Samhain (pronounced – saah-win or saah-ween) is a time-honoured tradition celebrated as October turns to November. Samhain is a festival of the Dead, meaning “Summer’s End. It is the third and final harvest festival of nuts and berries and a fire festival. All the harvest is in, all is complete, it is the end of the cycle of birth and growth, it is the point of death. The seeds of the harvest have fallen deep into the dark earth, they are unseen, dormant, and thus apparently lifeless.
The God, as Sun King is sacrificed back to the land with the seed until the Winter Solstice, and the Goddess, now as Crone, mourns Him until His rebirth at Yule.
He travels the Underworld learning its wisdom. This is the time of the descent into darkness, of pre-conception, out of which new life, new ideas, will eventually emerge.
Traditionally the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest now. Boundaries dissolve and all is laid bare. It is time to honour and offer hospitality to, our ancestors.
At Samhain the dark half of the year commences. It is a truly magical time. Death is always followed by rebirth and while this is the end of the old year, it is the beginning of the new year. For the Celts the day did not begin at dawn, it began at sunset, it began with darkness. Light is always born out of darkness, they are inseparable, interdependent, and necessary. Darkness is fertile with ‘all potential’.
With the beginning of this dark phase comes the opportunity to rest and reflect on the past and to dream of new beginnings. The seed now hidden in the earth will germinate in its season. Look for the seeds in yourself!
Honouring The Ancestors
Honouring your ancestors is a very special thing to do at this time and can be done in many simple ways.
Think about all those departed souls from your life, both family and friends, children may wish to remember pets even – place photographs of them on your altar. Offer them your hospitality, welcome their presence into your home.
At your Samhain feast, consider laying an extra place for them to join you at the table – cook and eat their favourite dishes, talk about them – remember them, bring them closer.
Candle Ceremony for The Ancestors
This is a wonderfully simple ritual which can be shared with both friends and family, or worked alone. You can include children in it – it begins in darkness and ends full of light.
It’s a great balance to trick or treating!
You will need a supply of small candles, either black or white, or a supply of night lights.
You need a heat proof container or tray of sand or earth to put them in. Place one in the centre of the container from which all the others will be lit.
Switch off all the lights and sit gently in the darkness. Allow the darkness to enfold you.
Ask for the presence of your ancestors to come to you. When you are ready, light the central candle saying
“We welcome our departed loved ones into this home and honour your presence amongst us”.
Allow each person in the circle to spontaneously remember someone who has passed to the Summerlands and remember something about them and light a candle for each person from the central candle: ‘I remember Great Aunt Sheila and her generosity of heart….’.
Allow this to continue for as long as it takes to complete the remembering. You will end with a tray full of radiant candles. When all is complete, give thanks, and allow the candles to burn to completion.
Seed Scattering Charm for the Ancestors
This simple charm is designed to honour the Spirit of those who have passed onto the Summerland. The seeds you scatter will grow in memory, a gift of remembrance to the Earth.
You will need:
A packet of seeds of your choice
A small dish
A small white candle in a suitable holder
A pouch or bag for your seeds
The night before your Seed Scattering Charm, pop the seeds into the dish and light the candle. Think about the person or people you wish to honour and remember, and as you do so say ‘gone from sight but not from the heart. Merry Meet Merry Part.’ Or you can use your own words. Leave the seeds in the dish overnight and let the candle burn down completely – always taking safety precautions. When you are ready place the seeds in your pouch and hold the pouch in your right hand on the way to a place of your choosing. On arrival take the seeds and scatter them, saying ‘You are remembered and held in my heart’. Repeat three times.
Where to do this? You can go to a favourite special place of your choice, a place that holds fond memories of the people you are honouring, or even your own garden – the idea of watching the seeds germinating and growing in honour of people you love is very special. The charm works just as well if you plant the seeds in a small pot.
There are many ways that you can bring the essence of Samhain in to your awareness – below are just a few …
Above all use this time for inner exploration, deep meditation and contacting your deepest wisdom. Slip beyond the rational and the logical and go beyond the sen world. Use this time for collection, sorting and learning, so that when he time comes for action you will have assimilated new knowledge which can be used when needed.
Fear is one of our greatest teachers. Turn to look at what you fear and the understanding it brings.
Seek the truth in darkness and look for ways to find the divine within. Out of difficulty comes power, hope, rebirth, inner strength, wisdom and maturity. Review and assimilate what you have learned in the active phase of the year’s cycle. Prepare yourself for the new year ahead. Nurture your visions, dreams, ideas and direction, so that they may incubate in the dark Winter months ready for when the active phase begins again …
Samhain Nature Walk
Take a meditative walk in a natural area near your home. Observe and contemplate the colors, aromas, sounds, and other sensations of the season. Experience yourself as part of the Circle of Life and reflect on death and rebirth as being an important part of Nature. If the location you visit permits, gather some natural objects and upon your return use them to adorn your home.
Set Up A Samhain Altar
Make a shrine to celebrate Samhain – it could be inside or outside – maybe both! If possible make it in a quiet part of the house or garden so that you can reflect in this place …
Decorate the altar with symbols of late Autumn, such as:
• Black and purple ribbons, crystals, power stones and evergreens • Harvest food such as pumpkins, squash, root vegetables • Nuts and berries, dark breads • Dried leaves and acorns • A cornucopia filled with an abundance of fruit and veggies • Mulled cider, wine, or mead • Hang dream catchers • Gather sprays of dried grass, flowers and twigs with berries still in place – haws, elderberries, reships and sloes
Make an Ancestors Altar
Honor your deceased family members with this ceremony. Gather photographs, heirlooms and other mementos of deceased family, friends, or even pets. Arrange them on a table, dresser, or other surface, along with several votive candles. Light the candles in their memory; while you do so, speak their names out loud and express well wishes and thank them for being part of your life or lineage. Sit quietly and pay attention to what you experience. Note any messages you receive in your journal. This Ancestors Altar can be created just for Samhain or kept year round.
Guide the Spirits
Place a white seven-day candle in the window to guide the deadto the Spirit World. Light the candle and speak these words, “O little flame that burns so bright, be a beacon on this night. Light the path for all the dead, that they may see now what’s ahead. And lead them to the Summerland and shine until Pan takes their hands. And with Your light, please bring them peace, that they may rest and sleep with ease.”
Samhain is also a time to celebrate life in contrast to death, which makes it a great moment to stop and introspect. Reflect on you and your life over the past year. Review journals, planners, photographs, blogs, and other notations you have created during the past year. Consider how you have grown, accomplishments, challenges, adventures, travels, and learnings. Meditate. Journal about your year in review, your meditation, and your reflections.
Kindle a bonfire outdoors when possible or kindle flames in a fireplace or a small cauldron. Write down an outmoded habit that you wish to end and cast it into the Samhain flames as you imagine release. Imagine yourself adopting a new, healthier way of being as you move around the fire clockwise.
Honour and call upon the divine in one or more sacred forms associated with Samhain, such as the Crone Goddess and Horned God of Nature. Invite them to aid you in your remembrance of the dead and in your understanding of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. If you have lost loved ones in the past year, ask these deities to comfort and support you.
Herbs and Spices
There are many plants that tie in closely with Samhain. To name a few: allspice berries, broom, catnip, mountain ash berries, mugwort, mullein, oak leaves, acorns, rosemary, sage, pine cones, and straw. Find creative (and safe; research each before consuming) ways to use them in your cooking and around your house as decorations.
Connect with others. Join in a group ritual in your area. Organise a Samhain feast in your home. Research old and contemporary Samhain customs in books, on-line, and through communications with others. Exchange ideas, information, and celebration experiences. Regardless of whether you practice solo or with others, as part of your festivities, reflect for a time on being part of the vast network of those celebrating Samhain around the world.