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Halloween or Samhain? Witch do you celebrate?

This post was most recently updated on February 23rd, 2014



donnamerrilltribe.comI wanted to take some time-out on my regular blog posts to acknowledge this time of year.

In our American Culture we celebrate Halloween.  We dress up, give goodies to the kids that ring our bells saying “Trick or Treat” and even go to Halloween Parties.  It is a time for celebration.  But for some, this day has a more deeper meaning it is  Samhain.   I’m writing this post to acknowledge Samhain – The Pagan Holiday.  It is the season of the Witch and many of my Pagan friends are celebrating.  My best friend Maya has written this article via:         http://nyack.patch.com/blog_posts/season-of-the-witch.  I hope you enjoy it!

Season of the Witch


Given the huge crowds that lined the streets for last Saturday’s parade in Nyack, it’s clear Halloween brings out the fun side in every one of us! All of the old customs and images now with a 21st century spin have made this a festive time for both young and old.

One of the most popular symbols or characters of the season and the most misunderstood, I may add is, the witch. The word witch if from the Old English word “wicca” meaning wise.


Some believed it is from the word wicker as in the wicker brooms used in early fertility rites. With the onset of organized religion, some people refused to accept the rules and belief systems that came along with this new religion.


Pagans, as they were called, chose to follow the Old Ways, celebrating and worshipping the cycles of Nature and the Moon. Most of these Pagans lived in secluded and woody areas—in fact the word pagan means, “one who dwells in the woods.”


Because of early Pagan refusal to adhere to the new Church rule, a religious power struggle ensued. Everyone not following the new religious rule was said to be a witch—and the repression of women made females an easy target.


To convict a woman of Witchcraft meant her property and earthly belongings could be taken. So, who were the witches: the old widow with her black cat? The ugly spinster? The beautiful woman dressed in bold colors? Anyone out of the ordinary was thought to be a witch.



The most well-documented and last outbreaks of witch hunts were centered in Salem, Mass. The name Salem is from the Hebrew word “shalom,” meaning peace. Funny—peace was far from the order of the day in Salem. Between 1691- 1692, 141 people were arrested and tried for witchcraft, with 19 found guilty and hanged, and one pressed to death.



Its odd how the witch hunts really began in Salem, though—it was Salem minister Samuel Parris who unknowingly started the whole craze. Prior to becoming a minister, Rev. Parris was a merchant in Barbados—and when he returned he brought with him a slave couple, John and Tituba. Tituba cared for Rev.Parris’ young daughter and her cousin. Tituba captivated the young girls with tales of her native Barbados and soon had the girls practicing games of fortune telling.


In the winter of 1692, the girls began having fits and displaying bizarre behaviors… what began as fun had now turned into dangerous magic. Rev. Parris not only brought in ministers from neighboring villages but a physician who examined the girls—and when no medical explanation could be found, the diagnoses was bewitchment!

Now, what no one was aware of back then was that there was a form of food poisoning called Ergot found in rye flour that caused hallucinations. But again, add the repression of women to over-zealous parishioners of the church and you have a witch hunt!


Women (and a few men, as well) suspected of being a witch were dragged from their beds in the middle of the night beaten and tossed in a rat infested dungeon to await trial. A witch could only be convicted by her own confession, so torture was an acceptable form of extracting a confession. It’s sad to think how many confessed just to avoid further torture.



Have you ever wondered why the stereotypical image of a witch is an ugly, green-faced hag? Most of these women were dragged from bed under the veil of darkness and beaten to try to extract the confession. Their once normal faces were punched to discoloration; their hair ripped out by the handful; noses broken; teeth knocked out. By the time they were taken to Gallows Hill for execution, villagers saw a less-than-human appearance. Think of that each time you see a green-faced cartoon witch!



Salem was so obsessed with the witch craze that the whole town suffered. Crops and cattle died from lack of attention and people packed up and moved away to escape the madness. The trials ended in October of 1692 after an appeal by Boston clergy headed by a man named Increase Mather who stated, “It is better that 100 guilty witch go free than one innocent person is hung.”



So, as we leave the witch hunts behind and enter the here and now, we come upon the era of the modern day witch. Many people today look back with great sadness at the suffering of so many, yet they are filled with pride and respect for the freedom to worship and carry on this age old practice.


Modern day witches will not celebrate Halloween but Samhain, the new year. So where will you find the modern day witch? You will pass them in the grocery store and the gas station, at the mall and at the library. How will you recognize them? You won’t—they look just like you and I… and you just may know one or two already!

Remember, magic happens.

Maya-Rose DeNoyelles Nash


Donna Merrill
Donna is a well known blogger and creator of "Blogging Magic" - an intensive guide to blogging. "Blogging Magic" is for beginners who are trying to figure out how to bring their blogs to life with tons of visits, comments and social media interaction. It's even for advanced bloggers looking to reach new levels of authority and engagement with their audience.

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31 Responses to Halloween or Samhain? Witch do you celebrate?

  1. Nile February 8, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    I celebrate a little of both. I do have Celtic/ Gaelic ancestry and Samhain goes back even to the keltoi with their connection with nature. The transition of fall is always something I like to see and often pay attention to some of the changes and how nature reacts.

    People often associate it with Wiccan culture, but I’ve been to where it originated and to me it is more than that…it is a part of my family’s past and where we came from.
    Nile recently posted..Has Blogging Become A Chore to You?My Profile

    • Donna Merrill February 11, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

      Hi Nile, I have so many Wiccan friends and celebrate with them. This special holiday is close to my heart because it brings me back to nature. I grew up in NYC and was removed from the nature energy. It was a difficult transition to move away, but now I appreciate it.
      Sharing this with my friends has always been a spiritual time for me.
      Thanks for stopping by,
      Donna Merrill recently posted..Why is Self-discipline important to your Business?My Profile

  2. Cherrie Bautista November 2, 2011 at 6:50 pm #

    In the Philippines, we celebrate “All Souls/Saints Day”. We visit the graves of our love ones who had passed away and spend the day praying and celebrating. I only get to start celebrating Halloween when I moved here to the States. What an interesting history about the Witches. I surely would like to meet one someday 🙂

    • Donna Merrill November 2, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

      Hi Cherrie, Here in America we do the same “All Souls/Saint’s Day” also.
      In fact, in my religion, November 1 is a Holy Day of Obligation, whereby we have to go to church and pray for the Saints and Souls that have gone before us.
      As for Witches, there are so many out there. I’m not talking about people who use that term in a negative way, but real ones, like the author of this article. She is my best friend and business partner in one of my businesses. She lives a life of love and giving. Now that’s a real witch!
      Donna Merrill recently posted..Squeeze Page Magic: Guest David MerrillMy Profile

  3. Holly
    November 2, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    I have never heard of Samhain. It is sad to hear what people had to go through because they chose to believe differently than others… All I can say is that although people still have some crazy beliefs and do mean things,I am glad I live in the present day, where things seem to be much more humane! At least in my little world!
    Holly recently posted..Do I Have To Exercise For The Rest Of My Life?My Profile

  4. Theuns November 2, 2011 at 5:26 am #

    Hi Donna

    Thx for this Interesting info you give to us .

    Well in South Africa some people do Halloween
    But Religion did give it a bad name, because they
    do not know what you just tell us.

    I am over that and last year i attend one my self Doing the Photos for the party. 🙂

    Theuns recently posted..How to Order from the Universe Menu and Get What You WantMy Profile

  5. Joyce Edwards November 2, 2011 at 12:57 am #

    Hey Donna,
    Good story about Hallowween, a holiday I really hate. Bing bong the door bell rings, the dog starts to bark, and a bunch of kids want candy from me. Then 2 seconds later it happens again. Call me a old crotchety lady but what can I say. I did enough the different historical points about this seemingly American holiday. What I heard is that the early church used certain pagan holidays to get the pagans into the Christian religion. That’s why Jesus’ birthday is in December, the wimter solstice.

  6. Donna Merrill November 2, 2011 at 2:31 am #

    I hear ya Joyce! We have so many kids coming to our house, we have to bundle up and freeze on the porch until those little monsters are gone! Dogs have to be locked up in the back room with the radio blasting so they won’t bark. I feel your pain. And Yes…The early church did use pagan holidays into their religion. You have to realize it was a pagan society so they had to do so. There are many pagan rituals and holy days like Christmas in December. The winter solstice is celebrating the coming of the Sun. Christianity is the day the Son was born.
    Thanks for stopping by.
    Donna Merrill recently posted..Squeeze Page Magic: Guest David MerrillMy Profile

  7. Jaden Daniels November 1, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    That was very interesting. It reminded me of being high school. Let me tell you what happen. It is kind of funny now, but wouldn’t then. When I was in high school a rumor got started that my girlfriend and I were witches. People accused us of sacrificing cats and other animals. All this came up because someone over heard us talking about Tarot cards. Anyway, to make a long story short, we had a lot of people come down on us…it was hard to convince some people we were not crazy, and we absolutely couldn’t kill anything.

    Finally, after a few months, the town had someone else to talk about and left us alone. LOL


    • Donna Merrill November 1, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

      Funny Jaden how time cures everything? The association between witches and sacrifices are so misconstrued. I never met a witch that had sacrificed anything accept for his or her time. lol
      Donna Merrill recently posted..Squeeze Page Magic: Guest David MerrillMy Profile

  8. Kimberly Castleberry October 31, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

    A accurate story of the trouble females have faced under the accusation of witchcraft. However, both you and I know that this is an incomplete story of the season and would lead many to assume, as Alexandria above has done that it all stems from that bit of history.

    Samhain being a seasonal point has been celebrated for centuries and dates back far into pagan history under various names. Many religious (including catholocism) admit that the veil between the OtherWorld and this is simply thinner this time of year. We see that in catholocism’s All Saints Day festivals and the like. The costumes again are derived from historical concepts mostly relating to protecting the homes, herds, flocks and communities from things of the OtherWorld. It is also a time of year when it is very easy to make certain connections with those who have passed, hence many visual images that are “funeral” in nature.

    All in all the holiday has a interesting if somewhat spooky history. What happened to women throughout history, throughout the world, under the fear of witchcraft is horrific and awareness must be brought to it. However, it really wasn’t the root of this holiday.

    I do completely agree (and smile as you know) at your statement about Witches amongst us who you will never ever be able to pick out in a crowd. They’re just like you and me, every day people, living every day lives, in every walk of life.

    Blessed Be,
    Kimberly Castleberry recently posted..WTF Is A Tumblog?My Profile

    • Donna Merrill November 1, 2011 at 3:21 am #

      Oh my dear Kimberly. Thanks for the “rest of the story” as you and I well know. I wanted to post Maya’s article to support all her efforts. She works at a store I started years ago…”Mind over Matter” In Nyack NY whitch is still there. I was there for years, but when work got overwhelming, I had to bring in a partner, and who better than her. A true Pagan woman with many children, some adopted, and the biggest heart I ever met. Maya is now running the show in that little spot. It was a difficult choice. EVERYONE knew the psychic in Nyack was at the end of the hall in this building. When I had to move, there were so many ego manics trying to move into that spot. Maya was a long time friend and she was the perfect choice. Back then we were selling our magick candles, Tarot cards, etc. I needed someone that was a TRUE PAGAN to run that show. And here she still is!
      Yes, this is only part of the story, but nonetheless, I broke into that town harassed by so many and stood up for the rights of the Pagan religion.
      Now, acceptable, in that small town, Maya has run a radio show, does interviews in the local papers and so on. Every time she writes an article, I have to spread the news.

      Ahhh Witchcraft! I have studied the history of witchcraft as you stated above, and it’s only a tiny piece the terrible things that went on in that hunt. Thanks for giving more content to my blog. I really appreciate it.
      Donna Merrill recently posted..Halloween or Samhain? Witch do you celebrate?My Profile

  9. marquita herald
    October 29, 2011 at 1:47 am #

    Fascinating article Donna! I was not at all familiar with the term Shamhaim, however I do know a witch. She lives here in Maui and I love getting together with her and just listening to her talk about her about the subject, though I will admit I’ve never pressed her on things we typically associate with witches like spells, potions and such. Thanks for the interesting read!
    marquita herald recently posted..Painless Ways to Gradually Expand Your Comfort ZoneMy Profile

    • Donna Merrill October 29, 2011 at 4:18 am #

      If your friend is a witch, I’m sure she would enjoy sharing about her potions. I find them a great way to concentrate and an aid to meditation and visualization. A magick oil for instance, is made of many different essential oils that can relax your mind and help when you are trying to manifest something. I find it is a great tool to help.
      Donna Merrill recently posted..Halloween or Samhain? Witch do you celebrate?My Profile

  10. Anne Perez October 28, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    Hi Donna
    Thanks for the history lesson – really interesting. I had never heard of Samhain. It must have been a horrible time for those accused wrongly of being witches. They suffered barbaric treatment here in the UK too. Thanks for sharing

    • Donna Merrill October 29, 2011 at 4:02 am #

      Hi Anne,
      When I studied the history of Witchcraft it was so amazing what happened in many countries. It was just madness. But there are Pagans and Witches in today’s world that are not “evil” as people assume they are. They are normal folks doing the best they can do and honoring the earth.
      Thanks for your comment,
      Donna Merrill recently posted..Halloween or Samhain? Witch do you celebrate?My Profile

  11. Nathalie Villeneuve October 28, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    Wow! I just loved to learned about this Donna. It’s funny because last night my daughter Meghann asked me: Mommy, How did Holloween get started? I told her that i had a vague idea so I preferred that we do some research on it so we’d set the story straight…LOL

    This story is a great palce to start! Thanks for sharing it with us!

    Have a great weekend!

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  12. Bobbi Prim October 28, 2011 at 1:36 am #

    Hi Donna! Great information on the history of Halloween and witches. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how a person looks at it! – our family really doesn’t “celebrate” Halloween and haven’t for many years. When my children were very young, there were too many things discovered in the “treats” (thank goodness not in what our children brought home) of too many children. Not that we don’t dress our children/grandchildren in costumes, and we DO take them “trick-or-treating” to family and very close neighbors/friends only … where we live, it’s just too scary – no pun intended – LOL! In fact, we are lucky if we get half a dozen “trick-or-treaters” on Halloween night.

    I remember when we were children, we used to go out all night trick-or-treating and come home with our bags full … we used to get really excited when we got pennies, homemade goodies, etc. In our area, homemade “treats” are unheard of now-a-days.

    This is really sad and very unfortunate for our children, to miss out on all the fun we had as children, but as parents/grandparents, etc. we have to be really careful here.

    I really enjoyed your article, though! I love learning the history of things like this 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • Donna Merrill October 29, 2011 at 3:59 am #

      Thanks Bobbi for sharing. Trick or Treating years ago were wonderful. I lived in Brooklyn NY so you can only imagine how much loot I would come home with. We never ate anything until we got home and mom looked through all the candy.
      I live in a small town where kids come from the rural towns around us and we get hundreds of kids. – With their parents of course- So it is a delightful evening.
      I gave a brief history because of the respect I give to all belief systems. My best friend is Pagan and wrote this article. She is also a great business partner of mine.
      Hope you enjoyed the history,
      Donna Merrill recently posted..Halloween or Samhain? Witch do you celebrate?My Profile

  13. John Gaydon October 27, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    Hey Donna,

    I love this piece. You are brave!

    Halloween was never a ritual in Australia until the US commercial invasion. I doubt anyone here knows the true meaning of the festival falling the evening before All Saint’s Day.

    Wiccan is a very old religion and has great qualities such as the credd, “Do what thou will, but harm no one”. Nabt Christian churches could do with this approach. After all it is sections of the Christian church whol burned people who didn’t agree with them, and tried to ban anyone who had a different idea. It is sad that this still goes on in some US schools.

    Let’s all learn to live peacfully with the other inhabitants on this planet. The world would be a better place for it.

    In the meantime, I will be taking my 5 year old trick or treating on Monday. It will be fun for her.
    John Gaydon recently posted..We Manifest A New CarMy Profile

    • Donna Merrill October 29, 2011 at 3:44 am #

      Hi John, Yes, that good old U.S. Invasion. Another holiday to cash in on lol. This is why I wrote this post – to bring to people’s attention that there are so many different ways people celebrate their religious beliefs on this planet. Pagan’s are usually brushed under the carpet.
      I think that if we celebrate Pagan holidays, Christian holidays, Chinese New Year, on and on we go….People, especially children will identify more with other people’s belief systems and also celebrate it with them.
      I guess I learned this early in life living in NYC, the melting pot of many different people. Celebrating with so many different cultures made me understand people and respect them.
      It is my wish that instead of stereotyping people without knowledge of their backgrounds, that people will learn and share with one another.
      Have fun trick or treating!
      Donna Merrill recently posted..Halloween or Samhain? Witch do you celebrate?My Profile

  14. Alexandria Barker October 27, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    Happy Halloween! Happy Samhain!Great article – really makes you think. Sad that the image of a beaten broken woman is fodder for cartoons and costumes – we’ve got a long way to go, baby.

    • Donna Merrill October 27, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

      Yes we have Alexandriea! I remember when I first opened my psychic shop Mind over Matter. I had the small town crazed. A local Christian collage wasn’t allowed to come in there. Also I was harassed like crazy. But as all things, my persistence of doing what I love and providing the community with stuff they needed drowned out the negativity. Now, Maya is there running thing at Mind over Matter. She has a productive business and is a true Pagan Gal. The first rule of Pagans is “Harm None” How can anyone dislike that? I dedicated this to the Pagan religion and all who taught me about it’s origin.
      Donna Merrill recently posted..Halloween or Samhain? Witch do you celebrate?My Profile

  15. Oliver Tausend October 27, 2011 at 7:49 am #

    Hi Donna,

    thanks for this interesting history lesson. Well, in Europe, we celebrate neither of them although traditionally however Halloween has been seen around here since about a decade in Germany.

    However, Europe has its own tradition in witch hunting, they were sentenced to the stake.

    Were they “normal” people ? Were they “weird” people ? They were definitely victim of other people’s fears and superstition because they didn’t fit – for whatever reason – into the image of “normal” of the people in power. Although we don’t burn “weird” people nowadays, we still force them to fit in, don’t we ?

    Be blessed


    • Donna Merrill October 27, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

      Thanks Oliver, Interesting to know what is going on in different parts of the world. Oh I know about the witch hunts! I studied parapsychology and there was a lot of information about what Really happened and why.
      Today, witches are real people that live normal lives here in the U.S. but practice their pagan traditions.
      I especially did this post because some schools in the U.S. are banning our tradition of Halloween. The kids are disappointed and even shocked…
      I say celebrate EVERYTHING! It is the only way to learn.
      Donna Merrill recently posted..Halloween or Samhain? Witch do you celebrate?My Profile

  16. Anna October 27, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    It was an interesting read, I had no ideas about these.
    Here, in Europe, we concentrate on our loved ones that are gone more, than Halloween, we go out to the cemeteries, decorate and light candles for their souls.
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    • Donna Merrill October 27, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

      Oh yes, Anna that is the true spirit. We honor the souls lost in my religion “Old souls day” But in the U.S. It is celebrated differently. Here we do have a problem because any type holiday that has a religious background is frowned upon.
      This is why I wrote this blog. To give people the idea of Witches today in the U.S. Although I am not a pagan, many people I know are and I honor that as part of our religious freedom.
      Thanks for stopping by,
      Donna Merrill recently posted..Halloween or Samhain? Witch do you celebrate?My Profile

  17. Maya October 27, 2011 at 12:36 am #

    Blessed Samhain and a Happy Halloween

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