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A Primer for Nonpractitioners


Samhain (pronounced sow'-in, rhymes with wow) is a Cross-Quarter sabbat in the Pagan traditions. It is considered the most liminal time of the year, when the veil between worlds is the thinnest, and the spirits are able to return to walk among the living.

Druid Susa Morgan Black explains:

"To the ancient Celts, the year had two 'hinges.' These were Beltaine (the first of May) and Samhain (the first of November), which is also the traditional Celtic New Year. And these two days were the most magical, and often frightening times of the whole year.

The Celtic people were in superstitious awe of the times and places “in between." Holy sites were any border places – the shore between land and water (seas, lakes, and rivers), bridges, boundaries between territories (especially when marked by bodies of water), crossroads, thresholds, etc. Holy times were also border times – twilight and dawn marking the transitions of night and day; Beltaine and Samhain marking the transitions of summer and winter. Read your myths and fairytales – many of the stories occur in such places, and at such times.


At Samhain (which corresponds to modern Halloween), time lost all meaning and the past, present, and future were one. The dead, and the denizens of the Other World, walked among the living. It was a time of fairies, ghosts, demons, and witches. Winter itself was the Season of Ghosts, and Samhain is the night of their release from the Underworld. Many people lit bonfires to keep the evil spirits at bay. Often a torch was lit and carried around the boundaries of the home and farm, to protect the property and residents against the spirits throughout the winter."

[Source:Susa Morgan Black (Druid, FSA Scot),] 

· Pagan Beliefs and Symbols: Death of the God to stag to protect. 

· Druid Beliefs and Symbols: Festival of the dead, remembering and honoring departed relations and friends. Leaves stripped from trees. (Animal sacrifices in ancient times), feasts.


Every October 31-November 2


  • Remember and respect ancestors

  • Protect family, animals, and land from bad spirits

  • Final harvest, and the beginning of the darker half of the year


Common Customs​

  • Guide family spirits home with candles in windows, fortune telling, family altar and prayers

  • Lighting of bonfires or torches to keep evil away. Joining together and near the fire/light, and/or wearing costumes to avoid kidnapping by evil spirits

  • “Dumb dinner:” Place an empty chair/setting at dinner for deceased family or friends, and eat in silence once meal is started.

  • Drive cattle down to lower pastures, or other winter preparation

Learn More​

An explainer of Samhain (starts at 1'32")

An evocative song capturing elements of Samhain Eve

For older kids and youth

Respectful Engagement through a UU Lens


These suggestions are intended for use by nonpractitioner UUs to learn from and appreciate this day. It is not meant to suggest what active practitioners would do, as they obviously have their own spiritual and cultural knowledge. It is also not meant to suggest that by trying these activities one is celebrating the holiday or its traditions. We should approach any exploration with respect and humility, looking for teaching moments shared with us by our friends and neighbors that show us wisdom and enrich our lives. 

Explore further and engage in respectful ways with the wisdom found in this tradition.​

Resonant UU Beliefs

UU Principles

  • 3) Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth

UU Shared Values

  • Pluralism

  • Interdependence

UU Connections

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