Here’s what witches actually do on Halloween (and beyond)
As Halloween approaches, many of you will be grabbing your costumes, and perhaps you’re going for the classic witch look. At present, it’s easy to procure not only a “costume,” but a whole witchy wardrobe. Alternative clothing companies make it easy to wear witchcraft literally on your sleeve with endless designs and occult slogans. Even Sephora tried to sell witchcraft in the form of a horribly-thought-out “starter kit,” which has since been pulled from shelves.
The positive mainstream attention on witchcraft and the curiosity surrounding it seems to be unprecedented at the moment. So, we decided to talk to those who practice it for some advice and clarification on what really goes on during the spookiest time of the year.
So, what are witches actually doing on Halloween?
Note: This article is derived from the accounts of six people who practice magic[k]. Their celebrations aren’t representative of all Wiccans, witches, neopagans and others who include witchcraft and energetic will in their religions/lifestyles. Because of the deeply personal nature of the practices, there are endless ways witches may celebrate the season. We encourage you to share your personal traditions in the comments!
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NOT FUCKING AROUND
Of the many practitioners we spoke to, several had the following advice to give to those who want to dabble in witchcraft on Halloween: Don’t mess with Ouija boards. When you call on spirits, it might not be grandma who answers, but something dangerous.
Whitney Woods identifies as a white witch. Her practice involves positive and well-intended magic through candle spells, rune and tarot-readings and imbuing crystals with positive intent.
“A lot of the magic that interests people around Halloween is darker thanks to the horror genre, and, in general, not the kind a person ought to be playing with,” she says. “I personally won’t even touch a Hasbro Toys Ouija board, since I believe intention is a large portion of what it takes to do something like communicate with a spirit, and not all spirits are good.
“Casting dark magic usually bites you back, so if you want to use magic on Halloween, try to avoid casting curses [or] summoning anything, and please don’t charge objects with a negative intent.”
“Do no harm,” simplified is the highest creed in the Wiccan religion. Keep that in mind when when your friends want you to pop in their basement for a round of curse-the-shitty-boss.
Marleigh McVeigh, who identifies as an “eclectic witch” because of the wide berth of Pagan religions she practices, including Santeria, Gardnerian Witchcraft and others explains, “Most individuals believe that Samhain or Halloween are the most ‘evil’ days of the year. The association comes from it being the ‘most occult’ holiday. The true definition of ‘occult,’ however, is ‘cut off from view or interposing something.’”
CELEBRATING THE HARVEST AND PREPARING FOR WINTER
If you’re curious what witches may be up to at times other than Halloween, we’d advise you look to the sky and to the Earth. The moon, both regular occurrences and anomalies in nature and the seasons have their own powers to harness and reasons to pay respects to nature.
Samhain, the Celtic festival from which our Halloween traditions originate, falls on Oct. 31 and marks the end of the harvest season.
From the Wiccan Rede, the basic moral code:
“As the old year starts to wane/The new begins, it’s now Samhain/When the time for Imbolc shows watch for flowers through the snow.
Harvesting comes to one and all when the Autumn Equinox does fall. Heed the flower, bush and tree by the Lady blessed you’ll be.”
Before we move forward, it’s important you know that Samhain is pronounced “Saw-ehn.” You’re welcome.
Kristie Miller practices nature-based religion as a green witch, working with herbs, flowers and sundry natural elements for spiritual guidance and healing.
“During autumn we celebrate! The house is cleansed with sage or cedar,” she says. “We spend time outside. We go apple picking, have bonfires and enjoy the time of the season. We enjoy food—harvest meals include bread, apples, squash, cranberries and pumpkin. I also write a gratitude list. A witch’s autumn is similar to Thanksgiving.”
So, if you’re a fan of Tofurkey Day festivities, but don’t want to wait until November to feast, you might want to hang out in a witch household this month.
“One of the original purposes for Halloween was to take some of the bounty from your harvest and to share it with others, lest your ancestors think of you greedy and ungrateful,” practicing witch Taylor explains. “So sharing meals with friends and family is a really great way to invoke the energy of the holiday in the most traditional way.”
In addition to being a time to celebrate summer’s bounty and prepare for the winter, Samhain is thought to be the day when the veil between our world and the spirit world is thin, and thus the perfect time for…
Most are familiar with Dia De Los Muertos tradition, when loved ones are honored with food, grave decorations and altars. It is believed that during this time the “veil is thin.” That means: the boundary between the spirit world and ours is diminished, thus allowing departed family members to revisit their loved ones.
Similarly to those who celebrate Dia De Los Muertos, many witches also use Samhain to honor the dead.
Jessica Jewett identifies as a pagan in the Celtic tradition, and mixes those practices with American folk magick.
“Samhain is our most sacred time of year because it’s a time to honor our dead and our more distant ancestors,” she says. “Activities at this time of year include keeping an ancestral altar with items from your family members that have passed away in order to honor their lives and spirits.
“Other altar items include candles, pumpkins, the colors orange, brown, black and so on. Usually on Halloween night or the closest full moon to then, there is a big feast that includes a place set for any unexpected guest, which is like a euphemism for setting a place for the dead. In my family, we leave one of the windows open with a candle in it to lead our loved ones home from the Otherworld [the afterlife].”
Solemn as it may seem for them to spend such energy reflecting on people who have died, spellcasters reassure that it’s not a miserable thing but often a celebration, and the customs surrounding it may look familiar. For instance, pumpkins are kind of a big deal during this time, and not solely as a decoration.
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Witch Miranda Scott is the owner of Cleveland modern witch shop and a personal favorite haunt for those at AP called Coven. She and her daughter stock up on pumpkins this time of year, for a special reason. “We...carve them a few days before Halloween, and we leave them lit all night,” she reveals. “They light the way for our ancestors, and the element of fire keeps bad spirits from entering our home.”
And when welcomed spirits pay their visit to her house (which is all-black, by the way. How dope is that?), they’re greeted by burning candles and a lovely personal touch at her altar. “I buy my mom cherry Jolly Ranchers, because those were her favorite, and my dad always liked [Caramel Creams],” she says.
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DOING NORMAL HALLOWEEN SHIT
We have yet to meet a decent human being who doesn’t like Halloween, so of course, practitioners of magic are in on the fun like the rest of us. As we’ve established, many Halloween activities come from the celebration of Samhain, so outwardly, they probably look exactly the same.
Miller hands out treats to the “kiddies,” as she says, and Scott, who has a child of her own, does all the typical fall things such as apple picking and decorating her front yard.
“We buy an entire cart full of candy to hand out to the kids, we give out prizes and set up an entire haunted cemetery in the front yard along with people in place to scare the kids and adults,” Scott says.
On the spookier side, Woods manages a haunted house and plans to use witchcraft to boost a little extra positivity. “Since I do work in a haunted house I plan to charge the crystals I carry with celinite before I go into work the night of Halloween to increase the positive intentions I am holding toward my haunted house I manage and its actors,” she says.
So, if you want to celebrate Halloween like a witch, keep doing what you’re doing. Unbeknownst to you, you’re already partaking in a celebration derived from a long history of magical tradition.
Note: Some names in this story have been changed due to privacy concerns.