Before getting too wrapped up in candy, costumes, and craziness, it’s important to remind ourselves what the season is truly about, and what opportunities it offers us. Samhain is a time for celebration, reflection, and the work of a Witch. There’s no one way to celebrate the season, but I’ve found over the years that the following five things tend to make it much more meaningful.
No matter if you celebrate alone or with a group, there are lots of “little things” you can do to make your Samhain ritual better. The ideas contained below don’t have to be done with grand gestures and sweeping pronouncements; they can generally be done by simply speaking a few words or lighting a candle.
SPEAK THE NAMES OF THE DEAD
No matter what you do this Samhain, say the names of your dead out-loud during your rite. If you are in charge of a public ritual, make sure there’s a moment in there when everyone who wants to acknowledge their dead can do so. This doesn’t have to take thirty minutes either, everyone in the circle can be instructed to say the name of the dead going around in a circle, or you can have everyone speak the names of their dead at the same time. This won’t confuse those we’ve lost, because they will most likely already be with you, but it will make them happy to be acknowledged through voice.
Think about it for a moment, who doesn’t like hearing their name said? Why would the dead be any different? But speaking the names of the dead aloud is also powerful for us, the living. Whispering “Grandma and Gramps” has a powerful effect on me, I assume it does on them too. Don’t believe in souls? That’s fine, remember the saying “what is remembered lives,” and there’s no better way to remember than speaking something aloud.
Even better than speaking the names of the dead, is to take a few moments to talk to them. At most Samhain observances I do more than whisper the names of my grandparents, I take some time to catch them up on the past year, and remind them that I love them. (I find that they are usually around, but it’s so much easier to chat at Samhain.)
HAVE A DUMB SUPPER
Have you ever participated in a dumb supper with everyone around you not so silently eating, clanking their silverware, and chewing? Listening to others eat can be really uncomfortable for some people, but I think being uncomfortable is part of the point when it comes to a dumb supper. That eating is messy (and sometimes gross) is a stark reminder that LIFE is messy and very often gross.
Eating and drinking are two of the best ways to share the experience of being human. We all eat, and we all drink. In my coven we often say “wine shared is life shared” (or “water” or “cider” or whatever else), and it’s true. Sharing food and drink builds and strengthens bonds between people, sharing food with the dead does the same thing too. Sharing food and drink is especially important if you are trying to build relationships with more than your beloved dead, meaning ancestors you don’t know by name.
Making the favorite food of a relative to share at a Samhain dumb supper is a great way to draw closer to a lost loved one. Who doesn’t want to eat their favorite foods? Also, you’ll probably feel their presence around you while you are cooking.
MAKE AN OFFERING TO THE FAIR FOLK (THE FEY)
For the Irish-Celts who first celebrated Samhain, the end of October was not a time to celebrate the dead, but to fear the Fey! They build bonfires to keep the fair folk away, and were genuinely scared of them. While most of us don’t have that sort of fear today, we probably should, and it’s best to keep the Good Neighbors, well, good neighbors, and the best way to do that is to leave an offering.
This Samhain season go outside and leave them an offering of something. Remember too, that an offering should be something that you value. Poor them a glass of wine and leave it in the bushes outside of your house. While you poor it on the ground, acknowledge that we aren’t alone here, and that we share this Earth with other types of beings.
Leaving the Fey an offering will also help connect you to your much more distant ancestors, who also acknowledged the the Fair Folk. They might have known them by different names, but they were a part of most cultures all over the world.
TAKE A MOMENT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR
Most Samhain rituals these days focus on the dead, and rightly so, but it’s important to remember where we are on the Wheel of the Year too. The changes that occur outside our windows are often most strongly felt in the Autumn. For many people temperatures are starting to drop, and the first frost of the year has already arrived. (In some parts of the USA there have already been a few big Winter storms.)
No matter where you live, the sun is now sitting much much much earlier than it did back at the start of September (and will be setting even earlier the week after Samhain as we move to Standard Time in most places), and it’s impossible not to notice. Those of us who garden have mostly dead gardens right now* and Summer’s sunflowers are now brown and dead. The changes going around us outside most likely contribute to the thinning of the veil and should be seen, felt, and experienced.
Even though the coming of Winter is generally not a welcome event in my home, there’s still something magickal about the first cold night of the year. Recently we had to turn on a space heater, and I saw my breath the other night. These might feel like “nothing occurrences” to some of you out there, but to me these are clear indications of the Wheel’s turn, and they connect me to that yearly rhythm and cycle.
REMEMBER THE LIVING
Because of Samhain’s usual focus on those who have left us, I sometimes forget to love and thank those around me that I care about. Samhain is the “Season of the Witch” and taking a moment to remember your fellow Witches has the power to go a long way. Before getting too caught up in offerings, dumb suppers, and rituals, I like to remind friends, family, and coven-mates that I do love them, and that I can hear them too.
Remembering the living is about more than who we know too. It’s about remembering those who are oppressed, marginalized, and are the victims of injustice. There’s a lot of energy moving around us at Samhain, and that energy can be used to help implement the changes that are needed to create a more just and accepting society. The work of a Witch is never done, not even on its most popular sabbat.
*Thanks to living in California, I do have lima bean plants growing right now that I hope to harvest at Thanksgiving.