A Real Witch’s Halloween, by Maggie Shayne + Giveaway!

by Maggie Shayne, author of Mark of the Witch (book 1 of The Portal series, Harlequin MIRA, October 2012)

My brand new series, THE PORTAL, is all about witches and magic. Real witches, and real magic, that is.  It’s launching now, just as the leaves in my neck of the woods are donning their annual autumn colors and the geese are flying south. The ebook prequel, Legacy of the Witch is free wherever ebooks are sold (for a limited time) and the first full length novel, Mark of the Witch is on sale now in print, and coming October 1st in electronic formats.  Given the subject matter of the series, and the season, it seems a perfect time to write a blog about Halloween. The real one.

The holiday from which our modern Halloween evolved is spelled SAMHAIN, but the pronunciation is SOW-en.  It’s Gaelic for “November Eve,” and it is observed on the date that falls exactly halfway between the Autumnal Equinox (which was this past Saturday, August 22nd) and the Winter Solstice. That puts Samhain this year on November 6 at 7:10 pm EST.

In the ancient Celtic lands, Samhain was the final of the three annual harvest festivals, and also the time when animals were slaughtered to feed families over the winter. This probably helped fuel Samhain’s association with death to some extent, but the purest understanding is that it’s at this time of the year when the Veil Between the Worlds is at its thinnest. It’s easier for people to cross from one side to the other, to die or to be born, and it’s easier for spirits to cross over too, to pay a visit to the families and friends they left behind.

This belief gave birth to the Samhain custom of the Dumb Supper, a meal where an extra place is set at the table for the dear departed, and the meal is eaten in silence, so that the living in attendance might listen (mentally) for messages from the guest of honor in the empty chair.

Not-so-nice entities, spirits and astral nasties of alls sorts, were also believed to be able to cross from one side of the Veil to the other on this night.  Any crops left in the field beyond the night of Samhain, were not to be harvested at all, because they’d probably been touched by gremlins.

Since spooky spirits were believed to roam the night, certain precautions were taken. If you had to be out and about, you might want to wear a frightening mask, so the spirits would think you were one of them and leave you alone.  Also, it was a grand idea to leave a tasty offering outside your front door, so that if any dark spirits came by, they’d get distracted by the goodies, and then enjoy them so much that they would take pity on you and go haunt somebody else.  As an added precaution, you might want to hollow out a turnip and carve a menacing face into it, then drop a candle inside to light it up. This would surely scare any evil spirits away.

Hence, the evolution of masks, costumes, treats at the front door, and our beloved Jack-O-lanterns.

The thinness of the Veil made it easier to perform acts of divination, too, with information flowing just as easily as spirits from one side of the Veil to the other, and from past and future to present. Girls had a Samhain game of peeling an apple in the longest possible unbroken strip.  They eligible young lady would then drop the strip and examine the shape it took when it landed. If it formed a letter, that was the initial of her future husbands.

Apples are still a part of our seasonal games today, we bob for them or dangle them from a string and try to bite them, hands free.

To this day, modern Witches still observe Samhain by speaking to their loved ones who’ve crossed over, and performing divination to peek into the future or to receive answers to their most burning questions. It is one of the two most important holidays in The Craft of the Wise, the other being Beltane, exactly half a year away, the only other time of year when the Veil is at its thinnest. Being a springtime holiday (our modern May Day) Beltane’s energies are seen to be much lighter. We think more of fairies and nature spirits than spooks and goblins, then.  Most people don’t associate May Day with Witches.  But Halloween is a different story.

Today, while it’s about costumes, parties, candy and fun to our kids, Samhain is a sacred time to many of us.  We observe silent, deeply emotional rites in which we honor and remember our loved ones who’ve passed on, then we kick it up a notch with bonfires, drumming and dancing in celebration of the final harvest, and the changing seasons. The growing and harvesting is done, and the calendar now brings us to the time of silence, of introspection, of rest for ourselves and our planet (in much of the northern hemisphere) with the approach of winter. We turn our focus within from Samhain to the Winter Solstice. It’s time to work on ourselves, and to contemplate what we created during the past year, and what it all means to us. And after the solstice, our focus begins to turn outward again, to look ahead to what we hope to build and grow and become during the coming spring and summer months.  It’s a beautiful holiday with deep meaning to a great number of people.

One final Halloween tidbit before I go. Do you know that there has never been a single death or serious injury from tainted Halloween candy? There have been several famous cases where the initial suspect was the candy, but the real culprits turned out to be the child’s own family, every single time. All these years we’ve been x-raying and testing our kids’ treats needlessly.

So there are a few bits of Samhain/Halloween lore. Hope you enjoyed it.  You can find a lot more at my hot new site, ThePortalBooks.com I hope you’ll enjoy my new Witch series, The Portal, as well. Here’s the schedule.

  •  LEGACY OF THE WITCH–ebook prequel FREE at all ebook outlets until Dec. 1
  •  MARK OF THE WITCH–on sale now in print, 10/1 in e.
  •  DAUGHTER OF THE SPELLCASTER–11/20 in print, 12/1 in e.
  • BLOOD OF THE SORCERESS–1/20 in print, 2/1 in e.

And here’s a link to the video trailer for book 1, MARK OF THE WITCH:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-znVZOQwiI

The song behind the video, Dan Hall’s Witches on the Wind, is also available at iTunes or Amazon.com.

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Giveaway Info: We have 3 print copies of Mark of the Witch up for grabs! To enter, leave a comment telling us your favorite thing about Halloween. Three winners will be selected by random number draw from all eligible comments.

Contest will close 11:59 pm EST on Thursday, October 4 and the winners announced on Friday, October 5. Open to residents of the United States and Canada only. For full official rules, click here.

Update: The Giveaway is now closed. Please check the comments to see if you’re a winner!

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40 Responses to A Real Witch’s Halloween, by Maggie Shayne + Giveaway!

  1. My favorite thing about Halloween is the nighttime experience. The air chills, sending cold chills up our arms. The night is filled with the sound of screams, shouts, and wind picking up leaves and swirling them about. Our stomachs are filled with apple treats, pumpkin delights, and usually candy stolen from siblings. Halloween is like Christmas to me. I look forward to it all year long.
    Thanks for this awesome post! It really got me in the spirit! 🙂

  2. Elizabeth H.

    My favorite thing about All Hallows Eve is the premise that we can indulge in dressing up how we see ourselves and not as the world sees us. Letting our inner “witch” shine. Thanks for the post and for the very awesome giveaway!
    ehaney578 at aol dot com

  3. My favorite thing about Halloween is dressing my kids up and taking them out trick or treating! Watching how excited they get is what makes it so special 🙂

  4. Maggie Moody

    My very favorite thing about Halloween is watching my husband turn into a little kid again-haunted houses, scary movie marathons, popcorn balls and candy. He loves dressing up and giving out candy more than just about anything in the world.

  5. Ohhh, I love the pumpkin treats. There’s a pumpkin ice cream at a nearby place where they make it right there on the premises. We wait all year for that! I love candy corn, I love carving jack-o-lanterns. My partner Lance is a true artist and he always makes something spectacular. Ahh, I love Fall!

  6. Sheryl Nyary

    I love the cooler weather and taking my son out trick or treating!

  7. My fav thing is coming home after taking the kids trick or treating and snuggling up on the couch and watching a spooky movie. The kids even forget their candy for the time!

  8. Kimberley Coover

    My favorite thing about Halloween…the kids.
    I love seeing the youngest kiddies dressed up and trick or treating. The laughter in the air, the excitement and the joy…Makes my heart light and happy!

    Thanks for the giveaway! and Congratulations of the new series.

  9. Michelle Thomas

    My favorite thing about Halloween is watching my children enjoy it.

  10. Michelle Harlan

    My favorite thing about Halloween is that it really signals Autumn for me. I live in South Texas & it doesn’t even start to “cool” until late October. Autumn is my favorite season…fall colors everywhere, the smell of pumpkin, cinnamon & cloves, and the start of lots of good cooking (I try to avoid using the oven during the summer months). My kids have outgrown trick-or-treating, but we still love our caramel apples for Halloween. It’s a once a year treat!

  11. Steph Moyer

    My favorite thing about Halloween is helping my daughter pick out a Halloween costume. When I was a kid we never had the money for the store bought costumes and I was always jealous of the kids that had them, so I let my daughter pick out whatever she wants. And it always takes her days to pick out the right one. But I love every minute of it. And I read her some spooky stories and tell her the history of things and she loves it.

  12. tina harrison

    My favorite thing about samhain is teaching my children about the holiday and taking them out trick or treating and celebrating a new year begining.

  13. My favorite thing about Halloween is the excuse to watch some horror movies! I can never seem to find enough time to do that otherwise but on Halloween there is no stopping me. 🙂

  14. The things I love most about Samhain are: the magic that is so thick in the air, you can feel it, and honoring loved ones who have passed away. Samhain is my favorite time of year!

  15. as a real witch since age uh, half my life it allows me to be me. I do ritual with long hot bath and candles.This year will allow me (weather permitting) to go outside to meditate. I believe this is all an Indian Burial ground so I will honor those before me and those that have left me. It will mark four yrs that week my fiance was killed in Afganstan in battle before we were to be handfasted. I pray my neck surgery will be after the new year not before. But it is as the gods will,fate and my dr.All I can do is have my laptop,bunch of books, big bed and hold on cause it’s gonna be a wild ride lol

  16. Melissa Walker

    Love the smells of fall, color changes of the trees, and halloween is best time for dressing up and watching my kids get a thrill of staying up late to trick or treat.
    But I love the most is to curl up with a good book and enjoy the coolness of season.

  17. Mariela Gomez

    Thank youso much for this beautiful blog! It certainly put me in the Halloween spirit!:-) ..Well, my favorite part about this amazing holiday is dressing up my little one in the latest costumes! It’s so much fun to become a kid again, along with her and go trick or treating, to smell autumn in the air, see the leaves swirling in the wind- a beautiful mixture of the colors of the fall. The air feels crisp, and a walk in the night is both exhilarating and invigorating. Blessed Samhain!

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  19. My favorite things about Halloween is dressing up, carving pumpkins and all the pumpkin flavored stuff! Halloween is my favorite! Thanks for the chance to win!!

  20. My favorite thing is seeing all the little kids in costume. Its also the perfect time to read and watch and spooky story.

  21. I like all the candy.

  22. Barbara Elness

    My favorite thing about Halloween is everything! I love the costumes, the decorations, the fact that my birthday is the next day, and the pumpkin pie I always have instead of birthday cake – that’s my Halloween treat. 😀

  23. DeeDee Griffin

    I love Halloween because it give me an excuse to eat tons of chocolate. So I bought too much, can’t let it go to waste!

  24. Deborah Paugh

    My favorite thing about Halloween is the children. I love to watch their excitement deciding what to be for Halloween, the thrill of watching the Halloween parade, and their the joy when they get to go trick-or-treating. For myself, my daughter and I begin making pumpkin cookies as part of our personal celebration of Samhain.

  25. Chocolate! Need I say anymore. Love Maggie Shayne, thanks for all the great reads.

  26. My favorite thing about Halloween is that my black cat and orange cat look perfect together. It’s the only time they don’t look out of place.

  27. Horror movies on TV. Getting creative with costumes. The candy!

  28. My favorite thing about Halloween is dressing up in costumes. I love to wear things that I normally could never get away with such as Victorian gowns or fairy wings. Happy Halloween!

  29. Tracey Peckford

    My favorite thing about Halloween is seeing everyone dressed up (especially the kids) and going to the Halloween dance at our local pub. I also love Candy Corn. 🙂

  30. Well aside from the mounds of candy and chocolates I love being able to dress up. Doesn’t matter if your 8 or 38, you get the chance of dressing up as your favorite character and just have fun. And my third favorite thing about Halloween is the jack o lanterns. I love going to the pumpkin patch and finding the “perfect” pumpkin and then going home to either carve or paint them. It’s a tradition I’v eloped since I was a kid and will continue till who knows when.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  31. Halloween is my favorite time of the year because it’s the only time of the year I can dress as myself, a witch. I’ve always been drawn to stories of witches and vampires and ghosts. I like curling up in front of the Tv and watching old, classic scary movies. And I like the candy!

  32. I use to love the school fall festival and playing the games. I loved watching my son’s eyes light up at all the sights and sounds.Popcorn balls.

  33. My favorite part of Halloween is watching the little ones in their costumes, both the intrepid and the timid.

  34. Margaret Leenders

    I have two favorite things about Halloween. The first is dressing up my beautiful little girls and taking them out to fill their bags with goodies. Yhe second part is when the girls are in bed and I watch the night and listen to all of the noises that bring chills to your arms.

  35. Being able to sport black nail polish and skull and crossbones clothing without turning heads;) and making the kids entertain me at the front door for the Halloween candy!!!!!

  36. The thing I love about Halloween is the “feel” of it…when string lights start coming out and zombies, witches and ghosts adorn lawns and porches. Leaves change color and you get to wear your favorite sweater. ;D

  37. I love the little kids who come to the door. Their eyes get big at the bowl of candy. Some try for a handful but a parent’s voice tells them “just 1 piece”. Some kids have to study the bowl to make sure they get their very favorite. Always charming.

  38. I’m loving reading all your favorite things. I think the campy old horror flicks are one of my faves too! And candy corn. And the foliage. It’s peaking where I live right now. I’ve got to get some pics posted!

  39. My favorite things about Halloween are the pumpkins, the costumes (I dress my dog up), the decorations and the scarey stories and movies.

  40. The giveaway is now closed — thanks everyone for sharing our Halloween favorites and entering the giveaway! Now to announce the 3 lucky winners of MARK OF THE WITCH:

    Sheryl Nyary
    DeeDee Griffin

    Congratulations! Please check your email for a message from me.
    ~Amy from Harlequin