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Samhain: How to create a ritual or altar

sabbats
October 30, 20225 min read

Samhain, pronounced Sow-in, is an ancient pagan Sabbat originating from the northern European regions, Norse, Celtic, Gaelic traditions. The historical evolution of the day makes sense of our current day holiday of Halloween and it's traditions. Reclaiming the ancient ways of connecting with the seasons, growing food, to religion and spirituality and celebratory helps us stay attuned to our ancestral lineage along with assisting us in doing our personal growth work here and now. It's also a way to connect with the mystical side of life, balancing out the practical of day-to-day life.

October 31st is typically the date of Samhain, the official "witches new year." In the ancient tradition, this marks the end of harvest, the third and final marker, and the beginning of a new year. Take note of how different things felt just a month ago. People would gather together for their last harvest, slaughtering of animals before winter, and generally celebrating in merriment.

Old lore has it this is also the day when spirits would cross over into this world. Many believed that both good and evil spirits could enter into this realm. Thus, the donning of masks and carving of jack-o-lanterns to ward them off. Candles were placed strategically to guide the spirits. In more modern times it is a time to reaffirm our beliefs in the afterlife and commune with ancestors, knowing that death and life are part of the same cycle and it's not something to be feared.

If you're longing to embrace the ancient traditions, perhaps of your own heritage, into modern day practices, there's a plethora of ways easily accessible by an internet search. Some people really gravitate towards Halloween and go all out, whereas others, like myself, aren't such a big fan. But, when it comes to embracing Samhain, there's an intrigue and a draw. Aligning with the change of the seasons, the thinning of the veil of ancestors, living in the mystic, celebrating life, abundance, and learning how to be at peace with death takes on a whole new meaning and purpose for this time of year.

Here are a few modern day practices that can bring in more of the sacred:

ALTARS

An altar, or place where you place objects with intention, can be a sacred space which represents something in particular. In this case, Samhain would be the topic of the altar. The beautiful thing about creating an altar space is you get to curate the objects.

Begin by identifying a place where you can have an altar, such as a dresser top, small table, or mantel, for example. Next, allow intuitive inquiry to guide you on what you'd like to place on the altar. You could step into nature and gather some beautiful fall leaves. Other symbols or icons of the season might end up on the altar, such as dried corn, pumpkins, candles, or even some candy.

If you're interested in calling in a loved ones spirit, or simply honoring their memory, you could place a photo of them on the altar or an object that once belonged to them.

Allow the altar-making process to evolve organically and imperfectly, wabi-sabi style. A fun exercise is to participate with others in your household, allowing each person to add or rearrange part of it until it feels complete. Take a photo of it. Write about it and what it means for you.

An ofrenda is an altar offering for Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead ,which is shortly after Samhain. It can be simple or elaborate and it must contain all four elements, wind, fire, earth, and air. You may be inspired by the ofrenda and create your own based on your research.

samhain altar

DREAMWORK

Dreamwork during this time can be really potent. Don't be surprised if loved ones from the other side pop into your dreamtime. The key here is to pay attention, be mindful of your dreams, and give yourself time to sit in the liminal phase between sleep and awake.

If you'd like to call in ancestor, before you go to sleep write down in your journal a specific question or desire for a visit. This may seem like a lot of pressure to put on your dreamtime, but stay open to the outcome. It might end up in a very vivid visit, or it could simply be a message through your dreams from a loved one.

By all means, write it down. Days later, weeks, or even months later it may become crystal clear for you and being able to look back creates the thread of connecting the dots.

samhain dreamwork

JOURNALING

If journaling is your chosen practice, set aside time to free write, or do automatic writing.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are symbols of the season that I'm drawn toward? What do they represent to me? What history do I have with them? What qualities about them do I like?

  • Who has crossed over that I'm missing? What instant memory flashes into your mind of them? If you could say something to them, what would it be? If they could say something to you, what would it be? If there's still healing to be done, consider drawing some symbols, images, or using color to express yourself. Write a poem or haiku for them.

  • Give yourself an oracle or tarot reading and write it all down in your journal. Ask a specific question, pull some cards and BEFORE reading the interpretation, use your intuition and write it out. Then, go back and read and add to your journal.

samhain journal prompts

There are many other modern and ancient traditions that you can implement, such as making food for the season, making a mask, a witch's besom, holding a party/feast, and practicing your own divination. You may feel called to create a wreath, get out your special candles, and put on some of your favorite mystical music (Loreena Mckennitt?)

How will you celebrate Samhain?

Lisa Hines

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