Samhain, also known as Halloween, is the start of the “dark half” of the year. It is a near-universal favorite in the Pagan community with many Witches using it to mark the end of the year; some even call it the Witches’ New Year. Depending on your tradition, Samhain may be the last Sabbat of the year with a new cycle beginning at Yule, while for others Yule ends the cycle and Imbolc is the first Sabbat of the new cycle. Regardless of how you choose to observe the Sabbat, below are eight ideas for Samhain celebrations to add to your ritual or observance, be it solitary, in pairs, in a coven, or conducted from inside the “broom closet.” Remember that Samhain is a six week long season, and many of these celebrations can be done throughout the Sabbat season. For those living in the Southern hemisphere, please see my list of Beltane Sabbat Season Ideas.
1. Ancestor Work: One of the biggest aspects of Samhain’s energy is the increased ability to communicate with ancestors who have passed to the other side. Bringing photos of ancestors to the ritual or to your altar is a beautiful was to observe this connection. You can also tell stories about ancestors, research your own lineage, or send them messages. One of the best ways to send messages to the other side is to write what you want to say on a piece of parchment paper (remember to address it) and burn it in your cauldron, thus sending it to the other side. In the Chinese tradition, burning Joss paper (also called Hell Money) is a way to send literal currency into the afterlife.
2. Candles: No witch is a stranger to burning candles, as they are an integral part of so many Sabbats, rituals, and spells. Fitting colors and their correspondences for Samhain would be: black (banishing negative energy and acknowledging the dark half of the year, death), orange (heightened creativity and energy), purple (increased psychic awareness, can be used in conjunction with divination), and silver (representing lunar energy and the Goddess). For those who have issues with smoke, LED candle are just as effective.
3. Decorate: Samhain is the time of year when we blend in beautifully with all the non-magickal folk out there, so I always embrace decorating for “Halloween.” There are so many sales as well so you can get your fill of plastic cauldrons, faux spider webs, and black cat statues. Let’s not forget the ability to wear all black everything and not call any unwanted attention to ourselves (unlike in the summer). Some will argue against what they feel is the commercialization or parody of traditional symbols. I actually completely respect that opinion, and haven’t decided how I personally feel about it just yet. For the pro-Halloween stance I would argue that 1) so much of our culture is appropriated in a way designed to mute its power, Halloween is a rare example of our culture being (for the most part) celebrated; 2) there is an immense variety in what’s available (including Dia de los Muertos items) that it’s hard to find 100% of everything objectionable; 3) the Lord of Misrule is our thing, so Halloween hijinks isn’t some vulgar appropriation; and, finally, 4) it’s fun. You don’t have to celebrate Halloween to celebrate Samhain, but if you choose to embrace what’s out there, you will have a lot to choose from. There are also stunning traditional decorations available, like the “Samhain’s Magic Circle” print from Poison Apple Printshop which I own and absolutely love.
4. Divination: As a time of the thinning veil, Samhain is a wonderful time to do divination or ask for guidance. If there is also a New Moon on Samhain Eve, which will enhance this effect. I prefer tarot, but you can use runes, scrying, pendulum, or what ever form of divination works for you. Some things to ask include advice for the Sabbat season.
5. Familiars: Along with ancestor work, Samhain is a wonderful time to honor familiars that have passed on to the other side. Adding them to your ritual and/or placing their photo (or small statue, if you have one) on your altar is an effective way to acknowledge their lasting effect on your magick and life. This is especially resonant for me as I feel close to animals much easier than with people and have had as many “familiars” as I’ve had friends.
6. Feasting: Samhain (which means “summer’s end”) traditionally marked the very last bits of the harvest. Because of that, your feast would do well to feature kale, which is present is many Samhain traditions. I posted my personal Vegetarian Potato Kale Soup recipe, which I call Samhain Soup, on the site here. Other items for a feast include pumpkin bread or soup, kale chips, or any dish featuring late fall vegetables that you can dream up. When conducting a Samhain feast you can invite ancestors, leaving a chair empty for them, and/or have a traditional “dumb supper,” where you honor the dead by eating in silence. The food portioned for the ancestors should be left in place overnight out of respect, then disposed of. If you’re in the “broom closet,” having a special Samhain dinner can be done without anyone knowing why the seasonal dishes have appeared.
7. Graveyard Visit/Maintenance: This is something to add to your Samhain observance that has to do with the sanctity that the Sabbat entails, specifically, interacting with the dead. In Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials book for Samhain the author suggested visiting a graveyard and “adopting” an abandoned grave for that day. Some ideas for including this activity are: cleaning the grave by removing debris, bringing an offering (flowers, water, a charm or small item), and sending peaceful energy to the departed. There are local graves around here from the 1800s that have fallen into complete disrepair, so this is something that I would very much like to keep a regular part of my Samhain tradition. Children can be included in this activity regardless of whether they have lost a relative or not. If they have not yet have a relative pass on, this is a good time to demystify death, make it less scary (especially for younger kids), and instill a respect for the departed.
8. Offerings: Offerings come in many forms, but a general rule that I follow is, if it’s at the feast, a portion always becomes an offering. It’s also important to make sure your offerings are biodegradable. Many witches fill jars for varying reasons and then bury them, but that jar will be there for a long, long time. A less beautiful but Earth-friendlier option is to fill a bell pepper or gourd (pumpkin, anyone?) with the contents you would put in a jar. Traditional Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls are offerings to the dead and are not meant to be consumed, this tradition can be paired with your gravesite visit as well. With offerings it’s best to go with your instincts while keeping in mind what the recipient would appreciate, be it a share or something with specific meaning.
I hope you find this list helpful and have a beautiful Samhain season, friends!