Samhain (pronounced saa-wn) is the third, and last, of the harvest festivals to many pagans/witches. For those like myself that enjoy Halloween, this is a time where we can go into shops and buy “witchy” decor with the rest of society. While some witches eschew anything that resembles the “stereotypical hag,” there are some of us that are quite comfortable being the dark crone. And why not? Samhain has always been about the shadows as it comes at the moment those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are being plunged into the murkiness of the season. The daylight has been eluding us, and after Samhain, the days will be even shorter for a time.
This turning of the wheel of the year brings us to the second time the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. This is perhaps why Samhain and Halloween are often confused by many. However, Samhain does not have at its core the eating of candy and the ritual fearing of the dead.
There is a neolithic passage tomb at the Hill of Tara in Ireland, named The Mound of the Hostages, that is aligned with the Samhain sunrise. In fact, many important events in Celtic mythology begin or occur near the time of Samhain. There was a time that Samhain was scary. In days long ago farmers prepared their harvests and prayed that they would have enough to make it through the long, harsh winter. At both Beltane and Samhain, bonfires were lit which were believed to have protective and cleansing powers. At Samhain in particular, during the shortening, darker days the bonfire mimicked the sun, fueling growth and holding back the darkness.
In modern days Samhain is less about fearing the cold, dark, months and celebrating this opportunity to commune with those long past. Witches will prepare dumb suppers for their guests and spend time using divination to speak to their ancestors.
I was raised Espiritista and spent many a day with my parents in weekly meetings with other Espiritistas. These meetings always held time at the end for the group of mediums to allow spirits to come forth and speak. The idea of conversing with those no longer with us is not foreign to me. Perhaps what is foreign is the idea of only doing this twice a year. In my practice I speak to my ancestors on a regular basis. I also speak with my spirit guides daily. When it comes to Samhain I am contacting the spirit world as a celebration of my family line and the connection of the spirit world to the physical one. I allow any messages from the other side to come freely without prodding.
While I like to celebrate sabbats with my coven, Samhain is a deeply personal sabbat. We all prefer to celebrate alone and get together the day before or after simply to enjoy each other’s company and eat delicious fall favorites like caramel apples and mulled wine. While this year is different, it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate. Zoom calls are the norm now. In fact, due to this new normal many of us might be able to relate to the fears associated with the Samhain of old as we continue to struggle against this enemy which took hold back in March and will be following us into the dark. Samhain might be a good time to give thanks for having gotten this far and make offerings to your Gods or guides for a safe winter ahead.
It is also a wonderful time to erect a Samhain altar. For all you secular witches, do not fear, this is the perfect altar for you. How does a Samhain altar differ from a regular altar? The focus is on your ancestors, not the Gods. After casting a circle you can build an altar with items associated with fall such as gourds or various colored leaves. Some items I like to use for my Samhain altars may include:
A crystal that is good for communication
Bones/Ashes - this can be anything from skulls of animals to ashes of those departed. Animal skulls can provide that link between the worlds.
Incense so your wishes go up to the spirit realm
A divination tool to help you communicate.
A candle or bonfire to hold back the darkness.
Food and drink to enjoy and share with the spirits
Anything else you feel strongly connected to.
At the center, you can also place the photographs of loved ones no longer here. You should sing, play music, recite poetry, and create an environment that is inviting to any spirit wanting to come by. Always be sure to thank the spirits for coming by before releasing your circle.
If you choose to work with the Gods you can either work with your patron deities or select a god or goddess who you have worked with in the past who has a special connection with the underworld. They can help provide safe passage for the spirits who may want to visit with you.
Lastly, don’t forget to laugh and be happy for we should feel joy at being able to connect with the other side as they are truly joyous at the opportunity to be with us. Wishing you all a blessed Samhain. And don’t forget to tune in to the WitchSpace podcast on Samhain! It’s a great way to get through your day as you prepare for your celebrations for later on in the day.
This post has been authored by Nori Negrón, WDA Head Witch and teacher. She's got two courses in our platform readily available for you! You can listen to her podcast WitchSpace on iTunes, Spotify, Podbean and more!
Brought to you by Maria Alviz Hernando, WDA Tarot Teacher, and Blog Coordinator.