Why Samhain / Halloween Is The Best Time To Trip

Halloween is here, my pretties! We hope you’re totally pumped for the festivities. (AND we hope that you’ve got a fresh harvest of magic mushrooms or a batch of truffles to enjoy at that psychedelic Halloween party you’ve been planning.) 

It really is a unique time of year. With the nights drawing in, and before Christmas comes tap dancing in like a big festive disco ball, it’s time to fully embrace the darkness.

The Addams Family — embracing the darkness all year round

If you’ve ever stopped to wonder why we dress as ghosts and ghouls, put candles in Jack O’ Lanterns, demand candy from strangers, and generally act the maggot on October 31st, a short bit of research probably pointed you in the direction of Samhain. Samhain (pronounced ‘Sow-in’) is the traceable pre-Christian precursor to today’s Halloween. The Yule to today’s Christmas, and the Eostre to today’s Easter. We covered its origins in our history of Halloween article last year, following its mutation from ancient Celtic festival to today’s spooktacular commercial behemoth.

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What Is Samhain?

This year however, we’ve decided to get out our magnifying glass that we usually use for checking out the pinheads on our magic mushroom grow kits, and hold it firming up to Samhain. One of the reasons for this (apart from the fact it’s interesting and cool — duh! ) is that the celebration is having a bit of a renaissance. Sure, there have always been people celebrating Samhain, and the Neopagan movement brought it further back into consciousness. But with the recent revival of interest in all things ‘Witch’, in popular culture, spirituality and ideology, Samhain is being pushed ever more into the spotlight. 

Interest in witchcraft is known to boom during times of political and spiritual unrest around the world. When the systems of modern life begin to fail us, disappoint us, disenfranchise us, we start to look for alternate channels of healing and power. For many people that is witchcraft and magic. And with a renewed interest in a way of life, comes interest in its traditions and rituals. Hence Samhain’s revival. But why is Samhain/ Halloween the best time to trip?

Samhain Is About Transformation

Although today’s Halloween takes much of its inspiration from Samhain — the invocation of ghosts, spirits etc. — it is in a much simplified way. Samhain at its core was about transformation. Sure, going from death to live or vice versa, that’s a transformation. But, Samhain was more about the transformation of the living, falling on what was the Celtic New Year’s eve, when the crops had been harvested, the animals slaughtered, and they were left to contemplate the coming dark months. 

Bonfires are a big part of Samhain — also a symbol of transformation and rebirth

The aim of Samhain was —

to utilize the occasion of the new year to achieve the regeneration of individuals, their kings, and society, through interaction with the powers and beings of the Otherworld.’

-Markale, Jean. 1999. The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature

So, rather than raising the dead, it was about raising and reinvigorating yourself and your community in the face of the possibly difficult and harsh times to come. (i.e. a darn cold winter and no fresh crops!)

The Otherworld

The ‘Otherworld’ was an important aspect of ancient Celtic belief. They believed that there were two realities. The world we live in, on the ‘surface’, and the mystical land beneath the ground — the Otherworld. The Otherworld was mainly composed of deceased ancestors and magic spirits and fairies — usually both friendly and helpful. (It was only once Christian superstition subsumed the celebration that these figures became malevolent and frightening.) During Samhain the ‘veil’ between these two worlds was thought to be at its thinnest. A perfect time to communicate with, and receive wisdom from, the spirits. 

Elysium, or Aeneas Finding His Father at the Elysian Fields (Sebastiaen Vrancx, between 1597 and 1607)

You can kind of feel it in the air right? Even if you live in a concrete-jungle city, the advance of fall brings a frisson of excitement, a buzz, a feeling of mystery. And the mystery is not whatever the heck they put in a Pumpkin Spice Latte. It’s a connection to the earth’s seasonal change — and with that a change in yourself.  This is why this date is so important for witches and druids both ancient and modern. Witches, also having been known through time as healers, medicine wo/men, wise wo/men, are deeply connected to the seasons. This is partially because much of the ‘witchcraft’ of old times was to do with knowledge of healing plants. A witch had to know what would be growing at what time, and what it could be used for. When herbs and fungi should be harvested, and how they should be stored. 

Following ‘The Wheel Of The Year’

Witches, including modern Wiccans, observed the Wheel of the Year. This is a symbol of eight festivals that follow cyclical seasonal changes. The four solstices and equinoxes are included, and then the midpoints between them. Samhain is the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. 

How Witches ‘Fly’

At each of these dates, different herbs and medical substances can be harvested. One of the more famous ‘substances’ used by witches on Samhain is known as ‘Witches Salve’. And lets say its not a ‘salve’ like you may be imagining… It’s not rose flavoured or tinted pink. Rather it was a method of getting psychedelic…Some scholars believe this is where the legend of witches ‘flying’ comes from. Not from physical airborne travel, but mental…. Sound familiar? (a resounding ‘YES’ from the psychonauts present!)

Witches salve (or ‘flying ointment’) was made by boiling plants, some psychedelic, some poisonous (some both) like Belladonna, Monkshood, Poison Hemlock, and Henbane. Then it would be mixed with goose fat to make a spreadable balm. This would then be applied to the skin, and once absorbed the witch could ‘fly’ and experience ‘visions’. Like civilisations who consumed ergot, it was in many ways a deadly poison, unless you knew what you were doing. And the wise witches did. 

‘…they are carried by night through the air to distant lands to do certain black magic…but nothing of this is true, though they think it to be… they arise well and merry, relate what they have done, and bring news from other lands.’

 – Pedro Ciruelo describes a witches ‘flight’ in 1628. 

Shrooms and Samhain: A Match Made In Heaven

Magic mushrooms were an important part in the celebrations of Samhain, and another special knowledge of witches and druids who used them for rituals and inducing visions. In the Celtic lands of Great Britain and Ireland the native shrooms were Liberty Caps (Psilocybe semilanceata) and Fly Agaric (those iconic red and white dotty toadstools) and their sprouting season was — you guessed it — fall. These psychedelic mushrooms would have been ripe for harvesting just around October 31st. It’s just too perfect!

Of course, we are always waxing lyrical about the transformative powers of magic mushrooms and truffles. This is something that the ancient and modern witches know too. They are transformative spiritually, rather than physically (no werewolves here!) And what is ego death if not a rebirth via a visit to another world… the Otherworld perhaps

So much of what has become the iconography of today’s Halloween seems to come from the symbolic rituals of Samhain. Witches flew. The dead came back to life. People were transformed. Spirits ‘appeared’. 

The witches knew that Samhain was the most spiritual time of the year to trip. It’s when the shrooms actually grow after all — and all around we can feel the earth in motion as it prepares for the seasonal change. 

Samhain Is A Magical Time To Trip

So why not take a special Otherworldly trip this year — for Samhain, for Halloween, for the witches — for yourself. In this busy modern world, sometimes we forget to take stock and connect to the planet we live on. Feeling the seasons, the vibrations of the earth and the magic of mushrooms can help you to prepare for the chilly months ahead.

And, as we learnt, Samhain is not just about self transformation, it’s also about the regeneration of your community — that is, your friends and family. You could ask if they want to have a spiritual Samhain trip with you. Or if shrooms aren’t their bag, it’s a nice time to just reach out and check in — maybe have a slice of pumpkin pie. After all, a witch is nothing without their coven. 

Happy Samhain/ Halloween/ Fall to you all!

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