Many Pagans are solitary practitioners, either by choice or by necessity. But a lot of Pagan activities for Samhain are designed for large groups. In 2014 and 2015 I wrote a series of rituals for those working alone on the Wheel of the Year. Every year they’re near the top of the list of most popular posts – here’s the Samhain ritual.
But maybe you don’t want to do a ritual. Or perhaps you’re part of a group that holds its rituals on the Saturday nearest the holiday and you don’t want to do a second ritual. Here are eight things you can do to celebrate Samhain as a solitary Pagan.
1. Hold a Silent Supper
Sometimes called a Dumb Supper, this is something you can do by yourself or with a group of friends.
Cook a nice dinner – as fancy as you can. If there are traditional dishes in your family, or if a favorite ancestor had a favorite dish, be sure to fix them. Set a place for your beloved dead, and invite them to join you.
Then when the food is ready, eat in silence. Take your time – this is not a meal to be rushed. Listen. Listen with more than your ears. What do you hear? Who do you hear?
When you’re done, thank your beloved dead for joining you.
2. Clean a cemetery
Samhain is a time to contemplate both ancestors and death, and where better to do that than in a cemetery. Whatever you do or don’t believe about what comes after death, our bodies remain here and eventually return to the Earth, from whence they came. Something of our ancestors lies in cemeteries.
If you have ancestors (of blood or of spirit) buried nearby, this is a good time to tend their graves. If you don’t, or if you feel moved to do more, find a cemetery that needs cleaning and pick up trash and pull weeds. Most large public cemeteries have groundskeepers, but small private ones may not. And there are still some cemeteries that have been abandoned – those in particular need our care.
Check with landowners first – some are rather protective of their cemeteries, even if they don’t care for them as well as we’d prefer. Halloween is often a time of mischief and vandalism – make sure they know why you’re there. And be respectful: the vast majority of cemeteries are Christian sites full of Christian dead. That said, prayers for the dead are always appropriate.
3. Look through old family photos
Some families have shelves full of photo albums. When I was growing up, our old family photos were in the center drawer of my mother’s china cabinet. A few years ago my mother sent many of them to me – I asked her to label them as best she could. They’re now in a box on top of one of my book cases.
Regardless of where your old family photos are stored, Samhain is the perfect time to dig them out and look through them. See someone you knew? Remember them. See someone you never knew? Call their name. See someone you don’t recognize and whose name is lost to you? Speak to them, and ask them to speak to you.
That which is remembered lives.
4. Create an ancestor shrine
Don’t just throw all those pictures back in the box. Take a few of them out, put them in frames, and use them as centerpieces of a shrine to your ancestors. Add keepsakes and mementos.
Then tend your shrine. Speak to your ancestors regularly (Monday is my day for ancestors). Make offerings to them. Call their names. And then listen for their presence.
Here’s a video on ancestor devotion with fellow Denton Pagan Linda Masten.
5. Read The Journey Into SpiritSamhain is about our ancestors. It’s also about the inevitability and universality of death. Our mainstream culture denies death and tries to hide it away, but death will find us all – better to prepare for it now.
There is no better resource on death and dying than The Journey Into Spirit by Kristoffer Hughes. It’s really three books. The first is Kris’ story of his early encounters with death, his response to the call of the Reaper, and his early experiences working for Her Majesty’s Coroner. The second is a very helpful, very down-to-earth look at grief and the process of bereavement. The third is a speculative look at the world of spirit and what comes after death.
At 312 pages this book isn’t something you can skim through in a free hour. Take the time you need to read through it contemplatively. When the time comes you’ll be glad you did.
6. Plan your funeral
Everyone deserves a funeral they would appreciate, whether that’s a solemn mourning service or a rowdy wake. Or both. But if you don’t tell your family and friends what you want – and especially if the people making decisions for you after you die are Christians – you’re not likely to get it.
The time to plan your funeral is now, when you’re healthy and expect to live forever. If you wait till you’re on your deathbed, you may not be able to do it.
Maybe you want to plan the whole service. Maybe you just want to pick out the music. Or maybe you just want to be assured that your funeral will be led by someone who understands your beliefs and not by some Protestant minister called in by the funeral home.
Whatever you want, write it out, put it in an envelope and label it clearly. Put it with your will and your advance directive (you do have an advance directive, don’t you?). Then give copies to the two or three people who are likely to be organizing your funeral.
When the time comes, they’ll be glad you did. And so will you.
7. Give out candy to trick or treaters
Halloween has roots in Samhain, but it’s become its own thing: a secular celebration of spooky stuff, cosplay, and sugar overload. It’s a fun tradition, but it only works so long as we support it. Fundamentalists want to shut it down, and more than a few suburbanites complain about “those people” coming into their neighborhood. Halloween needs our support.
Trick or treating usually starts early. Unless you’re participating in a large public Samhain ritual on October 31, you’ve got plenty of time to answer the door for an hour or two, then do your own Samhain observances after they’re done.
Don’t be “that house” – give the best candy you can afford. And no comments about “aren’t you getting too big for this?” If a kid puts on a costume, give them the candy. They can grow up when they’re good and ready.
So turn on your porch light and share in the delight of miniature monsters collecting candy for Halloween.
8. Do divination for the coming year
This will be my 25th Samhain as a Pagan. Almost every year I’ve done a Tarot reading for the Celtic New Year that begins November 1. I also look back at last year’s reading. How did I do? What did I miss? What can I learn, from the reading and from the experiences?
Like all magical workings, divination works best when it’s tightly focused and limited in scope. “What will next year be like?” is a vague question that’s likely to yield vague answers. But it can prepare you for the general themes of the coming year, and it can push you to ask more specific questions that can bring more specific answers.
However you celebrate, may your Samhain be deep and fulfilling!