Irish-American Witchcraft: Witchcraft, Samhain, and Uncertain Times

Irish-American Witchcraft: Witchcraft, Samhain, and Uncertain Times October 17, 2018

For many people right now the world is a frightening place and there is a sense of powerlessness and helplessness that is pervading some communities. Truly there is nothing new about this and the world has often been a frightening place, especially for those without social influence or security, but we are in a time where people who may have grown up with those things, or the illusion of them, are suddenly facing feelings of loss of control. I understand why but I also try to remind myself that witchcraft is a tool of people who need to control their wider situations. I’ve written about the power of witchcraft in troubled times previously and I still believe that magic rooted in social need is important and useful. Especially during Samhain when we stand at a time of transition between the darkness of winter and light of summer*.

Photo by the author.

I have always celebrated Samhain as we transition from October to November but there are other holidays that fall around this time of year as well. Some Heathens celebrate Winter Nights in October, marking a celebration of the beginning of winter with a ritual as is mentioned in Ynglinga Saga**. For many pagans this is a time to celebrate those who have died, both ancestors and others; even in some Christian traditions this is a time to acknowledge the dead. In the southern hemisphere the year is shifting from dark into light and people may be celebrating Beltane now. Whatever is being celebrated or acknowledged it is a time that is marked as one of the significant turning points of the year, and with that turning point comes opportunity.

Cleansing

Samhain and this general time of year is a very good time to focus on all forms of spiritual and energetic cleansing. Cleaning is one of those things that it is easy for people to start slacking on but is especially important during times of energetic upheaval or stress.  There are almost innumerable ways to cleanse this but the key is to do it regularly and thoroughly. Incenses and burning herbs are popular, my personal favorites being mugwort or rosemary. Another good option is asperging with either salted water or water that has a few drops of a cleansing essential oil in it. Sound can also be used for cleansing purposes in which case bells work well. This can be done for both people as well as spaces.

Refocusing

Another good thing to consider doing this time of year, and again particularly during difficult times, is to refocus your spiritual practice. This can be done through meditation and spiritual reflection but also more tangibly by taking down one’s altar or shrine area and completely resetting it up. It’s a tedious process but one that is good to do a few times a year (at least) and which offers an opportunity not only for some of the aforementioned cleansing but also for you to reassess what you want to have in those spaces. You may also consider a more in-depth approach that could include going through your books and letting go of those you’ve outgrown or don’t need anymore. you may also want to sit and give some thought to your own beliefs and why you believe what you do. Cleaning out spiritual clutter is something we associate more with spring but it is a useful tool during any transitional time and especially when you are feeling troubled or challenged. This sort of refining and refocusing of spirituality can sometimes turn into a bit of a rabbit hole, but it’s also a great way to strengthen and focus yourself.

Spooky Jack-o-lantern Autumn Halloween Pumpkin via MaxPixel. CC0 Public Domain

Empowering

What makes you feel powerful? Samhain is a good time of year to reconnect to your sense of personal power by remembering what it is that gives you your own feeling of empowerment. This is going to be different for everyone but its a vital thing to keep in mind, and also something that we can lose sight of. Maybe it’s how you choose to dress, or the jewelry you wear, or maybe it’s something you do in your daily routine, but we can all find things in life that make us feel stronger and more powerful. Knowing what these things are lets us control how we use them. I’d suggest giving some thought to what you do or wear that makes you feel your strongest and from there look at how you can utilize that knowledge to your own advantage.

It’s also a good time to do rituals, even something small, for this purpose. Burn a red candle, light an incense that has good strengthening herbs in it, carry a stone like granite. Look in the mirror when you get up and recite an affirmation focused on your own power, maybe something modeled after ‘The Song of Amergin‘. whatever it takes to remind yourself, daily, that you are a strong, powerful, capable witch.

“Hallowe’en.” Chromolithograph postcard by Raphael Tuck and Sons, ca. 1908. Missouri History Museum Photographs and Prints collection. Postcards. n39412.

Spirit Allies and Gods

Another thing to keep in mind that is both empowering to the individual and also important this time of year is reconnecting to existing spirit allies and deities or establishing new connections. This may not apply to everyone, of course, but its a cornerstone of my own witchcraft so I’m mentioning it here. Part of what makes us strong effective witches – in my approach – is our ties to the Otherworld and the spirits there and Samhain is an excellent time of year to reaffirm those connections. You can set some time aside for meditation work or journey work and be sure to give extra offerings to those spirits who you feel protect you or are connected to you.

Making the Most of Samhain

These are all small things, really, but each is important. Each little action to cleanse, to refocus, to empower, to deepen relationship with spiritual allies can make us feel stronger in our witchcraft and can help us during turbulent times to feel more secure and in control. Witchcraft has always been a tool of oppressed people, and Samhain has often been viewed as a liminal time when witches are at their most powerful; it only seems logical then to seize the momentum of this time of year as a witch to make the most of what we are doing.

*I believe this holds true no matter what hemisphere you live in
** In Ynglinga Saga there is a passage which mentions three specific sacrifices made in a year, including one at the beginning of winter to ensure a good year to come. as far as I am aware the exact historic dates of these rituals are unknown and purely speculative.

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