As the leaves are turning to flame and the nights are here earlier, we decided this was the perfect opportunity to explore Samhain for this Wellbeing 101! After last week’s Deep Dive into Ceremonies and Rituals, and arriving with us over this weekend, we want to look at the history, beliefs and some of the things we do to honour this festival.
Samhain (pronounced ‘sow’inn’) marks the midway point between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, being honoured for thousands of years and birthing Halloween as we know it.
Celebrated all over Northern Europe, this festival is traditionally honoured on the 1st of November each year. Still, it can begin on the evening of the 31st of October (due to the Celtic’s belief that days started and ended at sunsets). This day marked the end of harvest and the beginning of winter, into the darker half of the year, it was also believed to be the start of the Celtic new year.
To Pagans and Druids, these days celebrate those who have gone before, those who had shaped the lives of the living. It is said over these nights that the boundaries between the worlds of the living and those that have passed dissolve, allowing more interaction between them both; it is seen as the perfect time to not only honour your ancestors but also seek guidance from them and commune.
Samhain is a time of ending and death, although it could be seen as morbid, we see it as a time for reflection on passing; of people, relationships and changes that have come to you over the past year. A way to invite taking stock of what has been and welcome the passing, to move on and to heal.
History has seen Samhain shape traditions from across the world, from Dias de Los Muertos to Halloween as we know it. In 19th Century America, through Northern European immigrants bringing their traditions across the ocean, the 31st of October became All Hallows Eve and contained much of the traditional pagan practises.
Dressing up as ghosts was seen as a way to confuse evil spirits as to who was alive and who was dead during this night, so no one living would get taken by spirits. Turnips were initially carved with demonic faces and put on doorsteps to keep unwelcome guests out of your home, these then evolved into the Jack O Lanterns that we see now. Trick or treating was derived from the nights leading up to Samhain when people would go door to door singing songs for the dead and be given cakes as payment.
We believe that ceremony and ritual are incredibly personal to each and every one of us (as we are sure you are aware by now!). We wanted to give you some inspiration and ideas for ways to honour Samhain, for us, we are going to use these days to give thanks to our ancestors and speak to those we have moved to another place, to let them know they are still in our thoughts.
Start each by cleansing the space you want to use with your choice of smudging stick.
Altars are a place to set up an offering to yourself and your guides. They are a place that represents you or the time of year. As Samhain honours harvest, life, death and spirits think what each means to you; photos of those you love and lost, your favourite crystals and even a note to your past self.
Take a walk in nature if possible to notice the season change and to collect little pieces to add to your altar, some things you can add to your altar and their significance:
The Acorn represents wisdom, longevity, rebirth – a promise of strength to come. An acorn in your pocket is an amulet of good fortune to come. All nuts from our indigenous trees – walnuts, hazelnuts, conkers and so on – carry the attributes of the mother tree.
The Yew Tree and its berries are symbolic of immortality and everlasting life, rebirth, changes and regeneration after difficult times, and protection.
The Willow Tree symbolizes nature, fertility, and life. It also represents balance, learning, growth, and harmony.
Pinecones have been honoured to represent the third eye and human enlightenment with their deeply swirling insides.
A black candle to represent the past and a white one that stands for the future.
An offering of alcohol for your ancestors, to wish them well and give thanks and to ask for protection/ guidance.
This one may seem a little out there, but we find it hugely cathartic! This ritual is inspired by the tradition of laying a place for the dead during dinner on the 31st of October or the 1st of November.
We invite you to make two teas, find a quiet place to sit and invite a soul you have lost to join you; now tell them all that has happened to you since they have passed. Speak to them of the times you have shone, the times that have been darker and difficult and let them know all the news they might have missed. When you are ready, thank them and ask for their guidance or protection for whatever you feel you need.
After you have finished, meditating for a few minutes is the perfect way to receive any direct guidance from them, just listen to what comes through, or just feel their love surround you.
Grandfather Fire is seen as not only the great protector but also the great cleanser. Anyone can create their own fire ceremony, you don’t need acres of land or a mountain of wood, although we do recommend a place where there are no fire alarms! A fire ceremony is a way to release what no longer serves you, to put to rest anything that you feel holds you back.
All you need is a flame! A simple ceremony only needs a candle, fireproof dish or bowl, black pen and a piece of paper. Light the candle/ flame, then on the paper, write what you want to release or say goodbye to. This could be anything; an ex-partner playing on your mind or a negative thought process, it could be ‘I release what no longer serves’. Once you have this, fold the paper four times, as you fold call in the four elements with this prayer, taken from the Lakota tradition:
“All good things come from the East. The freshening wind brings warm rain and sunshine. Each day guide us to see you in everything we do, everyone we meet. Be kind in your blessings.
The warming south winds bring new growth, gentle rain, healing sunshine. Bless us with enough food and the good things from the earth. As we eat nourishing food help us to know you as the giver of all good gifts.
The sunsets in the West giving us glorious colours in our life. Night can sometimes be scary. The darkness can also mean calming, healing sleep. May good dreams and deep sleep cleanse us from all that is bad or evil. Renew and refresh us.
North winds sometimes bring stormy weather and snow. Let your warmth in our coldness wrap us as with a blanket of love to keep away all that hurts. May all our people have warm houses and full tables against winter’s chill.”
Now set the paper on fire and place in the dish, as you watch it burn feel the release, imagine what you are letting go of slowly fading with the smoke. Let the paper burn out and once it is cold (never put a sacred fire, no matter how small, out with water), then release it; whether it is the ash that is sprinkled on earth or a little corner that you bury. What you have released is gone. To finish, give thanks to your loved ones and yourself.