Yes, yes…. all us witches are very excited about Samhain (Pronounced Sow-in)… to the non-magical, curious folks reading this, that’s Halloween… our New Year and one of the most Sacred of the Sabbats to Pagans and Witches.
I still get giddy as I count-down the final days leading up to it…. (so what if I’m like a 7 year old trapped inside…. Samhain to me is like Christmas to everyone else!) And I find it marvelously ironic because I always dreaded New Year’s Eve and those damned resolutions we know we’ll never see through as we count down to midnight. Intentions are marvelous, but empty if they aren’t backed up by action.
And that is something witches understand, which is why Samhain is so thrilling. You see, all those things we endured the year before, loss of loved ones who have passed on, financial troubles, personal problems, on Samhain we have the opportunity to not only make all that has gone wrong right again, but we are also given the unique opportunity to revisit those we’ve lost, love and miss with far more ability than any other time of the year. We also have the opportunity to manifest all the delightful goodness we want to draw into our lives in the coming year. (Don’t get me wrong, the pumpkins (and pumpkin latte’s) the vibrantly colored leaves that crunch beneath my feet, the cool, crisp air and the decorations all make me jump for joy too (plus, it’s the one month out of the whole year I can walk around town in full regalia without anyone giving me a sideways glance).
Samhain is the Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. It is celebrated from sunset on October 31st to sunset on November 1st, or about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Samhain marks the ending of the wheel of the year, when leaves of green turn the color of a roaring fire, fall from their branches and return to the earth: ashes to ashes so to speak. The earth becomes quiet, with the coolness of winter approaching in the air. (If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am obviously in the Northern Hemisphere). As spring brings new life with budding flowers and trees, the fall brings the death and final rest of the same. Wildlife settle into the warmth of their nests and trees, their caves and caverns and even under ground. The finches and robins cease to sing quite so loudly, and the call of crows replace the morning song of the blue jays. Everything slows and sleeps.
Samhain is the perfect time for us to look at wrapping up the old and preparing for the new in our lives. Think about all the things you did in the last twelve months. If you have left anything unresolved, now would be a good time to resolve it, and not bring it into the new year with you. Meditate on mistakes you have made and the lessons you have learned from them. Take forth that knowledge and those lessons into the new year.
But what does this have to do with the dead?
On Samhain, the veil between our world and the spirit world is at its thinnest, and witches take this time to honor our ancestors and others who came before us. I mean, how cruddy would you feel if you realized after passing that a year later, no one even acknowledged your life any more? Can you just imagine how delighted your great-great grandparents must be knowing and being present at a ritual that honored them? I know that I personally would be thrilled! If you’ve lost a loved one in the past year, Samhain is the perfect time to celebrate their memory!
I know, I know… I need to pump the breaks a bit on my excitement over all this, because let’s face it, when I or anyone else of a witchy persuasion start talking about talking to spirits and raising the dead, the rest of the mundane world get’s this image in their head:
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, right?
If we’re lucky, our loved ones will return to communicate with us from beyond the veil, offer advice, and/or protection and guidance for the upcoming year. A couple of years ago when we held the ritual in the back yard, my father later made his appearance in my daughter’s room, flickering the lights and all, sending all of the children running down stairs screaming (Which I’m quite certain amused him). What typically happens when we invite our loved ones for that longed-for visit, this is what happens:
Think Patrick Swayze, Whoopie Goldberg Ghost experience (the end of the movie) but with a lot less dramatization. It’s a visit, nothing more, nothing less, and very rarely ever as profound and played-up as what you see in the movies….. but sometimes it does happen.
Now, if the thought of summoning a loved one lost scares the hell out of you (and it does most) you can honor them just as nicely by placing a photo of them in a frame, placing it upon a side table and lighting a candle in front of it. Perhaps anointing the candle with some of grandma’s favorite perfume or leaving a dish of their favorite candy (my father loved peanut M&M’s) will also entice them to gently let you know they are still with you, be it by a visit in your dreams that evening, the flickering of the candle’s flame when there is no discernible draft or window open in the room or a soft, static electric feeling touch upon your arm.
If you’d like to really get into it, and have a bit of a more elaborate set up, here are some altar ideas I’ve found scouring the web (beginning with my own ancestry altar– it’s a bit bare at the moment because I decided to photograph it after I removed everything on it, cleaned it and then began setting it up again)…… but the most important thing is to make it personal. There really is no one right or wrong way to set up an altar dedicated to honoring your loved ones…my only advice would be if you do not want your altar to serve as an entry point for the spirits, then do not place it in the West end of your home, as the West is the gateway of the dead.
Have fun erecting the sacred space of your ancestors, and as you add each item, think fondly of them and of the memories your shared together while they were here on this plane with you…..
Have a Blessed Samhain )O(
Hands: “Come To Me” by Zatsepin Alex
Model: Elisanth: https://www.facebook.com/model.elisanth
Ancestor Candle Holder: http://itsy-bits-and-pieces.blogspot.com/
Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Altar: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/11/01/163549325/day-of-the-dead-decoded-a-joyful-celebration-of-life-and-food