Book Review: Samhain – Rituals, Recipes, and Lore for Halloween (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials Series)

Llewellyn's Sabbat Essentials: SamhainLlewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series contains eight small books, one for each Sabbat in the pagan wheel of the year. The author varies by the Sabbat with no author having more than two books in the series. Samhain was penned by Diana Rajchel, who also wrote Mabon. At the risk of being a downer: those are the two weakest books in the Sabbat Essentials series.

One of the reasons that I don’t particularly like this volume is that it’s so heavily Wiccan, and I prefer these books to have a general pagan path. This is because the books are presented as “essential” guides to the Sabbat, so I feel that they have a bit of an obligation to be more general. The other complaint, which is far more important, is that the rituals included in the “Rituals of Celebration” are quite weak. Generally, a good book in this series has a ritual for a solitary, a couple, and a coven; this is a great formula. For this book there is “A Solo Ritual to See Beyond the Veil,” complete with a full page list of supplies, which is just excessive. The ritual feels excessive, with all the anointing and chanting or poorly written phrases that pushes me away from Wicca. Then, if that’s not enough, she invokes Christian ANGELS to assist. Seriously? Did you get lost on your way to mass? Finally, it’s not really a ritual for Samhain, but more of a pseudo-Christian ritual. I was so insulted when I read it that I was beyond words (temporarily, obviously). The two person ritual is the Wiccan “great rite,” which I guess is so great because you have heterosexual sex in the circle, and which I also find very troubling. Are you alone and doing a handfasting? Great, go for it, and for some Sabbats this is very appropriate (though I do think it should be private). Wiccans seem to advocate sex as an integral part of pagan worship, which I could not find more off-putting. Finally, the group ritual is a traditional underworld maze, which isn’t a full Samhain ritual by any means, and is again endowed with all the hokey theatricality you’d expect.

I’m going to pause for a moment and say that I have no issue with Wiccans and realize that there are no two witches whose practice is identical. If this was a Wiccan Samhain guide I never would have bought it, and that’s my big complaint, not with Wicca itself. It’s not my path, but if it’s yours, that’s totally fine.

That being said, the book isn’t all bad. The “Old Ways” section can be a bit rambling at points, and never mentions the horrifying tradition of people donning black face and playing tricks, but for a very general overview it’s fine. There are better suggestions for Samhain celebrations in this part of the book than the “Rituals” section, one of which I referenced in my own Samhain article. The “New Ways” section also has a lot of general information for different paths, which is what I would like out of a book like this.

That being said, I did not find the “Spells and Divination” section to be that helpful because it focused a lot of money and love spells, two types of spells that I really don’t believe in. Others just seemed out of place, like a spell to protect bees. I love bees, but how is that related to Samhain? The “Recipes and Crafts” section was the best part of the book for me, with lots of practical crafts and (happily) all-vegetarian recipes, which I love to see. The book lost me again with the “Prayers and Invocations” section, which I found tedious. Finally, the “Correspondences for Samhain” section was fine, though I did feel some things were out of place.

On the whole, an okay book for Samhain, but I’m still hoping to find better book for this Sabbat. When I do find one, you’ll be the first to know.

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