Samhain (pronounced saah-win or saah-ween) is a festival of the Dead, meaning "Summer's End." Samhain is celebrated at the end of the harvest, a time just before the inevitable plunge into the depths of darkness. It marks the start of the winter season—the coldest part of the year.
This transition is also celebrated as the beginning of the spiritual new year for practitioners, which is also why it’s nicknamed "The Witches’ New Year."
Traditionally, Samhain marked a time to put away agricultural tools and retreat indoors. Without the work to do planting, tending and harvesting crops, people had time to think about and plan the future, reflect on their ancestors and the past and spend time with loved ones who fill their present. Fires were lit to help wandering spirits on their way, and offerings were given in the names of the gods and the ancestors.
Modern witches—who are less preoccupied with agricultural timing—view Samhain as a time to honor things coming to death and the cycle of rebirth. We are entering a period of darkness as winter approaches.
You may find you are feeling more attached to family and friends. It is time to harvest the natural, earthy energy and loving energy that we need from our family and friends and ourselves. Take time to remember things that are really meaningful to you. It's a time of reflection and honoring our ancestors, and everything that is wonderful about life.
There are some who believe there is a thin veil that separates the world of spirit from the physical world and that it is thinnest at Samhain. While the veil is thin, dead ancestors can visit.
Samhain is celebrated in many different ways, over the course of several days and nights, and usually include a series of solo rites as well as ceremonies, feasts, and gatherings with family, friends, and spiritual community.
In the northern hemisphere, many Pagans celebrate Samhain from sundown on Oct. 31 - Nov. 1. Most Pagans in the southern hemisphere time their Samhain observances to coincide with the middle of their Autumn in late April and early May, rather than at the traditional European time of the holiday.
Others celebrate Samhain on the nearest weekend, on the Full or New Moon closest to this time or a bit later, to coincide more closely with the astronomical midpoint between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice.
You can celebrate however you choose.
Here are a few ways to decorate and celebrate this time of year.
1. Take a Meditative Nature Walk
Spend time watching the trees throughout the year and see them as a symbol of your own life. Look at all the paths we take as a tree branches in many directions and the cycle of growth and decay as they develop and go through the seasons. Now many trees have lost their leaves, which will decompose and return their wonderful nutrients and energy back to the earth. Just as our ancestors have returned their energy to the earth before us and we will become one with the earth in the future.
2. Decorate a Samhain Altar
On your meditative walks, make sure you collect beautifully colored fallen leaves, acorns, bare branches, fall-berries etc. Collect whatever you find that means something to you and brings joy to your heart. Other things to use for decorating:
- Skulls, skeletons, grave rubbings, ghosts
- Harvest food such as pumpkins, squash, root vegetables
- Nuts and berries, dark breads
- A cornucopia filled with an abundance of fruit and veggies
- Mulled cider, wine, or mead
3. Surround and Protect Your Home with Pumpkins
Place pumpkins both outside and inside your house. Pumpkins represent luck and divination. In the Gaelic tradition turnips were carved with scary faces to scare away the undead and low vibration spirits that lurk around when the veil is thinnest. These were the precursors to jack-o-lanterns.
4. Set Up an Altar for Lost Loved Ones
Celebrate loved ones and honor your heritage by putting pictures of loved ones in a prominent place in your home. These can be pictures of those you knew and loved well and those your did not know but are still part of you.
5. Reflect and Meditate on Your Ancestors
Light candles for your ancestors and bring them goodies (like the things you collected on walks) that symbolize their part in the cycle of life, returning to nature and the earth. During this time reflect on how loved ones are part of you whether you knew them or not. Meditate on them and remember what they brought to your life. If they brought joy take that with you, if sorrow remember what you learned from them.
The witches new year is the last time we have life and growth. Winter brings cold, dark "death" which has it's own value to be discussed at a later date. For now, it is important to harvest the living, growing energy as it takes it's last breath, and stay one with nature. When we get away from that, we become sick and angry. We become imbalanced and can't think clearly. Remember your place in nature and the cycle you are part of. Think about those that came before you, reflect on their lives and what they have given to your life.
Bonus: Acts of Service
- Clean of gravesites
- Dedicate memorials
- Offer food to the dead
- Volunteer at nursing homes
My top ten choices of stones that can be helpful dealing with the many emotions and themes of this season would be Moss Agate, Amethyst, Bloodstone, Garnet, Hematite, Jade, Moonstone, Obsidian, Pyrite, Clear Quartz, Smoky Quartz.
- SPIRITUAL FOCUS: ancestry, beginnings, bereavement, change, courage, death, endings, faerie, hunting, other worlds, preservation, reincarnation, rest, survival, wisdom
- MAGICAL FOCUS: confrontation, healing, hope, interdependence, love, preparation, protection, release from old bonds, renewal
- SUGGESTED WORKINGS: divination, needfire, road openings
- Black: darker half of year, grief, impending winter, mourning, night, protection from evil, sleep
- Brown: ancestors, decay, earth, faery folk, healing, hibernation, nature, roots
- Gray: neutrality, rest, silence, storms, uncrossing, the veil
- Orange: allies, change, delights, the hearth, inner warmth, sustenance, transformation, transition
- Yellow: change, harmony, health, hope, light, optimism, transition
- Silver: the goddess, the inner self, mirrors, the moon, shadow work
Follow my Samhain board on Pinterest for more ideas!
How do you celebrate Samhain? Tell me your stories on the Mumbles & Things Facebook page or comment below.