Samhain Folklore - Halloween Superstitions and Legends

Young witches holding broom
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While we Pagans are celebrating Samhain on October 31 (or at the beginning of May, if you're one of our southern hemisphere readers), for many of our friends and neighbors, this is the Halloween season. No matter what you choose to call it, or how you're celebrating, this time of year has been a source of superstitions and folklore for a very long time. Many people, including a lot of non-Pagans, believe that there is something ethereal and magical about this night. 

The Spirit World

There is no other night in the Neopagan calendar that is so richly associated with the spirit world. Some people refer to it as a night when the "veil" between our world and the spirit realm is thin. 

  • People were often cautioned that if they heard footsteps behind them on the night of Samhain, they shouldn't turn back because it may be a spirit following them.
  • If you host a dumb supper and no one speaks, the spirits are far more likely to show up.
  • It was believed that ringing a bell on Samhain kept away evil spirits.
  • Burying animal bones in front of your house on the night of Samhain will keep evil away, according to some legends of eastern Europe.
  • Samhain is a good time of year to work on communicating with the spirit world. Reach out to your ancestors, and see what they need you to know.

Birds and Animals

Birds, cats, and other animals are often associated with misfortune if you happen to see them during the Samhain season. Although many people don't truly believe in these superstitions any more - and often dismiss them as "old wives' tales," there's still a bit of a cultural aspect to them. You may not really think black cats are bad luck, but when one crosses your path, it may give you a reason to pause, just for a moment, and wonder.

  • Black cats were once seen as bad luck. Remy Melina at LiveScience says that the black cat's bad reputation dates back to the Dark Ages, when witch hunts were at their peak. Elderly, solitary women often found themselves accused of witchcraft, and their pet cats were said to be their "familiars," or demonic animals that had been given to them by the devil. Another medieval myth told that Satan turned himself into a cat when socializing with witches.
  • One old folktale from Appalachia says that owls flew down on Samhain night to eat the souls of the dead. According to mountain legends, an owl hooting at midnight signifies death is coming. Likewise, if you see an owl circling during the day, it means bad news for someone nearby.
  • If the bats come out early on Samhain night, and fly around, it means good weather is coming. During the Middle Ages, the bat was associated with witches, dark magic, sorcery, and even talking to the dead. People in rural Scotland and northern England suspected bats of being messengers between witches and the devil.
  • Some people believe that if you see a spider on Samhain, it harbors the spirit of a dead ancestor, watching you... so don't squash it! Some parts of the world see the spider as a negative and malevolent being. In Taranto, Italy, during the seventeenth century, a number of people fell victim to a strange malady which became known as Tarantism, and it was attributed to being bitten by a spider. Those afflicted were seen to dance frenetically for days at a time. 


For many of us, this is a perfect night to do some divination. If you've ever thought about giving scrying a shot, take advantage of Samhain's mystery and magic to see what sorts of things are in store for you. Scrying is one of the best known forms of divination, and can be done in a number of ways, but essentially, it's the practice of looking into some sort of reflective surface to see what sort of metaphysical messages appear. You can make a scrying mirror to keep handy for divination any time of the year, or use fire, or even a bowl of water under a moonlit night.

Even though Samhain isn't traditionally associated with love, it still features in a number of prominent divination practices related to matters of the heart.

  • Keep a sprig of rosemary and a sixpence under your pillow on Samhain night, and you'll dream of your future spouse.
  • Ever go bobbing for apples at a Halloween party? In England, everyone knows that the first girl to successfully retrieve an apple will be the first to marry!
  • In parts of England, it was believed that if a maiden carried a lantern to a well on Samhain night and held the light above the water, she would see the reflection of future husband.

If your divination needs are a bit more complex, and you need answers to specific questions rather than vague, general ones, legend has it that Samhain is a good time to brush up on your Tarot reading, pendulum work, or other divination skills. Give it a try and see what messages unfold!

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Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "Samhain Folklore - Halloween Superstitions and Legends." Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, Wigington, Patti. (2020, August 27). Samhain Folklore - Halloween Superstitions and Legends. Retrieved from Wigington, Patti. "Samhain Folklore - Halloween Superstitions and Legends." Learn Religions. (accessed March 27, 2023).