The veil thins as we reach the end of October. On the 31st day of this autumn month, deep within the night, comes the ancestral energy that confounds us all other days of the year. This is the start of Samhain. Lasting the night of October 31st into November 1st, this sabbath is the midpoint between the Autumn equinox and Winter solstice and an important holiday for many people. How is it celebrated? And what rituals can you conduct to welcome in your loved ones? Learn all there is to know here!
Pronounced SAH-win, Samhain is one of the sabbats in the wheel of the year and an important pagan holiday for various different religions and cultures. Originating from Celtic traditions, it is the final harvesting time of the year and the sabbat that shepherds in the dark half of the year (Winter). It is, in our terms, their New Year, so to speak. The Celtic Druids were said to celebrate Samhain for at least three nights, in which the harvest would take place, and then the celebration of feasting and rituals would commence to welcome the thinning of the barrier. The barrier, of course, is what separates the physical and spiritual world.
The final days of October and early November usually denote a thinning of the barrier in countless other cultures. Días de Los Muertos, the Mexican holiday which celebrates ancestors and passed relatives, is quite similar to Samhain. Halloween, which is a direct descendant of Samhain, follows some traditions. Using gourds to scare off goblins and ghouls, wearing costumes to blend in with the spirits crossing over; all of these traditions began with the druids and their rituals.
Modern pagans, Wiccans, and witches all have their own traditions when celebrating Samhain. The general principles remain the same: ancestors who crossover with the thinning of the veil are honored through altars and prayers, a feast is prepared with the recent harvest, and merriment is shared with all who wish to participate. Preparing for Samhain is the same as preparing for any other sabbat! Take into consideration the seasonal colors and herbs and the nature around you. Samhain in particular is a festival celebrated at night, so look into nature walks that are safe to do in the dark and night festivals like the Lunar Faire.
The most important part of Samhain is the thinning of the barrier. Your ancestors are looking for a place to rest for the night, so consider making an altar for them. Layout the foods that they liked and any mementos they may have left behind. I have the t-shirt of my late uncle, and when Samhain comes around I’ll lay it with a picture of him to help him find his way to our home. Think of this altar as a way of guiding them back to you for a night of peace and reunion! You can find more ways to prepare for and understand Samhain here!
Samhain’s common symbols are much more in the public eye than any other sabbat! Use these signifiers in your practice and celebration.
Orange, black, green, purple, red, and gold are significant colors for Samhain. Unlike Mabon, which features both black and white as significant colors, Samhain focuses solely on black as this holiday is usually celebrated at night and we are already entering the darkest time of year. Place a black candle in a carved gourd (it is Jack O’Lantern season, after all!) to protect your home from any dark spirits. Light gold, red, and orange candles to help aid your ancestors in returning home. Purple is the color of intuition and psychic energy. Wear purple to increase these factors within yourself.
The black cat is an important symbol for witches everywhere. A familiar of wit and dexterity, it is a symbol of Samhain for its bright mind and dark fur. Despite their importance to this sabbat, be sure to keep your own black cat indoors during the Halloween season. Many people have harmed black cats out of fear or curiosity, so it’s best to be safe and keep your furry friends close!
Apples, pumpkins, and acorns are the three major botanicals to keep an eye out for during Samhain. Celtic druids would bury apples in the ground to feed the dead spirits and keep them placated for the rest of the year. Pumpkins were not originally a symbol of Samhain, but have grown in popularity due to their versatility. Halloween popularized them as a means to scare off evil spirits, so many modern witches follow this very practice. Acorns are thought to bring good fortune, and as the Oak King lays down to rest for the remainder of the year, be sure to carry a token of him with you to fend off the darkness of winter.
There are countless ways to celebrate Samhain. I have collected a few rituals that I do every year to hopefully inspire your own ways to celebrate!
Baking is a very integral part of many pagan’s Samhain rituals. Samhain Bread is a particularly important component of many altars, as it is said to feed both the living and dead. Remember, every recipe is a little different!
With our ancestors present, Samhain becomes a wonderful time to ask them for advice or guidance. One of the easiest divination tools to pick up is tarot. Feel free to use the internet or a tarot book to aid in readings!
Lay your card pile out in front of you and tap on the top card three times. Think of a question you want to be answered, and as you think, begin to shuffle the deck, ensuring each card gets a feel for your energy. Finally, split the deck until you find a pile you most resonate with. Pull three cards and allow your ancestors to guide you on how to interrupt them. Once the reading is finished, thank the spirits who aided you and set them on their way.
In Victorian England, cemeteries were more similar to parks than somber places for the dead to rest. Families would picnic among tombstones and lovers would walk beneath willows, all while living with the spirits that frequented these gravesites. Cemeteries are nothing to fear. They are simply a final resting place for the souls who have passed on. With this in mind, consider doing a cemetery walk this Samhain before the cemeteries close. Consider life and death and the barrier between and greet the spirits coming over to celebrate the thinning. Ask questions, thank an ancestor, or wish luck to the wandering souls. Just be sure to have some protection; a satchel of dill should do you good!