Samhain (pronounced saa-wn) is the iconic witchy Pagan holiday. On this day we honor the last harvest, the dead, the fae, the darkness, and the shift in seasons.
Winter is on its way, if it’s not already here. This is a time of introspection, turning inward, reflection, and making preparations. Samhain marks the start of a new year, so lots of divination is involved on this night as well.
It is the most wonderful time of the year! Samhain is inherently magical with a rich history. And there are several other religious holidays around the same time that all lean towards the same themes.
Samhain is first and foremost a time to connect with the dead and our ancestors. Particularly our loved ones that crossed over to the Other Side within the last year.
There is a veil between our physical world and the Spiritual World where our souls go when we die. Lots of traditional and Neo-Pagan Samhain traditions revolve around connecting with the dearly departed.
On Samhain night, the veil is at its thinnest. Establishing connection with those in the Spirit World is easier than ever.
Almost all Samhain (or similar holiday) myths involve a god or goddess who rules over the dead. Or of the dead coming to visit the living, especially family members and loved ones.
The thinned veil also gives us an opportunity to seek guidance from Spirit. And, according to some legends, if we aren’t careful, certain members of the Spirit Realm could cause mayhem or mischief!
How to Celebrate Samhain
Modern Halloween celebrations usually consist of horror movies, trick or treating, costumes, pranks, and pumpkin flavored everything.
Once you’ve outdone yourself on all the modern funsies of Halloween, why not tap into our ancestral traditions for Samhain? You’re probably already planning on doing some of these!
Enjoy A Final Feast
Our ancestors acknowledged this time as the final full harvest of the growing season. They would often share a feast at this time and begin preparations to store food for winter.
Feasting is something we can do to celebrate any sabbat on the Wheel of the Year. What makes your Samhain feast special is when you set extra places at the table for those you love who are passed on.
You could also prepare your feast in silence, honoring the departed and allowing them the space to arrive in quiet so they too can attend the feast.
It’s tradition to give the departed the first servings of food at the Samhain feast. This is symbolic of their significant role in our lives. An offering to anyone in Spirit entices them to bring guidance and good fortune to you.
Some good foods and flavors to use at Samhain include garlic, rosemary, sage, cedar, clove, cinnamon, honey, apple, fresh bread, pumpkin, nuts, seeds, potatoes, ginger, onions, squash, kale, cabbage, radishes, beets, and other various root vegetables. Think of your favorite, hardy comfort foods!
Samhain Altar for Ancestors
Creating an altar is another celebration that has a place at all the sabbats. For your Samhain altar, add pictures of your departed loved ones. Family, friends, and pets–no one needs to be left out.
You can even post photos of ancestors you haven’t met. Or a totem that symbolizes them. These can even be ancestors from many, many generations ago. This is their time to shine!
With the veil being thin, ancestors will likely come forward to visit and connect with you. Make them feel welcomed.
Use dark, earthy colors to decorate your altar. Brown, black, red, deep green, and orange are excellent. Also experiment with brighter colors like yellow and silver.
Your altar can be that classic “witchy aesthetic” if that’s what you love! You can also keep things simple with just a photo, some candles, and some crystals. The possibilities for your Samhain altar are endless. Get creative!
Divination & Spirit Connection
Because the strong connection between worlds on Samhain night makes an ideal time for divination. Any kind of divination will do–dealer’s choice!
Scrying is especially wonderful on Samhain. This is when you let your gaze soften on a dark piece of glass, crystal ball, a fire, or any sort of reflective surface. This is a very old method of divination, your visiting ancestors may be able to assist you.
Other forms of divination include (but certainly are not limited to) reading tarot cards, reading oracle cards, using a pendulum, casting ruins, automatic writing, bibliomancy, coffee grounds or tea leaves, ceromancy, among countless others.
And if you’re skilled enough, tonight is the perfect night for a séance. Don’t tackle this lightly–only perform a séance after careful study and practice. Ideally with someone who has successfully performed one before. Seances are beautiful, powerful ways of communing with the dead and gaining insight from them.
Old Samhain traditions tell of Spirits coming to our world and needing to be guided. Candles are lit to help direct their ways, lead them places, or attract them to our homes.
Putting candles in the windowsill is a common practice of this. Please use common sense when lighting a candle at all times, especially on a narrow ledge where curtains may be present.
Windows and doors are believed to be gates to other worlds. So a candle placed within the frame is a guiding light to those on the Other Side. People will also line walkways with candles (again, use common sense).
If you don’t want to use a flame candle, an electric one is just as good. It’s all about your intention. Using guiding candles can help your loved ones to cross the thin veil to visit you and possibly impart wisdom.
Bonfire or Hearthfire
While many of us don’t rely on an actual fire to keep us warm at night anymore, bonfires and hearthfires are still an upheld tradition.
The fire itself signifies the shortening of daylight and the nighttime taking over. Old myths say that letting your hearthfire die out on Samhain night will surely bring “bad luck” for the coming year.
You can light your guiding candles using your Samhain fire to spread a bit more magic around. Collect the ashes of the fire the following day to use in later spells or rituals, if you wish.
You can practice your scrying on your Samhain fire as well! Or use it to prepare a hot beverage or delicious treat. Be sure to make extras for the ancestors and the faeries.
I’m confident you’ve made jack-o-lanterns before! They were traditionally made to keep unwanted spirits at bay on Samhain. And you can still make them with this purpose if you choose.
You can also get extremely creative with your pumpkins. They can be as spooky or as adorable as you’d like. Why not paint your pumpkins too? Or decorate them with ribbons and glitter?
Pumpkin carving also gives us lots of yummy pumpkin innards to make. You can prepare a snack for yourself, or roast the seeds to use as offerings.
The darkness is beginning to take over the daylight. This signifies a time of deep introspection and reflection. We will continue to do this all winter long until Yule, when the light begins to take over once again.
You can reflect using your journal, your divination method of choice, or connecting with your Spirit Guides.
This is the start of the new year. Consider how you want to reinvent yourself, what goals you want to achieve, how you want to improve, what you want to let go over, how you want to change your world, what you wish to manifest, and all these other amazing things we talk about at Spiritually Inspired!
I’ve mentioned a few times already how you can provide offerings to those in Spirit. Food is a great place to start with offerings.
If you knew the soul in life, consider offering them something they loved, like wine or chocolate. If you didn’t or don’t know them personally, you could easily offer them treats from your Samhain feast.
Other libations could be milk, honey, beer, mead, or whisky. Other options include cakes, breads, unwrapped candy, or fruit. A little goes a long way.
Anything edible is greatly appreciated by Spirit and the gods and goddess of darkness.
To dispose of your offerings, respectfully pour them down the sink or leave outside in nature (assuming that your offering isn’t potentially toxic to animals or plants).
Other than food, you could offer up prayers or trinkets. Whatever you feel like would be a good gift to show your respect will be received well. It’s all about your intentions behind it.
If you know someone who was buried in a cemetery, you can pay it a visit and do some housekeeping. Rake away leaves, clean up mud or dirt, place fresh flowers, replace broken statues, etc.
You could even light a candle and enjoy a picnic there if you wish. This is pulling from a Día de los Muertos tradition.
If you don’t know anyone in a cemetery or aren’t near someone you know, you could still visit one. Consider how happy a spirit would feel if you cleaned up their grave and left them some fresh flowers.
But of course, do use common sense. No trespassing, no disrespect, and no invading other peoples’ privacy in a graveyard.
Right around Samhain are several other acknowledged holidays with striking similarities. There is Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), All Souls’ Day, Hallowmas, Diwali, Shadowfest, among others.
Despite the great efforts of early Christian priests to erase Samhain, it never died (pun intended).
Other holiday dates were even moved around to better suit the ruling religion of the time. Regardless, Samhain refused to be forgotten. They attempted to add different holidays to overshadow it, but Samhain traditions persisted.
Even today, there are lots of people who are very uncomfortable with the idea of Samhain and the more modern concept of Halloween.
Everyone is free to celebrate their religion as they choose, but I do think it’s important to note the impact of the Christian church on this long-standing tradition of honoring the dead and the darkness.
And that impact is virtually nonexistent.
The cultural significance of honoring the dead and our ancestors has permeated all levels of society. Christians are not exempt from this, either, when they celebrate All Saints’ Day or All Souls’ Day.
Humans intuitively feel the veil between our world and the Spirit world thinning out this time of year. We crave that connection to our departed loved ones and they wish to connect with us, too.
There is nothing wrong, evil, or scary about reaching out to your loved ones in Spirit. It’s actually very beautiful and comforting. Samhain can be a time of year for comfort, insight, and love if you allow it.
If you want to learn more about Samhain, its history, correspondences, and fun ritual ideas, I highly recommend the book called Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween by Diana Rajchel with Llewellyn.