When I was younger, I thought all witches were like the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Green, scary, and evil. Of course, I know now that I was wrong. Witches are all around us, and they look just like you and me. (Don't believe me? Check out these photos.) But while you might imagine that Halloween is the time of year they shine, many witches actually celebrate a different holiday on 31st October.
A significant amount of witches celebrate Samhain, a pagan holiday that honours ancestors and spirits, from which modern-day Halloween is thought to have evolved. On this day, it's believed that the veil between the world of the living and the dead thins. "What I believe the media and film tends to confuse about the Samhain holiday is that it's less about being spooked by the dead and more about honouring and venerating those we've lost," explains Blue June, a tarot reader.
There's no one way to honour Samhain. "Traditions vary with witches, as that is part of the allure of being a witch," explains Mysticalcraft Arriana, Keen.com advisor. "Anything goes as long as it has the correct intent, of course."
We asked some practicing witches to tell us what their celebrations usually look like — and it's not as stereotypically spooky as you think.
They connect with ancestors
"I light a candle to honour [ancestors] and leave out candy or libations that they enjoyed," says astrologer Lisa Stardust. She says that unlike Halloween, she's not trying to scare away their spirits, but to honour them.
Some witches speak with these spirits. "An Ouija board is a standard tool to speak with those crossed over," notes Mysticalcraft Arriana. "Mediation and connecting to those in our hearts is another way to connect. Or you can cast a circle and ask for your Deity's help," she says, explaining that each witch has deity they feel close to, that they can reach out to for help and guidance in life.
They give thanks
In addition to connecting with those who have passed, Live The Light, psychic advisor at Keen.com, uses the day to set intentions that help her welcome changes and transformations into her life. "Remember to give thanks for what the summer months brought as you look to the fall ahead. Finally, give a hug and kiss to your loved ones in spirit," she recommends. Live The Light says it's also a good day to eat a favourite food, playing your favourite songs, or share memories with the people you love.
Narayana Montúfar, senior astrologer for Astrology.com, does something similar. "I always perform a ceremony in which I express gratitude for all the things that I have learned in the current year, then I write down all the things I want to let go of, and afterwards, I burn the paper with a lit candle as I imagine them going away from my life," she says.
They meet up with their coven & cast election magick
Usually Sarah Potter, a tarot reader, professional witch, and colour magic practitioner based in New York City, meets with her coven in person on Samhain. But this year, they're using Zoom to perform their secretive rituals. "Our coven does different rituals," she says. "We do magickal work together for the greater good of humanity."
That work feels especially important right now, ahead of the election, Potter says. "I'm very focused on using my magick to ensure that votes are being counted, voting is easier, and the voices that need to be heard are uplifted." She'll also be working on "clearing any obstacles preventing votes from being counted, or anything that would stand in the way of getting Trump out of office." Sounds like a good way to spend the holiday to me.
They donate to black cat funds
... Pretty fitting, right? These are resources that aim to protect black cats, which are less likely to get adopted than other breeds, due to their associations with bad luck. Potter says she's going to look into funds she can donate to this 31st October. "I have a black cat and I love her so much," Potter says. "Since I can't do what I would usually do, that was something I thought would feel really nice to do this time of year."
They celebrate it as the new year
Natalie Mills, spiritual mentor, psychic medium, and author of You Are Intuitive, says that she sees Halloween and Samhain as the witch's new year. "For me, it has that energetic quality of a spiritual new year," she says. "It's become a really potent powerful time of connecting to my spirituality, my ancestors, my loved ones, and also for me calling forward the new energy and the future visions for the year ahead."
And sometimes... they work
"I work in entertainment in this facet as well," Blue June notes, "so I'm usually working up to three separate events on the night of Halloween, reading tarot cards. I don't get to partake in the Samhain rituals!" But at least she'll be helping others celebrating their spooky October 31 night.