Samhain, (Sow-in) an ancient pagan Celtic festival that is Gaelic for “summer’s end,” a day to bid good-bye to warmth and light. The ancient Celts believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest during Samhain, thereby making it the ideal time to communicate with the deceased and to divine the future.
Following the triumph of the Roman Empire over Celt-occupied lands in the 1st century A.D., the Romans combined many of the Celtic traditions, including Samhain, with their own. This day evolved into All Hallows’ Day or All Hallowmas, “hallow” meaning “to sanctify.”
Years later, the Roman Catholic Church designated November 1 as All Saints’ Day, in honor of all Catholic saints. It was celebrated with a mass, bonfires, and people costumed as angels and saints parading through the villages. November 2 brings All Souls’ Day, a holy day set aside for honoring the dead and departed.
Just as November 1 was once called All Hallows’ Day, October 31 was called All Hallows’ Eve. Over time, All Hallows’ Eve was shortened to Halloween!
Trick-or-treating is said to have been derived from ancient Irish and Scottish practices in the nights leading up to Samhain. In Ireland, mumming was the practice of putting on costumes, going door-to-door and singing songs to the dead. Cakes were given as payment which now have been replaced by sweets.
Halloween pranks also have a tradition in Samhain, though in the ancient celebration, tricks were typically blamed on fairies.
This also marks the thinning of the veils between us and the spirit world.
I believe in every religion, tradition, and culture there is a day where you honour the deceased in the family and different rituals to pay homage and respect to all those who have come before you, our ancestors.
As I have been raised in India, in a Muslim family, I am aware of the days and celebrations in Hindu culture, that is celebrated as Shradh to honour the ancestors and in Islamic Culture as well there is a day where you honour the relative who have passed away by visiting their graveyards.
The only thing our ancestors need from us is acknowledgement and forgiveness.
We can create our own ritual to honour our ancestors by setting up an altar in their honour, preparing the food that they loved as an offering and doing some forgiveness practices like Ho'oponopono Prayer.
However, there are other ways to celebrating Samhain
Samhain Nature Walk
Take a meditative walk in a natural area near your home. Observe and contemplate the colors, aromas, sounds, and other sensations of the season. Experience yourself as part of the Circle of Life and reflect on death and rebirth as being an important part of Nature. If the location you visit permits, gather some natural objects and upon your return use them to adorn your home.
Decorate your home with Samhain seasonal symbols and the colors of orange and black. Place an Autumnal wreath on your front door. Create displays with pumpkins, cornstalks, gourds, acorns, and apples. Set candles in cauldrons.
Gather photographs, heirlooms, and other mementos of deceased family, friends, and companion creatures. Arrange them on a table, dresser, or other surface, along with several votive candles. Kindle the candles in their memory as you call out their names and express well wishes. Thank them for being part of your life. Sit quietly and pay attention to what you experience. Note any messages you receive in your journal. This Ancestors Altar can be created just for Samhain or kept year round.
Feast of the Dead
Prepare a Samhain dinner. Include a place setting at your table or at a nearby altar for the Dead. Add an offering of a bit of each beverage being consumed to the cup at that place setting, and to the plate, add a bit of each food served. Invite your ancestors and other deceased loved ones to come and dine with you. To have this as a Samhain Dumb Supper experience, dine in silence. After the feast, place the contents of the plate and cup for the Dead outdoors in a natural location as an offering for the Dead.
Learn about family history. Contact one or more older relatives and ask them to share memories of family members now dead. Record them in some way and later write accounts of what they share. Give thanks. Share what you learned and have written with another family member or friend. Add names of those you learned about and wish to honor to your Ancestors Altar.
Visit and tend the gravesite of a loved one at a cemetery. Call to mind memories and consider ways the loved one continues to live on within you. Place an offering there such as fresh flowers, dried herbs, or a libation of water.
Reflect on you and your life over the past year. Review journals, planners, photographs, blogs, and other notations you have created during the past year. Consider how you have grown, accomplishments, challenges, adventures, travels, and learnings. Meditate. Journal about your year in review, your meditation, and your reflections.
Select an area of your home or life as a focus. Examine it. Re-organize it. Release what is no longer needed. Create a better pattern. Celebrate renewal and transformation.
Kindle a bonfire outdoors when possible or kindle flames in a fireplace or a small cauldron. Write down an outmoded habit that you wish to end and cast it into the Samhain flames as you imagine release. Imagine yourself adopting a new, healthier way of being as you move around the fire clockwise.
Using Tarot, Runes, Scrying, or some other method of divination, seek and reflect on guidance for the year to come. Write a summary of your process and messages. Select something appropriate to act upon and do it.
Honor and call upon the Divine in one or more Sacred Forms associated with Samhain, such as the Crone Goddess and Horned God of Nature. Invite Them to aid you in your remembrance of the Dead and in your understanding of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. If you have lost loved ones in the past year, ask these Divine Ones to comfort and support you.
If you encounter distortions, misinformation, and/or false, negative stereotypes about Paganism and Samhain in the media, contact the source, express your concerns, and share accurate information. Help eradicate derogatory stereotyping with courteous, concise, and intelligent communications.
Connect with others. Join in a group ritual in your area. Organize a Samhain potluck in your home. Research old and contemporary Samhain customs in books, periodicals, on-line, and through communications with others. Exchange ideas, information, and celebration experiences.
Regardless of whether you practice solo or with others, as part of your festivities, reflect for a time on being part of the vast network of those celebrating Samhain around the world.
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