Llewellyn’s Holidays Series was published in the late 90s and was eventually replaced by the Sabbat Essentials Series. The Holidays Series was what I had as a baby witch, and I decided to start collecting them about a year ago, partially out of nostalgia. While the information in many of them is outdated, there is still a lot of good information in them. In fact, some of the Holiday books are better than their modern Essential counterparts. One of the quirks of the series is that some books are titled the Christian or secular name of the holiday, which is a little odd. “Halloween: Customs, Recipes, and Spells” by Silver Ravenwolf is one of those, but the book, published in 1999, is about Samhain. It is still available on Llewellyn’s website here. A few other notable differences between this Holiday Series and the Sabbat Essentials Series are that the Holidays Series does not have uniform covers/spines or chapter structure, though they are of a uniform size, and that the Holiday Series books are much larger than the Essentials Series books.
Chapter 1 explores the historical origins of Halloween, but has sort of a gimmicky framework. While moving between locations and times the reader is on “Silver Flight 2000,” a sort of broomstick-airplane amalgam. It’s kind of cheesy to me, but I think a lot of other people would find it cute, and it’s only done in this section. Some of the historical Samhain information was interesting, but there were a few notable inaccuracies. The first is regarding “the burning times,” when millions of witches were allegedly killed. This is sort of a boogeyman in the pagan community, and has been debunked by historians, so Ravenwolf’s book shows its age by printing it. The next is that the original scarecrows were human sacrifices, which just rings false. It might not be, but a rudimentary Google search came up with nothing on the subject, and it seems like an unnecessarily gory footnote.
Chapter 2 examines where many of our Halloween traditions (not Samhain, but Halloween) come from, which was really interesting. Chapter 3 is on superstitions, which was also interesting, and these two chapters would be good for baby witches who are just starting out. Witchcraft veterans are not going to read much in these chapters that they don’t already know. Chapter 4 is all about divination and goes into traditional Halloween divinations, as well as divination that can be done on Samhain. The runes section was very detailed, and there are a lot of things in this section that I haven’t seen elsewhere, such as detailed psychometry instructions or how to make a scrying mirror.
Chapters 5 and 6 cover cooking and crafts, respectively. I read in an online review that the candied apple instructions are incorrect, so take the recipes with a grain of salt. Some work for witchlings, too, which is always nice. The instructions on how to make a corn dolly are really helpful since it comes with detailed drawings. I also like the “Samhain House Blessing Potpourri” recipe, which I’m interested in trying out.
Chapter 7 is the final chapter in the book and it covers honoring the deceased. It starts with a really lovely poem, after which Ravenwolf opens up about losing her mother. The chapter is very touching, and you can feel how important it was to her to write. If you have lost someone very close to you, I think that the rituals, offerings, and spells in this chapter would be very helpful. There is a Wiccan funeral included as well that can be done in a traditional setting. Ravenwolf discusses reincarnation here, as well, and does so in a way that I (someone raised believing in reincarnation) found thoughtful. The “Crossing Ritual” included here felt very poignant as well. On the whole, I’d have to say that this is the strongest chapter in the book.
While the book shows its age at times, I would recommend “Halloween: Customs, Traditions, and Spells” to pagans looking for Samhain ideas, doubly so since the “Samhain” book in Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series was weak (to me). Just keep in mind that Ravenwolf does have a specific style, and that not all of the information is accurate. However, it has a lot of practical ideas and some of the best rituals for a somber, respectful Samhain that I’ve read in awhile. Blessed be!