Ten Ways To Celebrate Samhain

Samhain (pronounced sow-en) is the traditional Celtic holiday of death, endings, beginnings and visionary magic. Straddling the transition from fall into winter, Samhain marks the start of the Celtic calendar year. Considered to be a time when the boundaries between the worlds dissolve, during Samhain the unseen energies of the earth are more apparent and we are able to make contact with the denizens of the Otherworld— including the ancestors, the faeries, spirit guides, guardian angels and our own souls. One of the most important of the Celtic pagan holidays, Samhain has shape-shifted over time to become our contemporary Halloween, but the threads of what this potent holiday truly represents still remain. This is the time of the year when magic walks abroad and reality itself becomes malleable.

If you are looking to honor this olden earthen holiday next week, or simply enrich the practices you already keep, read on for my top ten ways of celebrating this potent pivot in the wheel of the year.

Note: Today, we celebrate Samhain beginning at sundown on October 31st until sundown on November 1st. In the past however, Samhain has also been celebrated according to the moon and the stars. If you wish to celebrate with the lunar calendar just find the closest full or new moon (I personally prefer to celebrate on the new moon as I feel it’s more fitting for Samhain’s new year energy). You can also pinpoint Samhain astrologically by noting when the sun enters 15 degrees Scorpio. More than anything, however, Samhain is a celebration of that imperceptible shift from fall into winter, so know that whenever you celebrate it will be a powerful day.

 

 

10 Ways to Celebrate Samhain

 

1. Cover the clocks
Samhain is a liminal holiday, a time when you slip the bonds of normal reality and access another threshold of existence. You can tune more deeply into this time-out-of-time by covering all clocks (and turning off your phone) from sundown until the following morning. Even just this simple gesture of blacking out your ability to tell time will open up your field of perception immensely, helping you focus on the present moment and all the magic in the unseen.
2. Make an ancestor altar
In Celtic society, as well as many other cultures around the world, this was the time of the year when we could more easily speak with the ancestors. Ancestor altars are a core part of any Samhain celebration. To make your altar, set aside a small space where you can put items that honor your ancestry. I like to gather natural objects, things from the countries my family comes from, and a small dish for offerings. When it comes to old heirlooms or photos, only place items that feel clear and positive to you on the altar. If you want to put something that feels a bit heavy, make sure to surrounded it with lighter objects, asking them to create a protective circle of healing for both this heirloom and the person connected to it. After you gather these items and place them as you feel guided, light a candle in the center of your altar and let it burn for the evening. Leave a few offerings that you know the spirits will enjoy, like black tea, apple slices, or wine. Give thanks for all the vibrant ancestors in your line and ask for healing for those who might need it.
3. Give yourself a Wheel of the Year tarot reading

 Samhain is an excellent time for any kind of divination work. As the portal to the Otherworld (and time itself) is particularly thin, it’s easier to snatch wisdom from the beyond. In Celtic traditions it is also the beginning of the new year, so it’s a perfect opportunity to get a glimpse of what is to come. One of my favorite readings is a Wheel of the Year Spread. Beginning with Samhain, lay out eight cards in a circle, one for each month and a half of the year. Each card will represent a theme you can expect to encounter during that particular season.

 

4. Pick a word for your new year
The Celtics were infamous for their love of language and word-driven magic. As this is the start of a brand-new year, I normally like to pick one evocative word to help me focus on what I’d like to bring into my life for this new cycle. Last year my word was balance, before that I chose sovereignty. This year I’m inviting in presence. I often pick a word intuitively, knowing it’s something I want to work on, but also courting the mystery of how this will actually unfold for me.
5. Have a “dumb” supper

A dumb supper is a traditional Samhain practice of having a meal to honor the ancestors. To make your own dumb supper, set out an extra seat for the ancestors at your table. Lay out a plate of food in front of the empty seat and have everyone at the table eat in silence, reflecting on those who have passed, communicating with them through their mind, and generally being in a meditative space. At the end of the meal, offer that plate of food outside— the ancestors love to come partake through their various nature kin.

 

6. Clear a ghost
One of the side effects of the veil being thin is that the things that haunt us become more apparent. In Chinese medicine ghosts are anything that isn’t yours and doesn’t belong in your space. Ghosts can be old thoughts, beliefs, relationships, traumas, as well as the energetic residue of those who have passed on. One simple way to clear some ghosts is to burn protective herbs in the house. Starting at your backdoor and working all the way to the front, waft the smoke around all windows and doors with an affirmation: “I clear everything that is not mine and doesn’t belong in my space.”  Mugwort, sage and juniper are some of my favorites for this type of clearing work. You can also check out this blogpost for a few more ghost clearing tips.
7. Burn an old memento
Often, we won’t be able to move on to a new phase of our life if we are holding on too strongly to the old. Give yourself a fresh start this year by clearing out your closet of an old love letter, photograph, or memento you are ready to let go. We tend to cling onto these objects, but the reality is that if a nostalgia doesn’t lift you up, it often will create a density in your home that will continue to keep you anchored in a life you are ready to graduate from. Pick a memento that represents something you are ready to release. Create a small fire, a metal pot with a candle nearby will do. Thank this memento for the gifts it brought to your life and then let it go.
8. Journey to Meet an ancestral guide
All of us have within our lineage at least one ancestor who acts as a spirit guide for that branch of our bloodline. This ancestor will not necessarily be one we knew in life. In fact, it’s more common to have this ancestor come from a distant past, a time before written history. Your ancestor might even show up as an animal or plant totem. Undertake a shamanic journey to meet this wise ancestral guide. (Learn how to journey here). Once you make the connection, ask them what latent power or talent is within you now that is ready to come to the forefront in this coming year.
9. Feed the Earth Spirits

The unseen energies that help keep a landscape alive—  including the plant spirits, nature angels, fae and hidden folk— walk closer to our realm of reality during this time. Give gratitude to these beings and all they do to nourish the life force of our earth by leaving an offering outside. I like to gather healthy, unprocessed foods like apples, carrots, or honey, along with any late blooming flowers, and create a piece of artwork to be left upon the earth. Give this beauty to the land, and help her and all her unseen helpers, to feel nourished.

10. Make your last harvest

In Celtic cultures, it is considered unlucky to harvest any vegetables from the garden after Samhain. Before Samhain such crops are food for humans, afterwards they become a feast for the spirits. Restricting our harvesting to the weeks before Samhain ensures that all are fed equally, but it also creates a space of forced rest and rejuvenation for us humans after the business of harvest season. Even if you don’t have a garden, ask yourself what project is ready for its last harvest before it is put to rest for the winter. Is there any ongoing responsibility that you can release for now so that you can have more time to be in stillness? Write down at least one thing and make Samhain the last day you spend harvesting.

No matter how you celebrate, Samhain is a powerful time of the year. With just a little bit of ritual and intention, we can receive an incredible amount of intuition, healing, revelations and life changing direction this season.Interested in a road map to help navigate this otherworldly time? Come join me for Herbs for the Otherworld. Every year this course opens such potent experiences for folks. I’m excited to see what will be revealed with this new turning of the wheel.

 

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