Esoteric Meaning of Halloween, Samhain

Samhain / Hallowmas / Halloween

– Celtic New Year and feast of Cerridwen (Goddess of Death) and Beli (the Holly King, God of the Waning Sun).

Goddess of Halloween Samhain Hecate Hekate Isis
Hecate aka Hekate

Oct 31 – Nov 2 Descent of Inanna – Sumerian fast recalling the descent of Inanna (Goddess of Life) to the Underworld. Ereshkigal (Goddess of Death and Rebirth) detained Her until She agreed to have Dumuzi (God of Life and Death) remain there each Winter.

Here’s an old Hallowe’en article I wrote (in 2007) for the Fellowship of Isis publication

Goddesses of Hallowe-en
by Rev. Katia Romanoff

Is there a goddess of Samhain (a Celtic word meaning literally, “Summer‘s End”)? You might be surprised at who it is, and that there is actually more than one.

The primary goddess of Samhain is none other than Isis, Divine Mother of Egypt, the Greco-Roman world and the Western World.

Samhain (called Halloween in Christianity), is actually a 3-day festival in both Christian and pagan calendars. Christianity has All Saints Day, which falls on November 1st and is preceded by All Hallows Eve (Halloween) on October 31st, and followed by All Souls Day on November 2nd. All Hallows, All Saints and All Souls … a time when ghosts and spirits pass between worlds and once again walk the earth …

In the ancient “pagan” world, this 3-day event also began on October 31st. The holiday was called the Isia and the Finding of Osiris. On the 3rd day of the Isia came the most pivotal event in Isis-Osiris theology: Osiris was resurrected from the dead by Isis, making this a very significant day to our ancestors, and a sort of Egyptian Easter! “Arise my love,” she said to him, just as the Judeo-Christian God (or perhaps Mary Magdalene!) said to Jesus in his tomb on the 3rd day.

Lawrence Durdin-Robertson reported in his Perpetual Calendar of the Fellowship of Isis an excerpt from Martin A. Larson’s scholarly work, Religion of the Occident, (Philosophical Library, 1959). Larson writes: “… it usually began on October 31st … On the two days following, the portions of Osiris were found, reconstituted, and resurrected. This was the central element in the myth, for if Osiris could regain life and become immortal through the power of Isis, then all her devotees could do the same.”

We see why Isis is called Savior. No wonder she was the single most popular deity to the ancients. As for her being a goddess of Samhain, this ancient 3 day holiday was called the Isia in her honor. It is this time of year the veils between worlds become thin, making possible the passage back from the realm of the dead.

Spirits and Demons Come Out, Evil is Supposedly Ascendant

“The Celtic day of ‘summer’s end’ was a time when spirits, mostly evil, were abroad … the festivals of All Saints’ and All Souls’ coming at the same time of year – the first of November – contributed the idea of the return of the dead; and the Teutonic May Eve assemblage of witches brought its hags and their attendant beasts to help celebrate the night of October 31st.

“Samhain was then a day sacred to the death of the sun, on which had been paid a sacrifice of death to evil powers … evil was ascendant at Samhain. Methods of finding our the will of spirits and the future naturally worked better then charms and invocations had more power, for the spirits were near to help, if care was taken not to anger them, and due honors paid.” – (Ruth Edna Kelley, Book of Hallowe’en, 1919.)

“At such times it was considered that the veil between this world and the next was thin and that denizens of the dead, spirits and demons were abroad. Moreover, that it was the best time to conduct magical rites.” – (Andrew Collins, The Roots & Reality in Magic & Witchcraft, lecture, 2000)

Can you feel it? – your ancestors and All Souls of the departed tugging at you? Saints – holy women and men – are also said to touch base with humans at this time, passing between realms. For centuries upon centuries humans have sensed this eerie presence every Samhain. We have responded in various ways such as putting candles in windows to guide departed relatives back “home” for the night, carving gourds into skulls or heads and using them as lamps, dressing in black, wearing costumes to confuse the walking-dead or to scare off the “goblins” and “ghouls”.

The ghosts, spirits and realm of the dead stuff was frightening as hell to our ancestors, and still scares people today. But that’s not the only horror story behind Halloween.

Devouring One Third of the Children

Have you ever seen those little black and orange booklets called Chick Tracts circulated by hyper-fundamentalist Christians every Halloween? They “explain” the Jack-o-Lantern’s supposed human sacrifice connection and condemn Trick-or-Treating and Jack-o-Lanterns as evil Satan worship.

Well, Jack Chick, author of those ridiculous tracts, despite stupidly equating Druids to Satanists, is onto something about demons and Halloween. “Demons” is a harsh-sounding Christian word but such dark critters probably do exist and are called by various names: Fomori (Ireland), Asuras (India), Oni (Japan) and demons (Middle East, Europe). The Fomori would come to Ireland and Britain every November 1st to collect a horrible tax: one third of all the grain and milk, and — horror of horror — one third of all the children. Imagine being a parent, or imagine being a kid when this time of year came round!

According to Celtic mythology it clearly was not the Druids, but real demons going door to door taking one child or youth from each home. Druids never practiced child sacrifice, but demons (or humans disguised as demons) may have been child snatchers. It is reminiscent of modern-day UFO abductions. Perhaps an even better modern example of child snatching is this staggering statistic: thousands of children go missing every day, 2300 daily just in the USA, only 20% of which are family abductions.

Historically, foreign invaders would suddenly sweep into our ancestors’ villages and snatch up youths and older children for the slave market. Cruel kings occasionally sent raiders disguised as demons (so the king would remain blameless) to grab youths for slavery. For untold centuries the lure of the slave trade profit was a constant motivation to invade and kidnap the young. Tragically, kidnapping and human slavery goes on today in several parts of the world such as Eastern Europe, India, China and Africa, the latter still the busiest market of all. The modern kidnapping-slave-trade remains vastly under-reported.

Child and youth snatching terrifies modern people and we know it is not supernatural, so imagine the hell our superstitious ancestors went through every Samhain worried if their child would be “taken” and devoured by demonic beings. The kids weren’t too thrilled with it either! How much scarier their campfire horror stories were back then. Because of this terror, every Samhain people would dress in black, gather their cattle from the fields, and hunker down indoors. They would huddle in fear all day long. Our ancestors carved gourds in the shape of heads, lit them as lamps and placed them outside the door to say, “a youth was already taken from this home, pass over”. They laid out treats and other tasty offerings to pacify the hungry soul-snatchers. Fear gripped them for three days. Not exactly a fun holiday. At last the gods, the shining Tuatha de Danaan (meaning “children of the Goddess Dana), heard the peoples’ anguish and arrived on the night before November 1st to stop the demons once and for all from collecting this hideous annual soul tax. Gods and demons fought an Armageddon-like battle resulting in defeat for the Fomors (or Fomori), whom the gods pushed back into the sea of destruction forever.

We are still re-enacting this event thousands of years later when we light a carved gourd (pumpkins are technically large gourds, therefore perfectly suitable for this tradition), or when we dress up as something scary or demonic.

People also believed one could scare ghosts back to where they belonged by dressing up as even scarier creatures. There was also a need to confuse the zombies and ghosts who walked among the living by dressing up like them. Even children might be dressed as little goblins so as not to be snatched up. If you look like a member of the walking dead yourself, the hungry spirits won’t jump into your body and possess you.

Other fears created Halloween customs. The flight of the hags (wisewomen, not evil “witches”) took place only twice a year – on May Eve and November Eve. The hags were not shriveled up old ladies, but lovely silver and white-haired women who would fly through the air over the villages to cleanse the atmosphere of negativity as part of the change of seasons. The number one cleansing tool was the broom. Like baptismal water, the broom has supernatural powers to cleanse both in the physical realm and the unseen realm. Thus we have witches on brooms. In Germany and other parts of Northern Europe it is believed a battle between good and evil (bad spirits, demons, goblins) takes place when the winds of season change blow. To this day in Europe every May Eve and November Eve, children leave one window open in case a passing hag fighting the battle in the skies overhead, needs to come in and take a rest. If a hag does enter and rest awhile, she leaves behind a gold coin on the windowsill to be discovered by the child in the morning.

After the first age of enlightenment — aka the Renaissance — came along bringing Hermeticism (wisdom of Egypt, sacred geometry and Greek paganism), Kabbalah and other wisdom traditions, not to mention more widespread literacy, the horrible fear of being snatched and devoured by demons associated with Halloween was removed. Fathers and young men of your clan might still, as they do today, enjoy scaring the daylights out of women and children.

Revelry goes hand in hand with frightening antics since the adrenaline rush causes pleasure and increases sex drive. Scaring the ladies and maidens, like modern horror movies, may have been yet another method males of the species employed to get females to cozy up to them. Pranks among males increase bonding, too, with fathers trying to scare their sons, and young men creating elaborate pranks to scare and get the best of each other. Ah, the togetherness of holidays.

Goddess of the Witches

There is one other goddess of Halloween. Because of the presence of witches, Hekate is connected to this holiday. It makes sense; she is a venerable ancient divine figure. However, Hekate was not originally known as the goddess of the witches, but was actually a manifestation of Isis, their names merged in the compound name Isis-Heket. Hekate was a wisdom goddess whose name derives directly from goddess Heq-ma’a or Heka ma’at in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a scripture pre-dating the entire Bible by centuries.

Intriguingly, the etymological origins of both the Hebrew Hokmah (also spelled Chokmah) and Hekate come from this same goddess name in The Book of the Dead. “The Egyptian heq-ma’a or heka ma’at, [is] loosely translated to mean ‘Underworld Mother of Wisdom, Law, and Words of Power.’” (Scott Fray & Marybeth Witt, Heket: Exceed your Prosthesis, web article, 2005, all about Hekate).

Because Hokmah means Wisdom, it is always translated in both Old and New Testaments of the Judeo-Christian Bible as Sophia. Hekate and Isis are one in the same. The one God or one Godd-ess truly has 10,000 names, as is a title of Isis: “She of 10,000 names”. Isis says to Apuleius in the 2000 year old Isian classic, Metamorphoses (better known as The Golden Ass):
“You see me here. I am Nature, the universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual…the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are …Though I am worshipped in many aspects. Known by countless names, and propitiated with all manner of different rites, yet the whole round earth venerates me. The primeval Phrygians called me Pessinuntica, Mother of the gods; the Athenians, sprung from their own soil, call me Cecropian Artemis; for the islanders of Cyprus, I am Paphian Aphrodite; for the archers of Crete, I am Dictynna; for the trilingual Sicilians, Stygian Proserpine; and for the Eleusinians and their ancient Mother of the Corn. Some know me as Juno, some as Bellona of the battles, others, Hecate …The Egyptians who excel in ancient learning and worship me with ceremonies proper to my godhead, call me by my true name … Queen Isis.” (R. Witt, 121, 148-9, 276; Apuleius, R. Graves transl., 264-5.)

Welcome to the Dark Time of the Year

Now begins our dormant time of rejuvenation. Nature recharges her batteries during the “Long Sleep” of the year’s evening and night. Every rotation (each day) living creatures like us and everything else need a dark time away from the sun. It is necessary for life. The moon is positioned just perfectly so that it doesn’t reflect too much light on us. If the dark side of the moon were the one facing earth at all times the health of plants, animals, and humans would suffer because it would create too bright a light. The dark side of the moon doesn’t have the hollows and craters, which dull the sun’s reflective rays. The plant and animal world would not survive if this daily dormant time were disturbed. In the same way we need sunset, we also need summer’s end, Samhain, and the dormant recharging time of each year.

You may notice in Fall many people get slammed with depression. Some people just can’t get up in the morning, or get moody or deeply sad because subconsciously they can’t handle the sun setting so early. The darkness is encroaching into our lives, and it triggers psychological and physiological changes. Light and the absence thereof profoundly affect all aspects of life. Just look at the trees and grass. What a dramatic life cycle they go through annually. Another excerpt from Ruth Edna Kelley’s 1919 Book of Hallowe’en says: “The pagan Hallowe’en at the end of summer was a time of grief for the decline of the sun’s glory, as well as a harvest festival of thanksgiving to him for having ripened the grain and fruit …”

If this time of “grief” and depression is getting you a bit down, try to sense the Holy Ones, the Wise Ones – “hags” – sweeping into town, swirling and swooshing above with the Winds of Change. Feel them cleansing the bad nasties out of your world. Try to viscerally sense that broom brushing over your life. An appropriate and powerful exercise for Summer’s End depression is to get a new corn broom and place it by a door or window. There are some nice looking black-handled children’s corn brooms at the big hardware stores that I like to get and hang on a hook by the door or even beside a window. Full-size corn brooms are fine too, as are the nifty primitive handmade ones. Look at your broom; touch it from time to time, especially touching the handle when leaving the house into the cold or dark. Perhaps decorate it. Look up at it a minute whenever the darkness or depression gets to you. When you are feeling overly depressed, weepy or overwhelmed, take it and sit with it, running your hand over the bristles. Feel their texture, smell their corn or wild grass aroma.

Know that not only are the elemental “hags” of the universe on your side with their fearless ability to “ride the darkness”, but so is the great Resurrectrix, Goddess Isis. She who overcame death at this exact time of year is always with you and says, “Arise my love. Come unto me and go forth by day into a realm that is always light. For we know the world is not dying, does not perish, but merely rests for life’s sake, dormant in the Dark.”

Another Quick Exercise

Think a minute of a few ways you can deal with the dark, harness its power. Make two lists either mentally or literally with the following titles:

1. Dealing with the Dark

What coping strategies do you have for getting thru the fall freak-outs and winter doldrums? Maybe hanging out with spiritually like-minded folk either on-line or in person. Maybe doing something magikal. No matter what it is or how small a gesture, if it is magikal, it will bring a spark of light to your soul just as good as the sun’s summer rays.

2. Harnessing the Darktime

How can you put the Darktime to work for you and your goals? Maybe plan your garden, your spring. Or plan your life! According to our ancestral tradition it is a brand new year now, and your DNA is sensing that. Use it. Channel it.

Absorb the Calendar

Make the calendar of the Holy Year part of you. Special spiritual energy is released on all major holidays. Pull it in. Put it to work helping you toward your goals whether they be spiritual or material.
Ruth Edna Kelley writes in her 1919 Book of Hallowe’en that “May Day and November Day” are the two most important holidays to northern European peoples, “the beginning and end of summer, yet neither [are] equinoxes nor solstices.”

“Samhain was an ancient Celtic festival, known in modern times as Halloween, marking the start of winter and the ascendance of the powers of blights, decay, and death. It was the boundary between one year and the next, and so doubly magickal. At Samhain the material and spiritual worlds unite.” (Anna Franklin, Working With Fairies, Career Press, 2005).

“Tradition asserts that the witches of the Middle Ages came together four times of the year: 2 February (Candlemass, Celtic Imbolc), May Eve (Beltane or Walpurgisnacht), 1 August (Lammastide, Celtic Lugnasadh) and 31 October (Halloween, Samhain). These dates correspond with the four cross-quarter days, the maidway points between the equinoxes and solstices. Some traditions also suggest there were two additional dates, the solstices themselves, defined as St. John’s Eve, 23 June, and St. Thomas’ day, 21 December (Norse Yule or midwinter’s day).” (Andrew Collins, The Roots & Reality in Magic & Witchcraft, Lecture, 2000)

The equinoxes and solstices are the four annual quarter days. They are like the quarter points on the clock, 12, 3, 6 and 9. Visualize a plus sign +. Then we have the four cross quarter days that come halfway between the 12, 3, 6 and 9. Visualize an X over top of the + (plus sign). An X with a plus sign overlapping each other creates an asterisk. *. A star with eight rays. The Star of Isis, some call it. You can make the sign of the Star of Isis on your body by making the sign of the cross (like Catholics and East Orthodox Christians do; I personally prefer the Eastern Church’s version in which you touch forehead, abdomen, right shoulder and then left shoulder) and then finishing by crossing your arms over your chest in an X. Hold your X-arms there a moment.

You are absorbing the calendar’s potent energies and actually aligning your body, mind and soul with the holy year. The year is made up of time, space and motion; and the orbs we call home, moon and sun. It is our sacred spiral dance round the sun star that gives us life in Her name.

About the Author: Rev. Katia Romanoff is Directress of the online Esoteric Mystery School Lyceum of the Esoteric Mysteries, a place of learning and devotion to Goddess and God, as well as a thriving on-line community of “occult” and Gnostic Christian Pagan tradition since 1999.
Esoteric Mystery School website:

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