Post-Halloween Celebration that Lasts
Samhain Secrets. How to Make the Darker Half of the Year Brighter.
I have recently returned from the realm of Samhain observation or Halloween celebration. To tell you the truth, I am celebrating the feast of winter fires and eternal souls even now, when writing my new article… even when I am walking or reading or watching movies – Samhain is going on. It has come to stay throughout winter and it will not leave us until spring. Samhain is not simply a holiday but a state of mind that appears within every thoughtful soul after the initiation of the Darker Half of the Year.
It is unlikely I am a descendant of Celtic druids, but pagan traditions have always fascinated me. I like the sacramental embodiments of such holidays as Samhain (November 1), Oimelc or Imbolc (February 1), Beltane (May 1), and Lughnasadh (August 1). They mark logical endings and beginnings in relation to the common calendar year and subsequent transformations that cyclically occur in nature.
Samhain was a Celtic New Year, and the first of November was considered the first day of winter. “The verge between worlds is the thinnest on Samhain night, our ancestors come to visit us, but evil spirits are also awake. Beware of the wicked ones! Be a witch in your own house to protect your sacred hearth!”, that is how I imagine the advice of the ancient Celts if they were among us on All Hallows’ Eve, on All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day…
My attitude to Halloween is revealed in my craving to investigate Samhain – its ancient roots, before the amalgamation of the Celtic feast with Christian traditions. If you treat Halloween as a widespread entertainment owing to which you can dress up as your favorite horror movie character and scare your neighbors – you will spend a fun time, indeed, but you will never delve into the profound meaning of the truly essential rituals of the Samhain nights (and maybe it will be for the better).
I know, I know, reading about “rituals” instantly gives you the creeps, as you probably “fell victim” to “Midsommar”, the ritualistic horror motion picture by Ari Aster. I suppose, you were also attracted to pagan mysteries or ancient folklore like me, which made you watch this film or at least start watching it… However, it is also wrong to associate everything pagan with human sacrifices and all the imaginable ghastly rituals.
In the modern world, Samhain or Halloween cherishes death as a deity and commemorates the deceased to create the equilibrium in the world of spirits – but it does not promote black magic, evil deeds, and mass murder.
Just remember Halloween atmosphere in “Harry Potter” – this kind of witchcraft evokes only cozy feelings! In a historical drama television series “Outlander”, Samhain also played a quintessential role, as the energy of the Standing Stones was “ripe” for time travel during the time when Wheel of the Year goes through its most important transformation. It was enough to perform a dance of Druids to open the portal.
Should we Leave the Celtic Origins Behind?
I think we can agree on the major aspect of the modern Samhain celebration – it should be without sacrifice, which is perfectly replaced with natural blessings – any fruit and vegetable harvest you can gather – pumpkins, apples, cranberries, grapes, pears, carrots, turnips, potatoes, cabbage, beets, and beans… or anything else you can plant and grow. Of course, if you want to create a slight neo-pagan atmosphere in your home, it is much more favorable to grow your harvest.
To keep those Samhain vibes, you can light up candles and jack-o’-lanterns all over your place or make up a small altar for your ancestors with your little harvest and cute night-lights. Personally, I adore decorating my Samhain hearth with garden autumnal flowers, such as wild roses, colorful immortelle, dusty miller, amaranthus, dahlias, chrysanthemums, and asters.
There are neo-pagans who start celebrating Samhain later, near November 7. It is believed that they have calculated the perfect cycle when “genuine end of the harvest season” commences. They are trying to recreate a deeper meaning of the holiday, letting the magic begin in the astronomically precise way. Their Samhain starts somewhere between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice. Anyway, as we are independent-thinking creatures, we can transfer this symbolism to any time of the year that inspires you the most. The core thing about such a sacred holiday is its transcendental nature that leads to the long-awaited changes within yourself. For me, when Halloween starts, radical transformations are already on your doorstep!
Thus, I am one of the followers of the peaceful Samhain, which is mystic but not macabre at all. When Nature falls asleep, it changes our usual summer rhythms and leaves every human being with own food for thought. We know that “death” in nature only means temporary inertia and deep slumber before the inspiring revival.
If you lost your loved ones, this time will likely induce many memories about them, and despite your pain and grieving, your spiritual ties with the deceased should become stronger. At some point, you start treating death wisely. For instance, Mexicans mostly think that Santa Muerte is a benevolent angel, but these stories always have a grim mirror reversal. On the contrary, instead of cherishing death, you can use this time to appreciate life and finally make a difference about your own existence. This is the time to slow down and reflect on the most essential things. It does not truly matter whether you celebrate Samhain or not, but soul-searching often brings precious fruits!
Therefore, when answering the question, “Should we leave the Celtic origins behind”, I would say, “Only those traditions that involve cruelty and represent chaos of the human mind.” I am inviting you to practice spirit-stirring rituals to celebrate the darker half of the year as the time of contemplation, revitalization, creativity, and deep connection with our roots and humankind itself.
Rituals for Your Special Samhain or Halloween
Even if you already had your tricks and treats or endowed others with creepy-awesome gifts, it is never too late to practice some special rituals alone or with your family and friends. These may be innocent games or purposeful practices, which only seem to be obsolete. Although some rituals stem from the past, they teach you to live in the present and sometimes predict your future.
- Immerse in Fortunetelling Fun
- Create Your Atmospheric Samhain Altar
- Samhain Meal and Home Ceremony
- Visit a Cemetery to Honor the Dead
- Contemplate Your Life, Find Your Own Magic
- Become a Conjurer of Bonfires
- Connect with smart communities or create a club of customs on your own
Similarly to many common pagan divinations, Samhain nights were deemed perfect for young women to carry out various marriage predictions. The Irish loved to cook dishes and put rings inside mashed potatoes or pies on Halloween night. If you find a ring in your dish, you will be engaged soon.
Further, seeking enticing auguries, I have traveled to Scotland in my mind where I found hazelnut fortune-telling. A mature girl should choose several hazelnuts and name them after her suitors or men she likes. Afterwards, she has to toss the hazelnuts into the fireplace. One nut should burn to ashes instead of popping – and if it does, it means that that suitor the hazelnut represented will become the young woman’s future husband. Another version of the divination outcome is that the nut that burns away symbolizes unrequited or unfaithful love.
Nuts are especially revered by the Irish and the Scots as they believed not only in its healthy properties but also magical ones. Hence, miscellaneous concoctions made of walnuts, hazelnuts and sweet chestnut have been the most favorable treats to eat before and after Halloween. To this day, many Irish girls accept as true that eating nuts helps them see their future husbands in their dreams.
One more traditional Samhain divination is tossing the peels of apples over the shoulders. This fortunetelling practice could show the initials of the future fiancé’s names when the peels fall on the floor, reminding of letters. The common divination not only of the British Isles’ dwellers but of Slavic countries are holding candles and looking into the mirrors, trying to see the shadows of future husbands.
Of course, making altars just for fun is not advisable at all. Putting superstitions aside, it will not bring you grim omens, but it will only show your mockery of old-world traditions. If you do not treat it seriously, it is better to limit yourself to a regular Halloween celebration. By the way, do you know that modern pagans have permanent altars at their homes? They just decorate those sacramental nooks more sumptuously during such holidays as Samhain and Beltane. You can make an altar out of a specifically chosen table (wooden or stone one: the material should be natural). Usually, it is decorated three days before the beginning of Samhain and it can stay untouched until the Winter Solstice. So, how to decorate your autumnal altar?
I. Create your own version of cornucopia. Prepare harvest fruits, vegetables, and nuts, as well as freshly baked dark bread and soul cakes;
II. Pick dried leaves of different trees along with acorns and chestnuts;
III. You can cook mulled wine or even mulled beer;
IV. You can add some decorative elements, such as carved pumpkins, candles, feathers of birds, and fake skulls.
If you want your family to participate in Samhain celebration (which can be extended to 7 days and even more), you should find old recipes to cook delicious ancestral food. Fruits, berries, and vegetables are main ingredients of all the dishes, but if you eat meat, it can also be cooked as a stew, roasted pork or poultry. When cooking your ritual food, do not forget about the herbs and spices. There is a variety of herbs and flowers that can be used in your dishes. People of the British Isles often use rosemary, catnip, mullein, marigold, and myrtle pepper. Dark bread should be also present on the table, and the drinks are traditionally apple cider or wine. If you prefer non-alcoholic beverages, then prepare tea with spices and citrus flavors. The dinner table should also be served out with candles and a beautiful fall centerpiece.
The sacred supper should begin with breaking of the bread – remember that all the leftovers should be fed to birds in the yard. Some people believe that birds during the Samhain season keep souls of the dead inside them. This way, you are able to feed your ancestors, showing your hospitability and generosity.
Another common commemoration of the dead relatives is visiting their tombs. Many nations honor the deceased by putting flowers and dried herbs on their graves. Some bring fresh water and even wine. Bringing food to the gravesite is also an olden ritual that is carried out not only during All Souls’ Day, but also on Easter, particularly in some Eastern European countries. All those small offerings mean that you do not lose connection with your kindred.
Meditate, reflect, and become a creator! A bare paradox is that death makes us think about life, makes us cherish life, and inspires us to Live. The transcendental meaning of Samhain lies in contemplation of the self. It is difficult to find a better time when you can “stop and smell the roses”. Of course, it does not release us from our daily duties, studies and work, but it alludes to the change of priorities. It is time to say goodbye to anything trivial, it is time to get rid of inner void in order to fill your mind and soul with something substantial, to discover the real You. Think about it: Nature revives and gives birth in spring, but in order to bring new life into the world, it should be impregnated. Samhain symbolizes a Phoenix that burns its old soul away, but it becomes fertile again and keeps a fetus of new hope within itself throughout the winter, for the sake of novel renaissance in spring.
This is an immaculate time to review your ups and downs, failures and accomplishments, courageously greet new challenges and perceive all the greatest insights. When it gets darker, all the fires burn brighter.
It may be difficult to organize a flamboyant bonfire in your yard or somewhere outdoors. It is also not wise to do it in the forest if you want to remain eco-friendly. Let us keep the modern approach of environment conservation here. However, it is wonderful if you have your own fireplace where you can kindle flames, transforming your home into a magical place. Sitting near the fire clears out all the negative thoughts – it also resembles meditation. Flames symbolize purification and new stages of your life. You can write down your undesirable traits or habits and cast them into the flames – try to believe with all your heart that everything bad remains in the past.
It is amazing if you have friends who can share your interests related to Samhain customs. If not, you can try to find like-minded individuals and organize a neo-pagan club with them, calling it something like “Wheel of the Year Pilgrims” where you can share your ideas and perception of the most supernatural feast of all seasons. Not to get too serious (and probably a bit fanatic), why not to lighten up the atmosphere? The great options are playing mystic board games, reading Halloween-inspired fiction, such as Ray Bradbury’s “Halloween Tree” and Roger Zelazny’s “A Night in the Lonesome October”, and listening to music, such as “Soul Cake” by Sting, “Lord of the Ages” by Magna Carta, and “All Soul's Night” by Loreena McKennitt.
If you prefer a more introverted approach to Samhain, then turn into a scrupulous researcher of the old and new traditions that saturate this holiday. You can read books about it, historical and semi-fictional manuscripts, sift through the archives to search for the exclusive material on Halloween celebrations throughout different epochs, and travel to the most mysterious places of Samhain rites.
3 Hallowed Days of the Fiery Festival. Stagnation of Time.
Samhain or its older version – Samhuinn is most commonly celebrated from 31 October to 2 November, but its loyal neo-pagan adherents say that the magic time of the darker half of the year does not cease “until the dawn of new spring”. The most ephemeral thing about it is that Samhain was regarded “a time of no-time”.
Indeed, many aspects of this holiday are romanticized, as we cannot travel back in time to witness genuine Samhain rituals – some say they were profound and magical, while others say that Druids were atrociously cruel. Were the Three Days of main Samhain festival full of chaos, horrible carnages and vandalism two thousand years ago? I cannot say for sure, even though I want to protect the sacred meaning of the feast, endowing it with only positive traits. However, if the world still celebrates Halloween, it should not be done in a primitive though unharmful way. An average person should know more about it than masquerading and trick-or-treating.
In any way, Druids were highly knowledgeable magicians who wanted to make contact with the dead souls, seeking blessings and defense from the evil spirits. Christian influence made this holiday of ritual fires devoid of human sacrifice, but the core meaning has remained: the Living should honor the Dead, as we all participate in the Big Cycle of Transformation, all belonging to the most magical Community on Earth – Humankind.
And when Samhain is over… I will be looking forward to Imbolc!