Samhain October 31st
An important date in the Pagan/Witch calendar as it marks the Feast of the Dead. The end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Samhain (pronounced Sow-wen) is a pagan festival originating from an ancient Celtic tradition, when it was believed that the spirits of the dead returned to earth after the last harvest. This is the time of the year when the veil or border between the physical and spiritual realm is thinnest, making it the best opportunity for interacting with departed ancestors and to communicate with spirits. It’s a time of death and resurrection, of new beginnings and fond farewells, a time to honour the dead and to celebrate those who have passed. Samhain is also celebrated by many as the old Celtic “New Year”.
The celts believed that some of the spirits that came through the veil, could cause trouble and damage crops, so they left offerings of food to placate them. People would also carve a turnip or beet with a demon like face, often with a candle in the middle and place it outside their home for protection and to ward off any evil spirits.
The modern day Halloween (or All Hallows Eve) practice of trick or treat is based loosely on this custom, where the children dress up as witches, ghosts and ghouls, receive a sweet treat before they go on their way and carved pumpkins (easier to carve than turnips) are set outside with candles in them.
Nowadays, we often struggle to find the time for rituals and activities and sadly some are unable to be as open as they would like. Celebrations are personal, don’t feel guilty if you do not have time or are unable to perform elaborate rituals. Here are a few simple activities that you might enjoy doing to celebrate Samhain.
- Clean a room or area in your home. Many find this time of year just as important for cleaning and clearing.
- Light a bonfire or hearth fire.
- Carve a turnip or pumpkin.
- Cook a favourite meal
- Smudge your home.
- Set an extra place at the meal table to welcome any spirits who may wish to join you.
- Have a dumb supper. (Prepare a feast for family and friends and eat in silence in honour of your ancestors).
Rituals celebrating Samhain include bonfires, dancing, feasting and building altars to honour our ancestors. It’s a time to remember and celebrate those who are no longer with us. We are all different and what rituals suit one person may not suit another. Adapt an activity or ritual to what feels right for you. You can make it as long or as simple as you wish. Here are a few ideas.
- Decorate your altar in autumn colours. Black and/or orange candles. A chalice filled with water or wine. Photos or mementos of the departed who you wish to honour. The last of the harvest from your garden. Acorns, leaves or dried flowers. A figure made from dried plant stems, lavender or wheat. Skulls, crystals or small statues. Whatever feels right for you. Once you have finished, light a candle and offer a prayer to the souls you wish to honour.
- Find a quite space where you can sit and be comfortable. Prepare and clear the area by smudging with sage. Light a candle and hold a photo or something that reminds you of the person you wish to honour. Sit and allow your mind to clear. Meditate until you feel relaxed. Explore messages you may wish to impart to your ancestor or just reflect on your memories, then allow your mind to wander and be at peace for a while longer. When you are ready, slowly bring yourself back to the present moment and allow any spirits to peacefully return to their own realm and your memories to subside.
- Take a meditative walk out in nature, by the sea, in woods, by fields or in your local park. Look for and think about the colours, sights, sounds and smells of the season. Reflect on death and rebirth as being an important part of life. If possible collect some of the natural objects you find on your walk to use to decorate your altar or house.
- Visit and tend the graves of loved ones. Bring to mind your memories of them and reflect on how they might continue to live on within you or how they influenced your life and that of others around you. Leave some fresh flowers or dried herbs as an offering.
- Light a bonfire outdoors, build a hearth fire inside or just make a small fire within your cauldron. Find some plain paper and write down an old habit that you wish to break. Throw the paper into the flames and imagine the problem disappearing into the smoke and yourself taking on a new and healthier habit instead.
Being with those we love and honouring those who we have loved but have now passed on, is what Samhain is all about! If you are alone, be with others in spirit and in your thoughts. Whatever you choose to do, do what’s right for you and what brings you peace.