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Friday, October 22, 2010

Samhain/Halloween/All Saints

The Festival of Samhain marks the ending and beginning of the Celtic Year. Samhain (pronounced "Sow-in") comes from the Irish Gaelic and means "Summers End". Samhain  is held on Oct. 31st and is more commonly known as Halloween. It is a very important date as it represents a time to honor our ancestors, the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the Witches New Year. It is believed that on this day, the veil separating this world from spirit world is at its thinnest. It is on this day that we pay tribute to our dead, tie up all loose ends and reap a wonderful harvest.

  With the rise of Christianity, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints' Day, to commemorate the souls of the blessed dead who had been canonized that year, so the night before became popularly known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or Hollantide. November 2nd became All Souls Day, when prayers were to be offered to the souls of all who were departed and those who were waiting in Purgatory for entry into Heaven.

Samhain was an important agricultural observance. It was when the final harvest was taken and the folk were now dependent on stored food, hunting and slaughtering of animals for survival. Herds were culled to eliminate the weak and unnecessary and to ensure that the limited amount of food would go around for the next six months. In this aspect, Samhain is a holiday of plenty and feasting, laying in a layer of fat before the winter, and gathering together for safety and protection. Samhain is the time when we connect with the vital forces of nature and make ourselves ready for the long descent into winter

Samhain is also a time when the veil separating our world, the mortal realm, and the world of the Gods and spirits becomes thin. As such, it is a good time to commune with the recently departed before they continue their journey from death to the "Summerland" - the realm of the Gods. There they can enjoy an eternal paradise of feasting, joy and plenty, until they are ready to cross back over to our realm and become incarnate beings again.

In the past...Death was never very far away, yet to die was not the tragedy it is in modern times. What was of great importance to these people was to die with honour and to live in the memory of the clan and be honoured at the great feast Fleadh nan Mairbh (Feast of the Dead) which took place on Samhain Eve. (S. McSkimming,)

Samhain, as the beginning and ending of the yearly cycle, can be viewed as any other "New Years" celebration.. It is a time to reflect on that which we've brought into our lives, and that which we need for the times to come. Connecting with our roots and examining the directions we need to grow. We feast with the ancestors and ensure the continuing vitality of our people, be it ourselves, our family or the community in which we dwell. Death doesn't necessarily mean physical death (though it can mean that), but more productively, it can be seen as an inevitable heavy change or transformation. Something old must be gotten rid of to make room for something new to be able to come in. Use the magic of this time to say good-bye to an old habit or addiction, an old relationship, or anything else it is time to leave behind.

Some Rituals and Rites to Celebrate Samhain

Decorate your home and/or alter with the colors black and orange. Black represents the death of the Sun God and orange represents the Sun God's rebirth. Also use seasonal fruits and vegetables such as pumpkins, squash, apples and pomegranates. Another decorating idea is the use of decorative skulls and gravestone rubbings (putting a piece of paper up against a grave marker and gently rubbing coal, pencil or crayon across the paper until an impression of the stone is left on the paper).

Place candles in the window to help guide the spirit travelers.Samhain is a time to remember those who have been lost over the past year and to acknowledge that they are still with us in spirit. Light a candle and place it in a window (one that is free of drapes, curtains or other flammable materials) to help light the way for the spirits of those who have passed away.

Place cider, fruit and cookies outside for your ancestors to enjoy while on their ghostly travels.Most of us only think to leave plates of food out at night when we are expecting someone jolly and bearing gifts, but the tradition is really rooted in Wiccan tradition intended to honor the dead and help them depart the land of the living peacefully. Leave a plate of food in the window where you place your candle and think of any loved ones you have lost over the past year as you do so. Choose foods of the season or, if you are making the offering in remembrance of a specific loved one, leave foods that were their favorites.

Have a harvest feast and give thanks for the plentiful crops. Giving thanks will ensure that next year's crops will be just as plentiful.

Because this is a time of endings or starting over, take a piece of paper and write down a character trait or bad habit that you would like to change. Light the paper on fire and place it in a fireproof bowl.

Since this is a harvest festival, collect food to donate to a food bank so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of a "harvest"

Carve a turnip.The practice of carving hollowed-out turnips, known as “Samhnag” in Scottish Gaelic, dates back many hundreds of years. The turnips were turned into lanterns by placing a burning ember or small candle inside to commemorate the souls in purgatory. The small lanterns were also placed in windows to ward off the evil dead. The scarier the face, the more effective it was at keeping malevolent spirits away. Pumpkins were an American adaptation. The shape and colouring of turnips actually look more like a skull.
Carve a pumpkin.  Toast and eat the seeds in appreciation of the fruits of the season.

 Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Children go in costume from house to house, asking for treats such as candy or sometimes money, with the question, "Trick or treat?" The word "trick" refers to a (mostly idle) "threat" to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given. In some parts of Scotland children still go guising. In this custom the child performs some sort of trick, i.e. sings a song or tells a ghost story, to earn their treats.

The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays dates back to the Middle Ages and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland and Britain

Pick some apples. Apples are a traditional fruit of the autumn season, but they actually play key roles in multiple Samhain rituals. Make a dish with fruits of the seasons like apples or pomegranates to celebrate the bounty of the earth. Bury the seeds afterwards to usher in new growth for the next year's harvest. Cut an apple in half, place five bay leaves in the center in the shape of a star, and bind the halves back together with black or red ribbon. Bless the offering in a traditional Samhain ritual and bury it afterwards as a symbol of love for the God and Goddess.

Light a fire. Bonfires are great for keeping away the chill of a crisp early autumn evening, but they are also symbolic during Samhain. After lighting your bonfire take a moment to write down any aspect of your life that you want to get rid of; it can be a part of your personality, something that has been causing you unnecessary stress or worry or a negative situation that has left you with feelings of anger, worry or regret. Focus on why you feel you need to be rid of this thing and how doing so will better your life. Cast the paper into the bonfire and watch it burn. As you do, imagine that negative aspect disappearing with the ashes of the bonfire and let it go.

In many agricultural societies, a popular pastime at Samhain was that of divining the name of one's future lover. Some revealed a face, others an initial or even a full name. These traditional methods were practiced in rural societies for centuries. You can use them today for your own divination.

Unmarried women were told that if they sat in a darkened room and gazed into a mirror on Halloween night, the face of their future husband would appear in the mirror. However, if they were destined to die before marriage, a skull would appear. The custom was widespread enough to be commemorated on greeting cards from the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Apple Divination
Apples have always been popular tools for foretelling the future. There are a number of traditional methods in folklore for seeing who one's lover might be.

•Peel the apple, keeping the peel in one long piece. When the peel comes off, drop it on the floor. The letter it forms is the first initial of your true love's name.

•Wait until midnight at Samhain, and cut an apple into nine pieces. Take the pieces into a dark room with a mirror (either hanging on the wall or a hand-held one will do). At midnight, begin eating the pieces of apple while looking into the mirror. When you get to the ninth piece, throw it over your shoulder. The face of your lover should appear in the mirror.

•If a girl has more than one potential lover, peel an apple and pull out the seeds. Place a wet seed on your cheek for each boyfriend. The last one left stuck to the skin represents the suitor who is the true love.

Water Divination

Water has always been known for its magical properties, so it's only natural to use it for divination workings. Try one of these on Samhain night.
•At midnight on Samhain, go to a lake and gaze into the water. You should see your lover's face reflected in the lake before you.
•Fill a cauldron with water, and then light a candle. Drip the hot wax into the water, and see what shape it forms. The shape will indicate the profession of your future lover.
•Find a moving body of water like a stream or river. Select a piece of wood to represent the person you wish to be your lover, and throw it in the water. If it floats downstream, he will be true and constant. If the wood gets caught up on the bank, or sinks, your lover will be unfaithful.

Food Divination

There are a number of divinations that use foods, baking and cooking as their focus. Some of these are still practiced today.
•Scottish Bannock Divination: in Scotland and northern England, a girl would bake a bannock cake in the evening. In complete silence, she walked to her room and placed the bannock under her pillow. Her dreams that night would show her the face of her lover, and in the morning she ate the bannock.
•To find out if you'll find love in the coming twelve months, separate an egg and drop the white into a glass of water. If it sinks immediately, love is forthcoming. If it floats on the top of the water, you'll spend the next year alone.
•Take two nuts, one for yourself and one for your lover. At midnight on Samhain, place them on a grate over your fire. If they burn well, you'll have a long and happy relationship. If one nut pops or burns, it means one of you will be unfaithful

How to Perform a Samhain Ritual

Samhain marks the end of the Pagan Wheel of the Year. Celebrated on Halloween night, usually at midnight, it's not about performing evil magic or costume parties. The Samhain ritual is a time to remember the dead and to plan for the coming year. It's a time of contemplation as we move into winter.

Instructions.Things You'll Need:

2 tablespoons of sea salt

White candle

Frankincense and myrrh incense

Relaxing music

Black, orange and/or gold clothes and jewelry

Obsidian or other black stone

Apple cider with cloves and cinnamon sticks

Apples in all colors

1Spend time writing down your goals for the coming year a week or so before your Samhain ritual. Concentrate on what you truly want to achieve. Make your goals reachable but ambitious. Collect objects or draw pictures that represent your goals.

2Add 2 tablespoons of sea salt to a hot bath. Light a white candle and incense of frankincense and myrrh. Put on music that relaxes you and helps you remember the good times in the past. Meditate in the bath on the deceased relatives whom you loved and visualize yourself being cleansed by the salt water.

3Wear black, orange or gold clothes and jewelry for your Samhain ritual. Buy a black stone, preferably an obsidian stone as black as you can find, from a jewelry or gem store. Bury it somewhere a week prior to Samhain to purify it for ritual.

4Make cider with cloves and cinnamon sticks for your Samhain ritual. Pumpkin bread is a nice alternative to pumpkin pie. For an interesting combination of flavors, roast or bake red potatoes and apples side by side. Apples in all colors also make beautiful altar decorations.

5Decorate your altar with the things that represent your goals and create the magic circle. Remember those who've been a comfort to you throughout your life and wish them joy wherever they are. Then concentrate on your goals for the coming year. Write down your goals as soon after the Samhain ritual as you can.

A Day of the Dead Altar

Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico on November 1st and 2nd. It's a time to remember deceased loved ones and honor them. November 1st was for remembering children that had passed on, November 2nd was for remembering the adults. Day of the Dead is a festive occasion, a time to celebrate, much like a family reunion. Making a Day of the Dead altar can be a way for you to honor the life of someone who was important to you, or remember your ancestors. There are no hard and fast rules about how the altar should be made. Be creative and make something that looks attractive and is meaningful to you.

Here's How:

1.The arch

If you have long sugar cane stalks, tie one to each of the back legs of the table and join them at the top (tie them together with string or use tape). Then, if you want, you can decorate the arch, attaching flowers to it. The arch represents the passage between life and death. If you can't get sugar cane stalks, get creative and make your arch out of other materials.

2.The base

Place boxes or crates on the table where you will build your altar in such a way that they create tiers so that the elements of the altar can be displayed attractively. Put a tablecloth over the table and boxes so that the boxes are hidden. Then place papel picado (buy direct) around the edge of the table and each layer.


Place a photo of the person to whom the altar is dedicated on the top level of the altar, in the center. If the altar is dedicated to more than one person, you can have several photos, or if your altar is not dedicated to anyone in particular, the photo can be omitted and it will be understood that your altar is in honor of all your ancestors.


Place a glass of water on the altar. Water is a source of life and represents purity. It quenches the thirst of the spirits.


Candles represent light, faith and hope. The flame guides the spirits on their journey. Sometimes four or more candles are placed together to form a cross which represents the cardinal directions, so that the spirits can find their way.


You can place flowers in vases or pull the petals out and scatter them over all the surfaces of the altar. If you use cempasuchil (marigolds), the scent will be even stronger if you pull out the petals. The bright colors of the marigolds and their fragrance are synonymous with Day of the Dead. Fresh flowers remind us of the impermanence of life.

7.Fruit, bread and food

Seasonal fruits and special bread called pan de muertos are usually placed on the altar, along with other foods that the person enjoyed in life. Mexicans usually place tamales, mole and hot chocolate on the altar, but you can use whatever fruit and other food are available to you. The food is a feast that is laid for the dead to enjoy. It is believed that they consume the scents and the essence of the food.


It is customary to burn copal incense, which clears the space of any negative energy or bad spirits, and helps the dead find their way.


1.If you don't have time or the materials to make an elaborate altar, you can make a simple one with just a photo, two candles, some flowers and fruit. The important thing is that it's meaningful to you.

2.Sugar skulls are a great addition to a Day of the Dead altar. Making them can be a fun project. Learn how to make sugar skulls, or purchase some online:

3.Get ideas by looking at photos of Day of the Dead Altars.

What You Need:

•A table, shelf or flat surface on which to build your altar

•Two long sugar cane stalks (or other material) to make an arch

•Boxes or crates to create levels

•A tablecloth and papel picado

•A photo of the person to whom the altar is dedicated

•A glass of water

•Flowers, preferably marigolds

•Fruit, bread, and other foods

•Candles and incense

•Things that the person enjoyed in life

Happy Halloween,

I am linking to Cindy's Show and Tell Friday


  1. Enjoyed your Gaelic Samhain stories! (I am part Irish.) So interesting!

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