Popularly celebrated as Halloween, October 31st is the pagan holiday of Samhain (pronounced SOW-un).
In addition to its role as a harvest festival, Samhain is a time when the veil between the worlds of form and spirit thin, and the wheel of the year transitions into its colder and darker half. At Samhain, we feel called to bravely gaze beyond this veil: into our shadows, our fears, and our darkest depths. We’re also uncommonly inspired to make contact with our ancestors and beloved dead.
Nourish your spirit by exploring the more profound aspects of Samhain with these spells, rituals, and celebration ideas.
Samhain Celebration Idea #1: Create an Altar to Your Ancestors or Beloved Dead
In cultures around the world, Samhain is 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 simple but profound: take a night off from electric lighting and to light your home with nothing but candles and maybe firelight. There couldn’t be a better night for it 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).
Samhain’s thin veil lends itself to communication with the other side. So get out that tarot deck and start reading. Just be sure that you’re courageous enough to gaze into the darkest and most hidden parts of your psyche.
(Not sure how to do a tarot reading? Here’s how to get started.)
Do you have a crystal ball? Gazing into it will be especially likely to yield powerful results on Samhain 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 black ceramic bowl of water will also work in a pinch). 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.
Of course, other forms of divination will be appropriate too.
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 for Samhain, 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, but be sure not utter a single word. Let all communication be silent.
As Starhawk says, “Where there’s fear, there’s power.” On Samhain, we are poised to tap into that power. 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.
Samhain Celebration Idea #7: Leave an Offering for Hecate
Hecate embodies deep magic and the crone archetype. 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.
Samhain Celebration Idea #8: Communicate with Your Cat
Traditionally considered psychopomps (beings who help escort spirits to the realm of the dead), cats are experts at gazing beyond the veil of form and spirit. Communing deeply with your feline friend can be a wonderful Samhain activitiy. Also consider presenting your cat with an offering, such as a new toy or special treat.
Samhain Celebration Idea #9: Burn Sweetgrass or Copal Incense
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 incense 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: ideal magic for Samhain.
Marigolds are perfect for Samhain because they open the door between the worlds and facilitate a sense of connection between the living and the dead. Marigold is 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.
Whatever celebration activities you choose, honor the magical energies at work and go deep into this most magical of magical holidays.
Did you try one of these Samhain celebration ideas? What did you think? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.