photos were taken)

My Most Important Blog and a Bit About Me

Candles burn down, almost burning out. Photo by Anna Loscotoff.
After lighting candles for our ancestors, we let them burn down on their own, until they extinguish themselves.

The Hunter’s Blue Moon

Original mandala drawing of a woman, Artemis, standing in front of a full yellow moon. She has long red hair and pulls an arrow to her bow. Art by Anna Loscotoff.

The way she shines as she peeks over the mountain to the East.  A pine silhouetted. Her light fills the sky.  The huntress with her bow moves slowly, silently, as she prepares the hunt for winter.

This October, we are given two full moons.  The first, The Harvest Moon, reached peak on October 1st.  The second arrives on Halloween.  This moon, the Hunter’s Moon, will reach it’s peak at 7:49 (pacific) in the A.M, giving us two nights of very full moon rises. Because the Hunter’s Moon is the second in October, it is also a “Blue Moon”.  This is the first Halloween full moon for all US time zones since 1944.

As the Harvest Moon gives us extra light to harvest, the Hunter’s Moon gives light to the Hunters, preparing their store  for winter.  Harvesting opened the fields and allowed hunters to see the animals which came to graze on the remnants of the harvest.  It also allowed light to see the predators; the coyotes and foxes and wolves. The Hunter’s Moon has been know as “The Blood Moon”, whether from the blood of animals or the turning of the seasons, as the leaves become red. 

There is some mixing of information this year, as 2020 brings us 13 moons.  Traditionally, the Harvest Moon falls in September. If you search many sites, that is exactly what you will see. However, both the Harvest Moon and the Hunter’s moon are based upon the date of the Autumn Equinox.  

A mandala full moon, drawn on black paper in blue and white.  Original art by Anna Loscotoff.
The blue moon, shown in a drawing on black paper with colored pencils. Original art by Anna Loscotoff, © 2020

Traditionally, the Harvest Moon is the full moon which is nearest to the equinox.  The equinox this year fell on September 22nd with the September moon reaching it’s peak on September 2nd.  The following moon reached her peak on October 1st, giving her the designation of “The Harvest Moon”.  The moon following Harvest is always “The Hunter’s Moon”.  Because of the way the calendar fell, the September full moon this year was titled “The Corn Moon”. 

The Hunter Moon is also the farthest moon from the earth this year. The moon has an oval orbit around the earth which brings it closer (a supermoon) and farther (a minimoon). Despite being further, it will not seem smaller.  And even though it is called “A Blue Moon”, it will not be blue. 

A Prayer to Artemis

Goddess of the Hunt, the Wilderness, The Moon, Wild Animals, and Chastity

Artemis, huntress of the moon, make my aim true.

Give me goals to seek and the constant determination to achieve them.

Grant me communion with nature, allow me to live surrounded by plants and animals

that I can grow, protect and nurture.

Allow me the strength and wisdom to be my own mistress,

not defined by the expectations of others.

And sustain my sexuality to be as yours — wild and free as nature itself.

Ritual of the Full Moon

I think of the full moon as a time of letting go.  As the moon loses her roundness, so we release the things that no longer serve us.  

  • Think about the things that are no longer serving you, the things that are hurting you, the things you no longer need in your life.
  • Write the things you wish to let go on small slips of paper or bay leaves.
  • Using a fire safe bowl in a fire safe space, a fire pit, a fireplace, burn these things that you wish to release.  
  • Watch the flame, thinking about these weights being released from you. 
  • When the fire has been extinguished, your thoughts burned, reground with a bit of chocolate, or in honor of the Harvest Moon, hot cider, cinnamon, or tree nuts. 


A list of Hunting Dieties

About Artemis

Farmer’s Almanac Full Moon’s of October 2020

My most important blog; My Creative Muse

My Creative Muse and the Afterlife

Mandalla drawing of my creative muse with a white mandala background and rainbow color shape. Her arms are outstretched and she wears a rainbow crescent crown on her head. Drawing by Anna Loscotoff.

In January of 2008, I took my first Artist Way class in Sacramento, California.  Artist Way is about making space for your creativity, identifying your critical inner voice, and clearing out the congested wounds that have gotten in your creative way.  During one of our classes, we were asked to meditate on our Creative Muses and draw them.  I closed my eyes and without a second of thought, she stood in front of me.  She consumed my vision with flaming light, radiant. She wore a crescent crown, her arms outstretched, a rounded base.  This vision of her filled every ounce of my conscience.  

A symbolic shape of a woman is drawn in rainbow chalk pastels.  Her arms are outstretched, she has a round belly, she wears a crown of the sickle moon. Drawing by Anna Loscotoff, 2008.
Drawing in chalk pastels of a vision of my Muse, January 2008, Sacramento. We were asked to meditate on our creative muses and this image came immediately to my closed eyes.

The image was new to me.  As time has passed and technology grows, I see hints of her on the internet through the Triple Goddess and her horned consort.  I see the other Lunar Deities and how the image of the crescent crown has been used over time.  But for me, in that time and place, the crescent moon sitting on the head of my Muse was new. 

In 2011, I tattoo’d her shape onto my left wrist.  Her tattoo was a reminder; she is always present with me and creativity is a part of who I am.  I chose my left arm because the left is often seen as our spiritual, creative, and feminine side with the right side being rooted in the here and now, our masculine, logical side.  I signed my art with her shape, honoring my muse.

A new tattoo in the shape of a symbolic woman with arms outstretched, a round body, and sickle moon crown.
In 2011 I got a tattoo of my Muse on my left wrist. She stands in the shape that I saw her in 2008.

In the spring of 2013, we left Sacramento, moving to the dry Tehachapi Mountains.  I left behind a very dear friend, Susan.   A woman who was constantly reminding and supporting the divine feminine within me; reminding me of who I was and who I could be. Just after Christmas of that year, she called me.  Her friend was dying and she wondered if she could come and visit. 

Susan’s friend was Signe.  Signe was blind, and Susan, an avid hiker and outdoors woman, would take Signe with her.  She would guide her through the trees, up paths, and gave Signe an opportunity to see the world through Susan’s eyes. Susan instinctively felt that Signe could not pass with her in town, and if she came to visit me, Signe would be able to transition.

Signe passed the first night and, in her honor, Susan asked if we could go hiking.  As we drove up the mountain, Susan’s brother called.  He told her, “Signe can see every color of the rainbow now.”

We arrived at Mountain Park, a camping and hiking area just above Tehachapi with beautiful pines.  We stepped out of the car and began to climb. Two baby trees caught Susan’s attention and she pulled out her digital camera and took a photo.  She stopped, looked at me, and said, “Look at this!”

There in her photo, in the upper right corner, was a glorious rainbow burst of light.  It wasn’t at all like the shape you get from the sun, with circular orbs.  This was quite different. My daughter, 8 at the time, asked to see.  Immediately she stated, “Mommy, it’s your tattoo.”  And she was right.  The shape of my tattoo had appeared in Susan’s photo and she was every color of the rainbow, just as Susan’s brother had said not 15 minutes earlier.

A orb, every color of the rainbow, which appeared in a digital photograph. The shape of the orb mimics the shape of a woman with a round bottom and crown on her head.
A glimpse of the Afterlife. The first photo taken after the passing of Signe, this orb appeared in the upper corner of the picture, mimicking the tattoo of my Muse and containing every color of the rainbow, symbolic to the woman who passed.

We knew in that moment that Signe was with us.  We knew Signe could now see every color of the rainbow in this new space. I also understood that what I had seen in 2008 was real, not something my mind created in the moment.  The figure of the Goddess on my wrist wasn’t a figment, but rather a form that exists outside of our human bodies. 

When I find myself doubting or fearful as to what comes next, I return to Mountain Park and my time with Susan.  I return to Signe’s message of existence after our earthly death.  I return to my Muse, the form that appeared to me when I asked for her support and guidance. I am comforted that there is more.  I am comforted knowing we have glimpsed the Afterlife.

A drawing of my Creative Muse using every color of the rainbow on black paper. Drawing by Anna Loscotoff.
A drawing of my Creative Muse on black paper in every color of the rainbow.

Thank you to Susan, for allowing me to share her part of this story and for being such a powerful and beautiful influence in my life.

My Dear Readers, what gifts have you been given that allow you faith in an Afterlife? Have you seen, felt, or heard something that you hold on to? Do you have an interpretation different than mine? Are there books that have influenced you? You can send me a message here or comment below.


Lunar Deities

The Faces of the Goddess

Cernunnus, the Horned God of Celtic Mythology


Maiden, Mother, Crone: The Myth and Reality of the Triple Goddess

By Oak, Ash, & Thorn: Modern Celtic Shamanism

The Mists of Avalon (my all-time favorite fiction about the Triple Goddess)

The Harvest Moon

A mandala of the Harvest Moon. Crops in reds, greens, and yellows grow in front of the moon. Original Mandala by Anna Loscotoff.

Tonight we welcome the full moon, the Harvest Moon, the moon closest to the autumn Equinox.  The moon will rise along the eastern horizon just after sunset, bringing extra light to the sky, traditionally allowing farmers extra time to harvest their crops as the weather began to turn cold.  

October brings us a rare two full moons, the next falling on Halloween.  A full moon has not fallen on Halloween since 1944.  This next full moon is also a Blue Moon (the second full moon in a month) and the Hunter’s Moon (tied to the equinox as the moon always following the harvest). 

Mandala on black paper. A landscape. Yellow grain grows at the bottom, with purple hills rising behind. The sun, shrouded in fog as it rolls over the hills. Original artwork by Anna Loscotoff.
Mandala of a Harvest Moon coming up over a field of grain. Original art by Anna Loscotoff.

Ritual of the Full Moon

I think of the full moon as a time of letting go.  As the moon loses her roundness, so we release the things that no longer serve us.  

  • Think about the things that are no longer serving you, the things that are hurting you, the things you no longer need in your life.
  • Write the things you wish to let go on small slips of paper or bay leaves.
  • Using a fire safe bowl in a fire safe space, a fire pit, a fireplace, burn these things that you wish to release.  
  • Watch the flame, thinking about these weights being released from you. 
  • When the fire has been extinguished, your thoughts burned, reground with a bit of chocolate, or in honor of the Harvest Moon, hot cider, cinnamon, or tree nuts. 

To learn more about the Harvest Moon, check out these links:

The Old Farmers Almanac

Full Moons in October – CNN