In addition to its role as a harvest festival, this is traditionally seen as a time when the veil between the worlds of form and spirit is exceptionally thin, as the wheel of the year transitions into its coldest and darkest half. As such, we have the opportunity to bravely gaze beyond this veil: into our shadows, our fears, and our darkest depths. It’s also a time when we’re especially empowered to make contact with our ancestors and beloved dead.
If you’d like to nourish your spirit by celebrating the more profound aspects of this ancient holiday, here are some places to start.
Create an Altar to Your Ancestors and/or Beloved Dead
In cultures around the world, this time of year is often seen as a time to honor our family members who have come before as well as our beloved dead. Place a candle near a small framed picture of anyone in the spirit realm whom you’d like to honor, as well as one or more offerings of something they enjoyed during life (a favorite flower, food, or drink for example).
It’s quite an inspiring and mind-expanding thing to take a night off from electric lighting and to light your home with nothing but candles (and possibly firelight). And there couldn’t be a better night than Samhain, as we honor and embrace all things darkness-related. You might also consider playing some music that fits the mood, such as Dead Can Dance or Dead Man’s Bones (although listening to the sound of the wind and a crackling fire would be similarly appropriate).
The thin veil lends itself to a more easy and natural communication with the other side. So it’s the perfect night for a good, thorough tarot reading. Just be sure that you’re courageous enough to gaze into the darkest and most hidden parts of your psyche.
Similarly, water or crystal scrying will be especially likely to yield powerful results on this night. If you’ve never done this before, it entails asking a question, relaxing your body and mind, and gazing into a crystal ball or a bowl of water. Let your eyes go out of focus, and then see what you see in your mind’s eye, as well as with your physical eyes. Just be sure to cast a circle around yourself first so that you’re spiritually safe and protected.
In the Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells, Judika Illes writes, “Dumb Suppers are ritual meals enacted between the living and the dead. ‘Dumb’ indicates…that these meals (and any communication) are conducted in silence. While the dead are invited to attend, all cooking and serving is done by the living.” To host a dumb supper, invite any deceased people you’d like, and set the table for them. Then, imagining their presence at your table, cook and serve a meal precisely as you would for a living dinner party, except don’t utter a single word. Let all communication be silent. Oh, and be sure the lighting is nice and ambient. (If candlelight alone is too dark, consider twinkle lights, himalayan salt lamps, or just really dim lamps.)
As author, activist, and spiritual teacher Starhawk says, “Where there’s fear, there’s power.” And on Samhain, we are poised to tap into that power, particularly if we’re in a brave sort of mood. So write them out: your 5 biggest fears. Then take a little time with each one and let yourself visit the worst case scenario: what is it you’re so terrified of? The more proactive you get with (safely) facing your fears, the better friends you become with them and the less likely they are to debilitate you and steal your power.
If ever a goddess were the embodiment of the crone archetype (so popular this time of year), it’s Hecate. A most wise and powerful goddess who rules over the crossroads (a transition point from one realm to the next, much like Samhain), she can help us tap into our own vast wellspring of wisdom and power. According to Christian Day in The Witches’ Book of the Dead, it’s considered best to visit a crossroads between midnight and 3AM if you want to invoke Hecate’s support by leaving her an offering. (Any intersection will do, but a more desolate one is preferred.) Wine, honey, or honey cakes are all good choices and can all be left on the earth itself.
Traditionally considered psychopomps – beings who help escort spirits to the realm of the dead – cats are naturally predisposed to gazing beyond the veil of form and spirit. Simply taking some time to commune deeply with your feline friend can be a wonderful way to honor the energies in the ether on this most magical day. Consider presenting him or her with a offering beforehand, such as a new toy or special treat.
Sweetgrass braids or incense can be burned or smudged to open a doorway of light between this realm and the next, and to summon sweet spirits into your home. Copal can be used in a similar way. Both have the added benefit of cleansing away and banishing all forms of negative energy and creating a bubble of powerful spiritual protection.
In The Magic of Flowers, I wrote that the marigold “opens the door between the worlds [and] facilitates a sense of connection between the living and the dead.” As such, this flower is quite appropriate at this time of year. It’s associated with death and rebirth in both India and South America, and is frequently featured on altars to deceased loved ones in Dia de los Muertos celebrations.