As the Veils of Samhain continue to Thin
We find ourselves closer to our Ancestral Home
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Shadows Into Light Spiritual Services Temple & Archive
Origins of Samhain
The Third & Final Harvest
What is Samhain?:
Samhain is known by most folks as Halloween, but for many modern Pagans it's considered a Sabbat to honor the ancestors who came before us, marking the dark time of the year. It's a good time to contact the spirit world with a seance, because it's the time when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest.
Myths and Misconceptions:
Contrary to a popular Internet-based (and Chick Tract-encouraged) rumor, Samhain was not the name of some ancient Celtic god of death, or of anything else, for that matter. Religious scholars agree that the word Samhain (pronounced "sow-en") comes from the Gaelic “Samhuin,” but they’re divided on whether it means the end or beginning of summer. After all, when summer is ending here on earth, it’s just beginning in the Underworld. Samhain actually refers to the daylight portion of the holiday, on November 1st.
All Hallow Mass:
Around the eighth century or so, the Catholic Church decided to use November 1st as All Saints Day. This was actually a pretty smart move on their part – the local pagans were already celebrating that day anyway, so it made sense to use it as a church holiday. All Saints’ became the festival to honor any saint who didn’t already have a day of his or her own. The mass which was said on All Saints’ was called Allhallowmas – the mass of all those who are hallowed. The night before naturally became known as All Hallows Eve, and eventually morphed into what we call Halloween.
The Witches' New Year:
Sunset on Samhain is the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The old year has passed, the harvest has been gathered, cattle and sheep have been brought in from the fields, and the leaves have fallen from the trees. The earth slowly begins to die around us.
This is a good time for us to look at wrapping up the old and preparing for the new in our lives. Think about the things you did in the last twelve months. Have you left anything unresolved? If so, now is the time to wrap things up. Once you’ve gotten all that unfinished stuff cleared away, and out of your life, then you can begin looking towards the next year.
Honoring the Ancestors:
For some of us, Samhain is when we honor our ancestors who came before us. If you’ve ever done genealogy research, or if you’ve had a loved one die in the past year, this is the perfect night to celebrate their memory. If we’re fortunate, they will return to communicate with us from beyond the veil, and offer advice, protection and guidance for the upcoming year.
If you want to celebrate Samhain in the Celtic tradition, spread the festivities out over three consecutive days. You can hold a ritual and feast each night. Be flexible, though, so you can work around trick-or-treating schedules!
Try one -- or all -- of these rituals to celebrate Samhain and welcome the new year.
- Celebrating the End of the Harvest
- Samhain Ritual for Animals
- Honoring the Ancestors
- Hold a Seance at Samhain
- Host a Dumb Supper
- Honor the God and Goddess at Samhain
- Celebrating the Cycle of Life and Death
- Ancestor Meditation
Even if you're celebrating Samhain as a Pagan holiday, you may want to read up on some of the traditions of the secular celebration of Halloween:
Question: When is Samhain 2014?
Samhain is known as the Witch's New Year. What is the date for Samhain 2011?
Samhain is a night when the veil between our world and the spirit world becomes very thin, and it's a good time to do some divination! Samhain falls on October 31 every year in the Northern Hemisphere, so the date for Samhain 2011 is October 31, although in some traditions it may be celebrated on November 1. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is on May 1.
Unlike solstice and equinox celebrations, this date does not change from year to year in most NeoPagan traditions. However, it's important to note that in some branches of Paganism, sabbats are celebrated based upon the astronomical calendar rather than the specific date. If you're part of one of these traditions, your Samhain celebration may need to be adjusted a bit.
Setting Up Your Samhain Altar
Colors of the Season:
The leaves have fallen, and most are on the ground. This is a time when the earth is going dark, so reflect the colors of late autumn in your altar decorations. Use rich, deep colors like purples, burgundies and black, as well as harvest shades like gold and orange. Cover your altar with dark cloths, welcoming the coming darker nights. Add candles in deep, rich colors, or consider adding an ethereal contrasting touch with white or silver.
Symbols of Death:
Samhain is the time of the dying of the crops and of life itself. Add skulls, skeletons, grave rubbings or ghosts to your altar. Death itself is often portrayed carrying a sickle or scythe, so if you've got one of those handy, you can display that on your altar as well.
Some people choose to add representations of their ancestors to their Samhain altar - you can certainly do this, or you can create a separate ancestor shrine.
The Harvest Ends:
In addition to symbols of death, cover your Samhain altar with the products of your final harvest. Add a basket of apples, pumpkins, squash, or root vegetables. Fill a cornucopia and add it to your table.
Other Symbols of Samhain:
A reader asks, "I was curious if it was anti-Pagan to celebrate Halloween? I'm sort of worried it might seem disrespectful to go out collecting candy while I'm supposed to be honoring the spirits of my dead ancestors. How do Halloween and Samhain relate if at all to one another?"
This is actually an excellent question - and the short answer is, "You can celebrate Halloween if you want to!" Not only that, you can celebrate Samhain as well.
Much like Yule and Christmas, Samhain and Halloween are two different ways of observing the same time of year. Think of Samhain as the spiritual version, and Halloween as the secular. There's no reason at all why you can't celebrate both if you choose. In our family, we do a huge Halloween party with friends and family. I also do a Samhain ritual with my coven. There's never been a conflict.
How do Samhain and Halloween relate to one another? Well, the "trick or treat" Halloween evolved from the British tradition of All Soul's Day. Poor people went begging, and the middle-class wives handed out special treats known as Soul Cakes. By the nineteenth century, this tradition had followed British and Irish immigrants to America, and by then, begging for goodies wasn't just the domain of the poor, it was a kids' activity. Following the Great Depression and World War II, the notion of giving away candy really took off, and so today's candy-deluged Halloween celebration was born.
I do realize there is a small portion of the Pagan community that finds the whole Halloween thing off-putting, and I've heard the occasional complaint that Halloween trivializes Samhain. However, my opinion is that there's no reason you can't observe the solemnity of Samhain in addition to the fun of Halloween. I've been Pagan for over two decades, and just don't feel that a gaggle of kids collecting candy and dressed like Disney characters has any bearing whatsoever on my religious obligations or needs. My ancestors and my gods know that I honor them and respect them, and they don't seem to be troubled by my love of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
Often, too, the question comes up of whether or not celebrating a mundane event -- like Thanksgiving or Fourth of July or Halloween -- somehow lessens the value our spiritual celebrations. Honestly, eating a turkey or lighting fireworks or snarfing down candy only diminishes your spiritual holidays if you allow it to. There are plenty of Pagans who ask, "Should I celebrate this with my family, when it's not part of my Pagan belief system?" It's a question that each individual has to answer for themselves, but as long as your tradition doesn't have a specific mandate against it, I'd say go ahead and celebrate however you like.
Hold a S`eance
- Plan your guest list: Figure out how many people you're going to have -- and make sure the space you're using will allow them all. If your living room only seats eight people comfortably, don't invite fifteen! Also, be sure that everyone attending is open-minded to the spirit world. People who are adamantly "non-believers" bring a certain amount of negative energy, and this can be disruptive. You may also find that it adversely effects your communication with the spirits during your séance.
- Create a Spirit-Friendly Atmosphere:Most people like to conduct a séance at a round or oval table, but if neither is available, don't worry. Drape the table with fabric or sheets -- some people prefer light colors to attract "friendly" spirits, but it's a matter or personal preference. If you useincense, be sure that no one in your group is allergic to it. Place incense somewhere away from the table, rather than on the table itself.Candles are a nice addition as well -- not only do they provide some visibility, but there's a school of thought that believes spirits are attracted to heat and light sources.
- Common Sense: Help everyone get comfortable by offering refreshments before you begin. Make sure that guests will be respectful of the spirits, and of other guests. Turn off all cell phones. If anyone needs to go to the bathroom or have a smoke, do so before you begin. Set the thermostat at a comfortable temperature -- remember that spirit activity can cause some fluctuation in levels of cold or heat. Once everyone is seated, you can help everyone relax by doing a short guided mediation, offering a prayer, or casting a protective circle, if your tradition requires you to do so.
- During the Seance: Although many people like to do this, you don't have to hold hands to raise energy. In fact, if a séance goes on too long, it can get downright uncomfortable. Whoever is acting as the leader of the séance -- the medium -- should ask the spirits to join the group. If there is a specific spirit you are trying to contact, ask for them by name. For example, now would be the time to say, "Dear Auntie Gertrude, we respectfully ask that you honor us with your presence this evening." In some séances, spirits are summoned by chanting -- this will be up to your medium to decide on.
- As long as the spirits seem willing to reply, you can carry on a question and answer session with them. Bear in mind that spirits respond in many different ways. Sometimes there will be a tangible reaction -- a tap, a thump, a soft breeze. Other times -- particularly if you have a room full of very psychically gifted people -- the spirit may choose to respond through another person. This may be the medium, or any other guest. The individual may simply "get a message" to pass along, which they would then share, such as, "Your Auntie Gertrude wants you to know she isn't in pain any more."
- Party Time: Sometimes, particularly if you have a group of psychically gifted individuals as guests, you may get several spirits arriving all at once, chattering away. This is not cause for alarm, but it does take some managing, because they've all got something to say. Treat it like you would any other conversation with a large group of people -- let each spirit get their turn to deliver the message they came with, and then move on to the next one. Also, bear in mind that not all spirits are from departed humans -- deceased pets may also have a message to pass along.
- Unwanted Entities: Just like at any other party, sometimes a séance will bring an uninvited guest. In this case, when you have a spirit that seems malevolent or mischievous, someone needs to let them know they're unwelcome. Typically, this will be the medium who is leading the séance, who will usually say something like, "You are not wanted here, but we thank you for your presence. Now it is time for you to move on."
If an entity arrives that seems angry or hostile and will not leave, no matter what you do, end the séance. It's possible that it's been attracted to someone in your group who may have underlying issues.
- Closing the Door: When you're done with the séance, it's important that guests thank the spirits for coming to visit. After all, you would do so if you had living guests drop in!
If one of your attendees seems to have slipped into a trance or a sleep-like state during the séance, allow them to return gradually, on their own. Do NOT shake them awake. Chances are they'll have a message for someone once they're back among the group.
- Close the séance by telling the spirits farewell, thanking them, and asking them to move along. You may want to offer a small blessing or prayer as a way of ending the formal séance, but bear in mind that some spirits like to hang around after the séance has officially finished. If they do, it's okay. They're probably just curious, and they may return to visit you later in the evening during a dream sequence.
- Before you begin your seance, smudge the area with sage or sweetgrass for ritual cleansing.
- Make sure you've eliminated potential distractions, such as children or ringing telephones. Interestingly, many pets seem to come and go through spirit activity without causing any disruption. Cats in particular tend to be very curious about what's going on, and have been known to make themselves right at home in the middle of spirit work.
- Your guests may wish to bring an object that belonged to a deceased person, as a way of strengthening the connection. Photographs are also good links to the dead.
Hosting The Dumb Supper
Although traditionally a seance is a good way to communicate with those who have crossed into the spirit world, it's also perfectly fine to talk to them at other times. You may find yourself walking into a room and suddenly reminded of someone you've lost, or catching a whiff of a familiar scent. For me personally, every February I find myself picking over birthday cards and thinking to myself how funny my grandfather would find this one or that one. I make a point of telling him about them, even though he died in 2002. You don't need a fancy or formal ritual to speak to the dead. They hear you.
Why on Samhain?:
Why hold a Dumb Supper on Samhain? Well, it's traditionally known as the night when the veil between our world and the spirit world is at its most fragile. It's the night when we know for sure the dead will hear us speak, and maybe even speak back. It's a time of death and resurrection, of new beginnings and fond farewells.
Menus and Table Settings:
Your menu choices are up to you, but because it's Samhain, you may wish to make the traditional Soul Cakes, as well as serving dishes with apples, late fall vegetables, and game if available. Set the table with a black cloth, black plates and cutlery, black napkins. Use candles as your only source of light -- black if you can get them.
Realistically, not everyone has black dishware sitting around. In many traditions, it's perfectly acceptable to use a combination of black and white, although black should be the predominant color.
When you're hosting a Dumb Supper, clearly the point is that no one can speak --- and that makes a host's job very tricky. It means you have the responsibility of anticipating each guest's needs without them communicating verbally. Depending on the size of your table, you may want to make sure each end has its own salt, pepper, butter, etc. Also, watch your guests to see if anyone needs a drink refill, an extra fork to replace the one they just dropped, or more napkins.
The Dumb Supper:
In some Pagan traditions, it has become popular to hold a Dumb Supper in honor of the dead. In this case, the word "dumb" refers to being silent. The origins of this tradition have been fairly well debated -- some claim it goes back to ancient cultures, others believe it's a relatively new idea. Regardless, it's one that's observed by many people around the world.
When holding a Dumb Supper, there are a few simple guidelines to follow. First of all, make your dining area sacred, either by casting a circle, smudging, or some other method. Turn off phones and televisions, eliminating outside distractions.
Secondly, remember that this is a solemn and silent occasion, not a carnival. It's a time of silence, as the name reminds us. You may wish to leave younger children out of this ceremony. Ask each adult guest to bring a note to the dinner. The note's contents will be kept private, and should contain what they wish to say to their deceased friends or relatives.
Set a place at the table for each guest, and reserve the head of the table for the place of the Spirits. Although it's nice to have a place setting for each individual you wish to honor, sometimes it's just not feasible. Instead, use a tealight candle at the Spirit setting to represent each of the deceased. Shroud the Spirit chair in black or white cloth.
No one may speak from the time they enter the dining room. As each guest enters the room, they should take a moment to stop at the Spirit chair and offer a silent prayer to the dead. Once everyone is seated, join hands and take a moment to silently bless the meal. The host or hostess, who should be seated directly across from the Spirit chair, serves the meal to guests in order of age, from the oldest to youngest. No one should eat until all guests -- including Spirit -- are served.
When everyone has finished eating, each guest should get out the note to the dead that they brought. Go to the head of the table where Spirit sits, and find the candle for your deceased loved one. Focus on the note, and then burn it in the candle's flame (you may wish to have a plate or small cauldron on hand to catch burning bits of paper) and then return to their seat. When everyone has had their turn, join hands once again and offer a silent prayer to the dead.
Everyone leaves the room in silence. Stop at the Spirit chair on your way out the door, and say goodbye one more time.
Other Samhain Rituals:
If the idea of a Dumb Supper doesn't quite appeal to you -- or if you know darn well that your family can't be quiet for that long -- you may want to try some of these other Samhain rituals:
The History of Spirit Guides
Many people believe they have spirit guides. Some refer to theirs as angels or guardians. Regardless, if you believe you have one, a spirit guide is there simply to guide, not as an entity that you need to give yourself over to. If a spirit guide has a negative influence on your behavior, then chances are good that it's not a spirit guide at all, but something else entirely. These are some of the more commonly found types of spirit guides:
1. Ascended Masters:
These are guides often found by people who do energy work, such as Reiki. An ascended master who appears as a spirit guide is often a being that led a physical life and has moved on to a higher spiritual plane -- for example, Buddha, Krishna, even Jesus. Ascended masters usually work with collective groups of souls -- in other words, if you've got an ascended master hanging around you, you're not the only one he or she is helping. Their primary focus is that of helping all of humanity. It's not uncommon for an ascended master to have access to Akashic records. Also referred to as Master Teacher guides.
2. Ancestral Guides:
An ancestral guide is one who can claimsome sort of kinship with you, such as your dear Aunt Tillie who died when you were ten. It may also appear in the form of a long-dead ancestor. In some schools of thought, these entities are seen asreincarnated guides, because they are the spirits of someone who loved us during their physical lifetime, or who had some sort of blood connection to our family. Some people, depending on their religious upbringing, may see these types of guides as guardian angels.
3. Common Spirit Guide, or Teacher Guide:
A typical spirit guide is archetypical, symbolic or representative of something else. For example, you may find your guide appears in the form of a warrior, a storyteller, or a wise woman, and they have appeared to you for a purpose. Typically, that purpose is to teach you and guide you along a particular path. They may also introduce you to other archetypes along your journey, and help out with problem solving, based upon your needs. They are known to provide insight by way of dreams or meditation, and may only hang around as long as you need them, then move on.
4. Animal Guides:
Although many people claim to have animals as spirit guides, often these entities are more companions than anything else. It's not uncommon for a deceased pet to linger around, keeping you company through the grieving process. In some spiritual traditions, such as various Native American or shamanic paths, a person may have an animal totem, which provides teaching and/or protection.
Be Sure to Read:
Are Spirit Guides Helpful?
Every once in a while, someone will manage to contact what they think is a spirit guide - perhaps by way of a Ouija board or other method, preferably other, as Ouija Boards have a higher susceptibility to welcoming negative entities versus positive ones it's best to contact your local psychic and medium to assist you in accessing them on the other side -- and the next thing you know, things are getting weird. If any of the following scenarios seem familiar, then chances are that what you've connected to is not a spirit guide at all.
How to know your spirit guide ISN'T really there to help:
- You're the only person the spirit has EVER contacted, and you're really super special, which is why they're sharing their message with you and not two hundred other people.
- Your guide talks about magical doorways, secret portals to other worlds, or gates that you somehow managed to open, and nobody else ever has.
- The spirit doesn't mind you bragging about it to friends, but gets grumpy whenever anyone questions its existence or purpose. Not only that, it encourages you to isolate yourself from friends who think the spirit guide may well be full of poo.
- The spirit claims to be hanging around in order to protect you from some other spirit that you've never encountered. Weird stuff happens, and your spirit guide is handily there at all the right times to help you out.
- Your spirit guide claims to be from another planet or world that is as yet undiscovered by scientists.
- The spirit claims that it needs your help -- and only yours -- to help it do things like write, talk, etc., and basically wants you to become its instrument of operation. In exchange for this voluntary form of possession, the spirit will impart you with all kinds of nifty new wisdom, that only you will be privy to.
- The spirit seems to have no real purpose other than to share information with you, but the information you're receiving is of no real use, other than to make you believe you are way more enlightened than everyone else.
- The spirit informs you that people who love you and care about you are secretly plotting against you, and that the only one who truly understands you is the spirit itself.
- All the information you're being given by the spirit goes against common sense, logic, laws of science and physics, and basic human decency and yet it all makes sense to you now, because you're the only one special enough for the spirit to talk to.
And, if it turns out that your spirit guide is really something you need to get rid of after all, be sure to read Getting Rid of Unwanted Spirits for tips on what to do.
Showing Unwanted Spirits the Door
Obviously, your first line of offense is a good defense. Before you get started doing any sort of spirit work, be sure to cleanse the area you’ll be practicing in. This can be done by way of smudging, prayer, or casting a circle. Creating a sacred space, in which the boundaries are clearly defined, is a good way of keeping out anything you don’t want to stop in and hang around.
Despite our best efforts, however, sometimes things can sneak in. It may be a spirit who has attached itself to a guest at your séance, or just a curious entity that wants to know what you’re up to. Perhaps it’s something that needs to deliver a message, and then just doesn’t feel like leaving afterwards.
If this is the case, there are a couple of ways you can get rid of unwanted spirits. The first way – and one most people don’t even consider – is very simple: tell it to leave. Be firm and blunt, and say something along the lines of, “This is not the place for you, and it’s time for you to leave.” You may wish to offer a blessing or well-wishes if it makes you feel better about things, and say, “It is time for you to move on, and we wish you the best in your new place.” Frequently, this will do the trick and your problems will be solved.
Sometimes, though, you may encounter an entity that’s a bit more stubborn. It may be really interested in hanging out with you, and in this case, you may need to take slightly more aggressive steps. In situations like this, you may want to create a cleansing ritual to rid the place (or person) of the attached spirit. By incorporating smudging and other purification practices, along with being assertive towards the entity (“I order you now to leave this place!”), you should be able to eliminate the spirit attachment.
Every once in a great while, people run into a spirit that’s not just stubborn, but downright hostile. In this case, you’ll need to bring out the big guns. Cleansing, smudging, and banishing are all called for. This may even be something you’d like to get assistance with – a small group of psychically gifted individuals can work wonders when it comes to getting rid of the nasties. Again, the key here is to be assertive and reclaim your space from whatever entity has attached itself. This means you’ll have to take charge of the situation. Don’t be afraid to shout out, “You are NOT welcome here!” to whatever’s hanging around.
Once you’ve gotten rid of whatever it is that has been lurking, make sure you do a final cleansing of the space to help prevent further recurrences from unwanted visitors. Use the tips included in Magical Self Defense as a way to keep negative entities away.
Cleansing & Purifying Sacred Space
Typically, when an area is ritually purified, it is done in a clockwise, or deosil, direction, but this may vary from one tradition to the next.
With smudging, you can use sage, sweetgrass, or other herbs. You can also use incense, if you like. The purpose of smudging is to use smoke to carry negative energy out of the area. When you light sage or sweetgrass, allow it to flame for a moment and then blow out the flame. This will leave you with a burning herb bundle, which will create smoke. Here's how to Make Your Own Smudge Sticks.
In some cases, you may wish to use asperging as a method of cleaning a space. Asperging means using liquid -- the power of water -- to purify the area. Although this is typically done by sprinkling consecrated water around the perimeter of the space, you can also asperge with milk, wine, or either of these blended with honey.
Typically, the broom is associated with cleaning and purification. You can use a broom or besom to go around the edges of the space, sweeping negativity away as you go. It's a good idea to start and finish near a door, so that negative energy can literally be swept outside. Here's how to Make Your Own Besom.
Salt has been used for purification for thousands of years. Use a bowl of sea salt, sprinkled around the area, to cleanse the space and make it sacred. Some people like to use Salt Crystal Lamps as well.
In many cultures, fire is used to ritually purify and cleanse a space. You can do this by lighting a candle and walking the area, or sprinkling cooled ashes around the perimeter (although this can be messy to clean up if you're inside!).
Witches Recipe for Samhain Incense
By the time Samhain rolls around, your herb garden is probably looking pretty sad. Now's the time to take all those goodies you harvested and dried in September, and put them to good use. This incense blend is perfect for a Samhain seance, divination session, or for any other autumn working.
This recipe is for loose incense, but you can adapt it for stick or cone recipes if you like. As you mix and blend your incense, focus on the goal of your work. Do you wish to contact the spirit of a long-dead ancestor? Are you hoping to bring some visions your way in a dream? Or are you maybe looking to enhance your own meditative abilities? Focus your intent as you blend your ingredients.
- 2 parts Cinnamon
- 1 part ground cloves
- 1 part Dragon's Blood resin
- 1 part Hyssop
- 1 part Patchouli
- 2 parts Rosemary
- 1 part Sage
- A dash of sea salt
The veil has thinned, the moon is bright
and I blend this magic on Samhain night.
Celebrating life and death and rebirth
with these herbs I've harvested from the earth.
I send my intent by smoke in the air
and call on those whose blood I share.
I ask my ancestors to guide and watch over me,
As I will, so it shall be.Store your incense in a tightly sealed jar. Make sure you label it with its intent and name, as well as the date you created it. Use within three months, so that it remains charged and fresh.
In many agricultural societies, a popular pastime at Samhain was that of divination - after all, this is a time when the barrier between our world and the metaphysical realm is at its thinnest. From scrying in a mirror to using an apple to foretell the name of one's future lover, many traditional divination methods were practiced in rural cultures for centuries. You can use them today for your own divination at Samhain, or any other time of the year.
Apples have always been popular tools for foretelling the future. There are a number of traditional methods in folklore for seeing who one's lover might be.
- Peel the apple, keeping the peel in one long piece. When the peel comes off, drop it on the floor. The letter it forms is the first initial of your true love's name.
- Wait until midnight at Samhain, and cut an apple into nine pieces. Take the pieces into a dark room with a mirror (either hanging on the wall or a hand-held one will do). At midnight, begin eating the pieces of apple while looking into the mirror. When you get to the ninth piece, throw it over your shoulder. The face of your lover should appear in the mirror.
- If a girl has more than one potential lover, peel an apple and pull out the seeds. Place a wet seed on your cheek for each boyfriend. The last one left stuck to the skin represents the suitor who is the true love.
Water is known for its magical properties in many belief systems, so it's only natural to use it for divination workings. Try one of these on Samhain night.
- At midnight on Samhain, go to a lake and gaze into the water. You should see your lover's face reflected in the lake before you.
- Fill a cauldron with water, and then light a candle. Drip the hot wax into the water, and see what shape it forms. The shape will indicate the profession of your future lover, if you're working on love magic. It can also foretell changes in your non-romantic life, such as job issues or questions related to home and family.
- Find a moving body of water like a stream or river. Select a piece of wood to represent the person you wish to be your lover, and throw it in the water. If it floats downstream, he will be true and constant. If the wood gets caught up on the bank, or sinks, your lover will be unfaithful.
Foretelling with Food
There are a number of divination methods that use foods, baking and cooking as their focus. Some of these are still practiced today.
- Scottish Bannock Divination: in Scotland and northern England, a girl would bake a bannock cake in the evening. In complete silence, she walked to her room and placed the bannock under her pillow. Her dreams that night would show her the face of her lover, and in the morning she ate the bannock.
- To find out if you'll find love in the coming twelve months, separate an egg and drop the white into a glass of water. If it sinks immediately, love is forthcoming. If it floats on the top of the water, you'll spend the next year alone.
- Take two nuts, one for yourself and one for your lover. At midnight on Samhain, place them on a grate over your fire. If they burn well, you'll have a long and happy relationship. If one nut pops or burns, it means one of you will be unfaithful.
- Hazelnuts can be used in workings related to divination and dowsing - tie a ripe one onto a string and use it as a pendulum.
Samhain is a time to do some serious divination - it's the time of year when the veil between our world and that of the spirits is at its thinnest, and that means it's the perfect season to look for messages from the metaphysical. Scrying is one of the best known forms of divination, and can be done in a variety of ways. Basically, it's the practice of looking into some sort of reflective surface -- such as water, fire, glass, dark stones, etc. -- to see what messages, symbols, or visions may appear. A scrying mirror is a simple black-backed mirror, and it's easy to make one yourself. Here's how: Make a Scrying Mirror More »
The Ouija Board
Want to use a Ouija board for divination, or communing with the spirits? Well, that's fine... if you know what you're doing. Before you use one, be sure to read this information on how a Ouija board works, and what potential problems can arise: Should I Use a Ouija Board?
Reading the Bones
It is believed that in many parts of the early Celtic world, at the time Samhain, villagers would throw the bones of slaughtered cattle into the fire, and then make predictions by scrying, or reading the images in the flames. You can do this too, or you can make a set of divination bones, which is something many magical traditions rely on. To make your own set, follow the tips on our Lithomancy page, but use bones instead of stones. A great resource for "throwing the bones" in divination is Cat Yronwoode's book, Bone Reading Divination Magic. More »
For many modern Pagans, Samhain is a good time to see what the coming year will hold - after all, it is the beginning of the Pagan new year! Consider taking some time to do a Tarot card reading - or have a friend do one for you - and focus on a bit of quiet reflection on what's to come. It's worth noting that if you choose to do this, it's worth the time and energy to do a detailed reading - after all, we're talking about an entire year to come! It's also a good idea to make notes as you go along. That will help you remember what you read during the process, especially when you're trying to figure out in June what you saw back in October. For some different Tarot layouts you can try, be sure to check here: Tarot Card Layouts and Spreads More »
How Safe are Ouija Boards?
Erm… well, I'm going to let the whole "tool of the devil" bit slide, but let's look at this a bit more in depth, shall we?
Here's the problem with a Ouija Board -- anyone can use one, and no skill is required. In other words, the thing that makes the Ouija Board so easy to use is also what can make it potentially troublesome. Toy and game companies sell them by the thousands, but most people don't realize exactly what they are. Are they evil? No, no more than your Monopoly board is. Are they dangerous? Well, in the hands of someone who's untrained -- or an idiot -- they could be. Look at it as a spiritual version of the chat room, if that helps. There's nothing at all wrong with talking to thirty strangers… until one of them turns out to be a serial killer or a pedophile. And the thing is, you don't KNOW who is what when you enter that room. Same with a Ouija board.
A Ouija Board is, quite simply, a divinatory tool. Its purpose is to answer a question by inviting spirits to speak to the people using the board. There's no guarantee that anything will happen at all... but there's also no way to control what DOES happen.
Many people believe that the use of a Ouija board is a form of voluntary possession - and keep in mind that "possession" doesn't have to be bad, despite the negative connotations the word often has. In order to get the spirit to contact you through the planchette, you basically have to give up your will, and work as a medium -- it's the only way for them to work through you. The spirit isn't moving the planchette, but it's causing you to move it with your hands by way of possession. Once you've opened up the Ouija board, it's a crapshoot as to what's going to try to make contact -- if you're just randomly calling upon any nearby entity, then you don't know who or what is moving that planchette around, or what its purpose is.
Some of our readers offer their best tips for how to use a Ouija board safely:
- Karen: I always cleanse the whole roomI'm using before I get started. I also make sure I cast a circle, so anything bad will stay out of my work area.
- Alafair: You know, my grandma taught me to use the Ouija board when I was a girl, and what she did was throw salt around itto keep the Devil away. She was a Christian, and I'm a Pagan, but those old habits die hard. I still throw a handful of salt around the room before I start. It seems to have worked so far. Maybe grandma is watching over me too!
- Durkin: I don't smudge, but I make absolutely certain that before I start using it, I offer up a prayer to the guardians of my house. I count on them as a barrier between me and anything bad that might sneak in. Also, I only call on specific spirits or people for assistance. I don't just open it up to any spiritual being that wants to drop in.
- Alyxx: I use my Ouija board all the time, and I've never had any problems. Sometimes I do a quick grounding and shielding beforehand, other times I dive right in. I know a lot of people say Ouija boards are dangerous, but I think everyone has their own individual experience with it.
- Taryn: Smudging! I always always smudge. I also cast a circle and call upon the Goddess to keep me safe while I'm working with the Ouija board. I really don't like using it, if I can avoid it. It feels creepy to me.
- Freyja: My tradition doesn't have any sort of rules about using Ouija. it's divination, plain and simple, and I feel that I get what I call up. If you don't know how to deal with what you're invoking, you shouldn't be doing it. I know a lot of people think Ouija is dangerous, but honestly, it has more to do with the common sense level of the people using it.
Did you accidentally invoke a spirit or entity that won't go away? Make sure you readGetting Rid of Unwanted Entities for some tips on how to rid yourself of unwelcome metaphysical guests.
How to make a Witches Bottle
Around the Samhain season, you may want to do a little bit of protective magic yourself, and create a witch bottle of your own. The general idea of the witch bottle is to not only protect yourself, but send back the negative energy to whoever or whatever is sending it your way.
You'll need the following items:
- A small glass jar with lid
- Sharp, rusty items like nails, razor blades, bent pins
- Sea salt
- Red string or ribbon
- A black candle
One option is to fill the remainder of the jar with your own urine - this identifies the bottle as belonging to you. However, if the idea makes you a bit squeamish, there are other ways you can complete the process. Instead of urine, use a bit of wine. You may wish to consecrate the wine first before using it in this manner. In some magical traditions, the practitioner might choose to spit in the wine after it's in the jar because -- much like the urine -- this is a way of marking the jar as your territory.
Cap the jar, and make sure it's sealed tightly (particularly if you used urine - you don't want any accidental spillage), and seal it with wax from the black candle. Black is considered handy for banishing negativity. If you're having trouble finding black candles, you may want to use white instead, and imagine a white ring of protection surrounding your witch bottle. Also, in candle magic, white is typically considered a universal substitute for any other color candle.
Now - where to stash your bottle? There are two schools of thought on this, and you can decide which one works best for you. One group swears that the bottle needs to be hidden somewhere in the home - under a doorstep, up in a chimney, behind a cabinet, whatever -- because that way, any negative magic aimed at the house will always go straight to the witch bottle, avoiding the people in the home. The other philosophy is that the bottle needs to be buried as far away from the house as possible, so that any negative magic sent towards you will never reach your home in the first place. Whichever one you choose, be sure that you're leaving your bottle in a place where it will remain undisturbed permanently.
If you do believe someone may be trying to harm you or your family with malicious magic, be sure to read about Magical Self Defense.
Legend of The Samhain Needfire
Traditionally, the Needfire was lit without the use of iron. It could only be started by rubbing a pair of sticks together, or twisting a rope along a stake until a spark was created. In some areas, it was considered acceptable to use embers from a tree that had been hit by lightning as your starter, but typically, the Needfire was started by hand. Although it can be tricky to start a fire without flint or matches or a lighter -- anyone who's watched survival shows on television knows this -- it is indeed possible to do it. If you practice your technique ahead of time, you should be able to light a Samhain Needfire to help protect and guard your family through the coming year.
There are some excellent resources online for how to make a fire using a bow-drill, which is basically a piece of wood with a string, run along a spindle until a spark is created. Check these websites for an idea of how you can get your
make an offering to the deities of your tradition, thanking them for keeping an eye on you in the coming year. You may also wish to make an offering to your ancestors, invoking them to protect your family.
Making a Scrying Mirror
To make your scrying mirror, you'll need the following:
- A clear glass plate
- Matte black spray paint
- Additional paints (acrylic) for embellishment
Once the paint has dried, turn the glass right side up. Use your acrylic paint to add embellishments around the outer edge of the plate -- you can add symbols of your tradition, magical sigils, or even your favorite saying. The one in the photo says, "Thee I invoke by the moonlit sea, the standing stone, and the twisted tree," but yours can say anything you like. Allow these to dry as well. Your mirror is ready for scrying, but before you use it, you may want to consecrate it as you would any other magical item.
Honoring The Harvest's End
Samhain represents, among other things, the end of the harvest season. If you haven't picked it by Samhain, you probably won't be eating it! The gardens have died off by now, and where we once saw lush green plants, there is nothing left but dry and dead stalks. The perennials have shut down for the season too, going dormant so that they may return to us in the spring. Animals are brought in from the fields for the winter -- and if you've ever had a spider come wandering into your living room one chilly October night, you know that even the insects are trying to find a place to stay warm.
If we had lived a few hundreds of years ago, we would not only have brought our cows and sheep in from the pastures. Most likely we'd slaughter a few of them, as well as some pigs and goats, smoking the meat so it would last through the cold months. Our grain that we picked back atLughnasadh has been baked into bread, and all of our herbs have been gathered, and hang from the rafters in the kitchen. The harvest is over, and now it's time to settle in for winter with the coziness of a warm fireplace, heavy blankets, and big pots of comfort food on the stovetop.
If you want to celebrate Samhain as the time of harvest's end, you can do so as a single ritual, or as the first of three days of ceremony. If you don't have a permanentaltar in place, set up a table to leave in place for the three days prior to Samhain. This will act as a your family's temporary altar for the Sabbat. Decorate the altar with symbols of late fall, such as:
- Skulls, skeletons, grave rubbings, ghosts
- Harvest food such as pumpkins, squash, root vegetables
- Nuts and berries, dark breads
- Dried leaves and acorns
- A cornucopia filled with an abundance of fruit and veggies
- Mulled cider, wine, or mead
To begin your ceremony, prepare a meal for the family -- and this is something that everyone can get involved in. Put emphasis on fruits and vegetables, and wild game meat if available. Also make sure you have a loaf of a dark bread like rye or pumpernickel and a cup of apple cider or wine. Set the dinner table with candles and a fall centerpiece, and put all the food on the table at once. Consider the dinner table a sacred space.
Gather everyone around the table, and say:
Tonight is the first of three nights,
on which we celebrate Samhain.
It is the end of the harvest, the last days of summer,
and the cold nights wait on the other side for us.
The bounty of our labor, the abundance of the harvest,
the success of the hunt, all lies before us.
We thank the earth for all it has given us this season,
and yet we look forward to winter,
a time of sacred darkness.
Take the cup of cider or wine, and lead everyone outside. Make this a ceremonial and formal occasion. If you have a vegetable garden, great! Go there now -- otherwise, just find a nice grassy spot in your yard. Each person in the family takes the cup in turn and sprinkles a little bit of cider onto the earth, saying:
Summer is gone, winter is coming.
We have planted and
we have watched the garden grow,
we have weeded,
and we have gathered the harvest.
Now it is at its end.
If you have any late-fall plants still waiting to be picked, gather them up now. Collect a bundle of dead plants and use them to make a straw man or woman. If you follow a more masculine path, he may be your King of Winter, and rule your home until spring returns. If you follow the Goddess in her many forms, make a female figure to represent the Goddess as hag or crone in winter.
Once that is done, go back inside and bring your King of Winter into your home with much pomp and circumstance. Place him on your table and prop him up with a plate of his own, and when you sit down to eat, serve him first.
Begin your meal with the breaking of the dark bread, and make sure you toss a few crumbs outside for the birds afterwards. Keep the King of Winter in a place of honor all season long -- you can put him back outside in your garden on a pole to watch over next spring's seedlings, and eventually burn him at your Beltane celebration.
When you are finished with your meal, put the leftovers out in the garden. Wrap up the evening by playing games, such as bobbing for apples or telling spooky stories before a bonfire.
Celebrate The God & Goddess at Samhain
Begin by casting a circle, if your tradition requires it. Prior to starting the ceremony, place three sheaves of corn or wheat around the ritual space. You'll also need a statue or other image of the God and of the Goddess at the center of your altar. Around the statues, place five candles -- red and black to represent the dark aspect of the Goddess, green and brown to symbolize the wild God, and white for the hearth and home.
Place a plate of dark bread, enough for each person present, near the center of the altar, along with a cup of wine or cider. Circle the altar. The youngest person present will act as the Handmaiden, and the oldest as the High Priest (HP) or High Priestess (HPs). If you're performing this rite as a solitary, simply take on both parts. The HPs lights the red and black candles, and says:
A pair of candles is lit
in honor of the Goddess.
She is Maiden and Mother throughout the year
and tonight we honor her as Crone.
Next, the HPs lights the brown and green candles, saying:
A pair of candles is lit
in honor of the God.
He is wild and fertile and animal
and tonight we honor him as the Horned God.
The Handmaiden takes the bread and walks the circle with the plate, allowing each person to tear off a chunk. As they do so, she says: May the blessings of the Goddess be upon you. The cup of wine or cider is passed around, and each person takes a sip. As they do, the Handmaiden should say: May the blessings of the God be upon you.
The Handmaiden then lights the fifth candle, for the hearth, saying:
This candle is lit
in honor of hearth and home.
The mother and father, the Goddess and God,
watch over us tonight as we honor them.
The HPs then takes over, saying:
We light these five candles
for the powerful Goddess
and her mighty horned consort, the God,
and for the safety of home and hearth.
On this, the night of Samhain,
when the Goddess is a wise Crone,
and the God is a wild stag,
we honor them both.
The Handmaiden says:
This is a time between the worlds,
a time of life and a time of death.
This is a night unlike any other night.
Ancient ones, we ask your blessing.
Goddess, great Crone, mother of all life,
we thank you for your wisdom.
Horned God, master of the wild hunt, keeper of the forest,
we thank you for all that you provide.
At this time, the rest of the group may also say thanks. If you wish to make an offering to the God and Goddess, now is the time to place it upon the altar.
Once all offerings have been made, and thanks given, take a moment to meditate on the new beginnings of Samhain. Consider the gifts that the gods have given you over the past year, and think about how you might show them your gratitude in the coming twelve months. As the old year dies, make room in the new year for new things in your life. You may not know yet what's coming, but you can certainly imagine, dream and hope. Tonight, this night between the worlds, is the perfect time to imagine what things may come.
End the ritual in the way called for by your tradition.
- Decorate your altar with symbols of the God -- antlers, acorns, pine cones, phallic symbols -- and representations of the Goddess, such as red flowers, cups, pomegranates, etc.
- If your tradition honors a specific pair of male and female deities, feel free to substitute their names in this ritual wherever it says God or Goddess.
Celebrate The Cycle of Life and Death
For this ritual, you'll want to decorate your altar with symbols of life and death. You'll want to have on hand a white candle and a black one, as well as black, red, and white ribbon in equal lengths (one set for each participant). Finally, you'll need a few sprigs of rosemary.
Perform this rite outside if at all possible. If you normally cast a circle, do so now. Say:
Samhain is here, and it is a time of transitions.
The winter approaches, and the summer dies.
This is the time of the Dark Mother,
a time of death and of dying.
This is the night of our ancestors
and of the Ancient Ones.
Place the rosemary on the altar. If you are doing this as a group ceremony, pass it around the circle before placing on the altar. Say:
Rosemary is for remembrance,
and tonight we remember those who have
lived and died before us,
those who have crossed through the veil,
those who are no longer with us.
We will remember.
Turn to the north, and say:
The north is a place of cold,
and the earth is silent and dark.
Spirits of the earth, we welcome you,
knowing you will envelope us in death.
Turn to face the east, and say:
The east is a land of new beginnings,
the place where breath begins.
Spirits of air, we call upon you,
knowing you will be with us as we depart life.
Face south, saying:
The south is a land of sunlight and fire,
and your flames guide us through the cycles of life.
Spirits of fire, we welcome you,
knowing you will transform us in death.
Finally, turn to face the west, and say:
The west is a place of underground rivers,
and the sea is a never-ending, rolling tide.
Spirits of water, we welcome you,
knowing you will carry us
through the ebbs and flows of our life.
Light the black candle, saying:
The Wheel of the Year turns once more,
and we cycle into darkness.
Next, light the white candle, and say:
At the end of that darkness comes light.
And when it arrives, we will celebrate once more.
Each person takes a set of ribbons -- one white, one black, and one red. Say:
White for life, black for death,
red for rebirth.
We bind these strands together
remembering those we have lost.
Each person should then braid or knot their three ribbons together. As you do so, focus on the memories of those you have lost in your life.
While everyone is braiding or knotting, say:
Please join me in chanting as you work your energy and love into your cords:
As the corn will come from grain,
All that dies will rise again.
As the seeds grow from the earth,
We celebrate life, death and rebirth.
Finally, ask everyone to take their knotted ribbons home with them and place them on their personal altar if they have one. That way, they can be reminded of their loved ones each time they pass by.
Note: Rosemary is used in this rite because although it seems to go dormant over the winter, if you keep it in a pot you'll get new growth in the spring. If there's another plant you'd rather use, feel free.
Samhain Ritual to Honor Animals
If you have a pet that has passed away during this last year, you may want to include a photo or keepsake of them on your table during this rite.
Prepare a stew for your family that includes small amounts of as many different meats as you may have available -- beef, pork, game, chicken, etc. If your family is vegetarian or vegan, designate a non-meat ingredient to represent each animal and adapt the ritual as needed, eliminating lines that reference the eating of animals. When your stew is ready, gather the family around the altar table you prepared during the previous night's Harvest End Ritual.
Place the stew pot in the center of the table, with a large serving spoon or ladle. Make sure you have some good dark bread to eat as well. Each member of the family should have a bowl and spoon handy. Say:
Samhain has come, and it is the end of the Harvest.
The crops are in from the fields,
And the animals are preparing for the coming winter.
Tonight, we honor the animals in our lives.
Some have died that we may eat.
Some have provided us with love.
Some have protected us from that which would do us harm.
Tonight, we thank them all.
Go around the family in a circle. Each person should take a scoop of stew from the pot and place it in their bowl. Younger children may need an adult's help with this. As each person gets their helping, say:
Blessed are the animals,
Those who die that we may eat.
Blessed are the animals,
Those we love and who love us in return.As the Wheel of the Year continues to turn,
The harvest has ended, and the grain has been threshed.
The animals sleep for the winter.
We thank them for their gifts.
Take your time finishing your meal. If you have pets, don't be surprised if they come visit while you're eating your stew tonight -- animals tend to be very aware of the spiritual plane! If there is any stew left over, leave some out for the spirits. Any extra bread can be thrown outside for the wild animals and birds.
- If you want to mix a bit of stew in with your pet's everyday food, it's a good idea to check with your veterinarian first.
Honor The Ancestors at Samhain
First, decorate your altar table -- you may have already gotten it set up during the End of Harvest rite or for the Ritual for Animals. Decorate your altar with family photos and heirlooms. If you have a family tree chart, place that on there as well. Add postcards, flags, and other symbols of the country your ancestors came from. If you're lucky enough to live near where your family members are buried, make a grave rubbing and add that as well. In this case, a cluttered altar is perfectly acceptable -- after all, each of us is a blend of many different people and cultures.
Have a meal standing by to eat with the ritual. Include lots of dark bread, apples, fall vegetables, and a jug of cider or wine. Set your dinner table, with a place for each family member, and one extra plate for the ancestors. You may want to bake someSoul Cakes.
If your family has household guardians, include statues or masks of them on your altar. Finally, if a relative has died this year, place a candle for them on the altar. Light candles for other relatives, and as you do so, say the person's name aloud. It's a good idea to use tealights for this, particularly if you have a lot of relatives to honor.
Once all the candles have been lit, the entire family should circle the altar. The oldest adult present leads the ritual. Say:
This is the night when the gateway between
our world and the spirit world is thinnest.
Tonight is a night to call out those who came before us.
Tonight we honor our ancestors.
Spirits of our ancestors, we call to you,
and we welcome you to join us for this night.
We know you watch over us always,
protecting us and guiding us,
and tonight we thank you.
We invite you to join us and share our meal.
The oldest family member then serves everyone else a helping of whatever dishes have been prepared, except for the wine or cider. A serving of each food goes on the ancestors' plate before the other family members recieve it. During the meal, share stories of ancestors who are no longer among the living -- this is the time to remember Grandpa's war stories he told you as a child, tell about when Aunt Millie used salt instead of sugar in the cake, or reminisce about summers spent at the family homestead in the mountains.
When everyone has finished eating, clear away all the dishes, except for the ancestors' plate. Pour the cider or wine in a cup, and pass it around the circle (it should end at the ancestor's place). As each person receives the cup, they recite their genealogy, like so:
I am Susan, daughter of Joyce, the daughter of Malcolm, son of Jonathan...
and so forth. Feel free to add in place names if you like, but be sure to include at least one generation that is deceased. For younger family members, you may wish to have them only recite back to their grandparents, just because otherwise they can get confused.
Go back as many generations as you can, or (in the case of people who have done a lot of genealogy research) as many as you can remember. You may be able to trace your family back to William the Conqueror, but that doesn't mean you have it memorized. After each person recites their ancestry, they drink from the cider cup and pass it to the next person.
A quick note here -- many people are adopted. If you are one them, you are fortunate enough to be able to choose whether you wish to honor your adoptive family, your biological family, or a combination of the two. If you don't know the names of your birth parents or their ancestry, there's nothing wrong with saying, "Daughter of a family unknown." It's entirely up to you. The spirits of your ancestors know who you are, even if you don't know them yet.
After the cup has made its way around the table, place it in front of the ancestors' plate. This time, a younger person in the family takes over, saying:
This is the cup of remembrance.
We remember all of you.
You are dead but never forgotten,
and you live on within us.
- If you didn't do a separate ritual for animals, you can add photos and candles for deceased pets to your family altar.
- If you like, you may wish to follow this ritual with a Seance.
- If your children are younger, and you'd like to include them in a short ritual, consider holding an Ancestor Ritual for Families With Children instead.
Samhain Ancestor Meditation
Samhain is known as the night when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. It's a time to sit back and honor the spirit world, and call upon those ancestors who came before us. After all, if not for them, we wouldn't be here. We owe them something, some gratitude for their ability to survive, their strength, their spirit. Many Pagans choose Samhain as a time to honor their ancestors. If this is something you'd like to do, you can celebrate with a ritual or by hosting a seance or dumb supper in their honor:
In addition to these more formal rituals, you may also want to take some time alone for a quiet meditation. This is a point in the Wheel of the Year when the spirit world is a bit closer than normal, and if you've never tried to contact your ancestors before, now is a good time to do it.
When performing an ancestor meditation, people experience different things. You may find yourself meeting a specific person that you are aware of in your family history -- maybe you've heard the stories about great-uncle Joe who went out west after the Civil War, and now you have the privilege of chatting with him, or perhaps you'll meet the grandmother who passed away when you were a child. Some people, however, meet their ancestors as archetypes. In other words, it may not be a specific individual you meet, but rather a symbol -- instead of adventurous great-uncle Joe, it may be a non-specific Civil War soldier or frontiersman. Either way, understand that meeting these individuals is a gift. Pay attention to what they say and do -- it may be that they're trying to give you a message.
Before you perform this meditation, it's not a bad idea to spend some time with the tangible, physical aspects of your family. Bring out the old photo albums, read through wild Aunt Tillie's diary from the Great Depression, get out your grandfather's old pocket watch that almost sank with the Titanic. These are the material things that connect us to our family. They link us, magically and spiritually. Spend time with them, absorbing their energies and thinking of the things they've seen, the places they've been.
You can perform this ritual anywhere, but if you can do it outside at night it's even more powerful. Decorate your altar (or if you're outside, use a flat stone or tree stump) with the symbols of your ancestors -- the photos, journals, war medals, watches, jewelry, etc. No candles are necessary for this meditation, but if you'd like to light one, do so. You may also want to burn some Samhain spirit incense.
Claiming Your Birthright
Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Think about who you are, and what you are made of, and know that everything within you is the sum of all your ancestors. From thousands of years ago, generations of people have come together over the centuries to create the person you are now. Think about your own strengths -- and weaknesses -- and remember that they came from somewhere. This is a time to honor the ancestors who formed you.
Recite your genealogy -- aloud if you like -- as far back as you can go. As you say each name, describe the person and their life. An example might go something like this:
I am the daughter of James, who fought in Vietnam
and returned to tell the tale.
James was the son of Eldon and Maggie,
who met on the battlefields of France,
as she nursed him back to health.
Eldon was the son of Alice, who sailed
aboard Titanic and survived.
Alice was the daughter of Patrick and Molly,
who farmed the soil of Ireland, who
raised horses and tatted lace to feed the children...and so forth. Go back as far as you like, elaborating in as much detail as you choose. Once you can go back no further, end with "those whose blood runs in me, whose names I do not yet know".
If you happened to meet a certain ancestor, or their archetype, during your meditation, take a moment to thank them for stopping by. Take note of any information they may have given you -- even if it doesn't make sense just now, it may later on when you give it some more thought. Think about all the people you come from, whose genes are part of you. Some were great people -- some, not so much, but the point is, they all belong to you. They all have helped shape and create you. Appreciate them for what they were, with no expectations or apologies, and know that they are watching over you.
Corn has been shucked,
grain has been threshed,
herbs have been hung to dry.
Grapes have been pressed,
potatoes have been dug,
beans have been shelled and canned.
It is the harvest season,
and food is ready for winter.
We will eat, and we will live,
and we will be grateful.
Children's Prayer for Samhain
Samhain is here, cold is the earth,
as we celebrate the cycle of death and rebirth.
Tonight we speak to those through the veil,
the lines between worlds are thin and frail.
Ghosts and spirits in the night,
magical beings rising in flight,
owls hooting up in a moonlit tree,
I don't fear you and you don't fear me.
As the sun goes down, far to the west,
my ancestors watch over me as I rest.
They keep me safe and without fear,
on the night of Samhain, the Witches' New Year.
A Prayer to the Ancestors
This is the night when the gateway between
our world and the spirit world is thinnest.
Tonight is a night to call out those who came before.
Tonight I honor my ancestors.
Spirits of my fathers and mothers, I call to you,
and welcome you to join me for this night.
You watch over me always,
protecting and guiding me,
and tonight I thank you.
Your blood runs in my veins,
your spirit is in my heart,
your memories are in my soul.
[If you wish, you may want to recite your genealogy here. This can include both your blood family, and your spiritual one.]
With the gift of remembrance.
I remember all of you.
You are dead but never forgotten,
and you live on within me,
and within those who are yet to come.
Prayer to the Deities of Death
The harvest has ended, and the fields are bare.
The earth has grown cold, and the land is empty.
The gods of the death are lingering over us,
keeping a watchful eye upon the living.
They wait, patiently, for eternity is theirs.
Hail to you, Anubis! O jackal headed one,
guardian of the realm of the dead.
When my time comes, I hope
you may deem me worthy.
Hail to you, Demeter! O mother of darkness,
May your grief be abated
when your daughter returns once more.
Hail to you, Hecate! O keeper of the gate,
between this world and the underworld.
I ask that when I cross over,
you may guide me with wisdom.
Hail to you, Freya! O mistress of Folkvangr,
guardian of those who fall in battle.
Keep the souls of my ancestors with you.
Hail to you, O gods and goddesses,
those of you who guard the underworld
and guide the dead on their final journey.
At this time of cold and dark,
I honor you, and ask that you watch over me,
and protect me when the day arrives
that I take my final journey.
Legends & Folklore of Samhain The Final Harvest
Gods & Goddesses of The Underworld
- Anubis (Egyptian): This god with the head of a jackal is associated with mummification and death in ancient Egypt. Anubis is the one who decides whether or not one the deceased is worthy of entering the realm of the dead.
- Demeter (Greek): Through her daughter, Persephone, Demeter is linked strongly to the changing of the seasons and is often connected to the image of the Dark Mother and the dying of the fields. When Persephone was abducted by Hades, Demeter's grief caused the earth to die for six months, until her daughter's return.
- Freya (Norse): Although Freya is typically associated with fertility and abundance, she is also known as a goddess of war and battle. Half of the men who died in battle joined Freya in her hall, Folkvangr, and the other half joined Odin in Valhalla.
- Hecate (Greek): Although Hecate was originally considered a goddess of fertility and childbirth, over time she has come to be associated with the moon, cronehood, and the underworld. Sometimes referred to as the Goddess of the Witches, Hecate is also connected to ghosts and the spirit world. In some traditions of modern Paganism, she is believed to be the gatekeeper between graveyards and the mortal world.
- Hel (Norse): This goddess is the ruler of the underworld in Norse mythology. Her hall is called Éljúðnir, and is where mortals go who do not die in battle, but of natural causes or sickness.
- Meng Po (Chinese): This goddess appears as an old woman, and it is her job to make sure that souls about to be reincarnated do not recall their previous time on earth. She brews a special herbal tea of forgetfulness, which is given to each soul before they return to the mortal realm.
- Morrighan (Celtic): This warrior goddess is associated with death in a way much like the Norse goddess Freya. The Morrighan is known as the washer at the ford, and it is she who determines which warriors walk off the battlefield, and which ones are carried away on their shields. She is represented in many legends by a trio of ravens, often seen as a symbol of death.
- Osiris (Egyptian): In Egyptian mythology, Osiris is murdered by his brother Set before being resurrected by the magic of his lover, Isis. The death and dismemberment of Osiris is often associated with the threshing of the grain during the harvest season.
- Whiro (Maori): This underworld god inspires people to do evil things. He typically appears as a lizard, and is the god of the dead.
- Yama (Hindu): In the Hindu Vedic tradition, Yama was the first mortal to die and make his way to the next world, and so he was appointed king of the dead. He is also a lord of justice, and sometimes appears in an incarnation as Dharma.
Keep a sprig of rosemaryand a sixpence under your pillow on Samhain night, and you'll dream of your future spouse.
Ever go bobbing for applesat a Halloween party? In England, everyone knows that the first girl to successfully retrieve an apple will be the first to marry!
In parts of England, it was believed that if a maiden carried a lantern to a well on Samhain night and held the light above the water, she would see the reflection of future husband.
The Spirit World:
People were often cautioned that if they heard footsteps behind them on the night of Samhain, they shouldn't turn back because it may be a spirit following them.
If you host a dumb supper and no one speaks, the spirits are far more likely to show up.
It was believed that ringing a bell on Samhain kept away evil spirits.
Burying animal bones in front of your house on the night of Samhain will keep evil away, according to some legends of eastern Europe.
Samhain is a good time of year to work on communicating with the spirit world.
Birds and Animals:
Black cats were once seen as bad luck.
One old folktale from Appalachia says that owls flew down on Samhain night to eat the souls of the dead.
If the bats come out early on Samhain night, and fly around, it means good weather is coming.
Some people believe that if you see a spider on Samhain, it harbors the spirit of a dead ancestor, watching you... so don't squash it!
History of Black Cats & Superstition
Every year when people begin putting out their Halloween decorations, and we start dressing our homes for Samhain, inevitably the image of the black cat comes up. It's usually portrayed with its back arched, claws out, and occasionally wearing a jaunty pointed hat. Local news channels warn us to keep black cats inside on Halloween just in case the local hooligans decide to get up to some nasty hijinks.
But where did the fear of these beautiful animals come from? Anyone who lives with a cat knows how fortunate they are to have a cat in their life -- so why are they considered unlucky?
The ancient Egyptians honored cats of every color. Cats were mighty and strong, and held sacred. Two of the most amazing goddesses in the Egyptian pantheon wereBast and Sekhmet, worshiped as long ago as 3000 b.c.e. Family cats were adorned with jewelry and fancy collars, and even had pierced ears. If a cat died, the entire family went into mourning, and sent the cat off to the next world with a great ceremony. For thousands of years, the cat held a position of divinity in Egypt.
The Witch's Familiar:
Around the time of the Middle Ages, the cat became associated with witches and witchcraft. Around the late 1300's, a group of witches in France were accused of worshipping the Devil in the form of a cat. It may be because of the cat's nocturnal nature that it became connected to witches -- after all, night time was the time they held their meetings, as far as the church was concerned.
Around the time of World War Two, when the American tradition of Halloween astrick-or-treat time really got underway, cats became a big part of the holiday decoration. This time around, however, they were considered a good luck charm -- a black cat at your door would scare away any evil critters that might come a'calling.
Black Cat Folklore and Legends:
- Sixteenth-century Italians believed that if a black cat jumped on the bed of an ill person, the person would soon die.
- In Colonial America, Scottish immigrants believed that a black cat entering a wake was bad luck, and could indicated the death of a family member.
- The Norse goddess Freyja drove a chariot pulled by a pair of black cats.
- A Roman solder killed a black cat in Egypt, and was killed by an angry mob of locals.
- Appalachian folklore said that if you had a stye on the eyelid, rubbing the tail of a black cat on it would make the stye go away.
- If you find a single white hair on your otherwise-black cat, it's a good omen.
- In England's border countries and southern Scotland, a strange black cat on the front porch brings good fortune.
Jack O' Lanterns
One of the most enduring symbols of Halloween is the jack o'lantern. Carved pumpkins are a mainstay ofthe Samhain season, and for some folks, the more elaborate the carved design, the better! A jack o'lantern typically holds a candle (you can also get battery-powered tealights, which are a lot safer) which illuminates the carved out design. School children are alternately delighted and terrified by them -- but how did the whole idea of carving up a pumpkin evolve in the first place?
The Turnip Issue:
Some authors have claimed that the idea of a hollowed-out vegetable with a candle in the middle originated with the Celts. However, the Celts didn't have pumpkins, which are a North American plant. They did have beets, turnips, and other root vegetables. Have you ever tried to hollow out a raw beet? It's quite an experience, believe me.
In addition, scholars say it's pretty unlikely that the Celts carved faces into their vegetables - they were too busy saving them to eat during the cold winter months. So the tradition of the jack o'lantern as a Halloween decoration is probably a fairly modern invention, by historical standards, although no one has been able to figure out exactly when it began.
As mentioned, the pumpkin is a vegetable known primarily to North Americans. The native tribes here used it as a source of food for years before white men even set foot on their soil.
The first example of the jack o'lantern appearing in American literature is in an 1837 story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote The Scarlet Letter. The carved lantern didn't become associated with Halloween until around the time of the Civil War.
The Jack Story:
In many cultures, there exist what is known as a "Jack story". These are basically a series of folktales that revolve around a trickster-type character -- Tricky Jack, Clever Jack, etc. -- and usually start off with Jack getting in some sort of trouble. They always end with Jack resolving his problem, often at his own expense -- in other words, a Jack Story is a typical cautionary tale. You can find these types of tales around the world, from Germany to the Scottish Highlands to the hills of Appalachia.
In the case of the jack o'lantern, the story that inspired it is one in which Jack tries to outsmart the Devil himself. In the tale, Jack tricks the Devil into agreeing never to collect his soul. However, once Jack dies, it turns out he's led too sinful a life to get into heaven, but because of his bargain with the Devil, he can't get into hell either. Jack complains about how dark it is, wandering around earth with no place to go, and someone tosses him a hot coal, which he places in a hollowed-out turnip. Now poor Jack uses his turnip-lantern to guide him, and he is known as Jack of the Lantern.
In some variations of the story, Jack comes out only on Halloween night, and is looking for someone to take his place... so watch out, if you see him wandering your way!
Tricks or Treats?
A Mischievous Halloween History
While many of us Pagans celebrate the holiday calledSamhain, for some of us, it's also the secular event of Halloween. The tradition of trick-or-treating isn't quite as old as the holiday itself, but it's certainly been around for a while. Let's look at how this unique custom evolved.
All Soul's Night:
In Britain, people celebrated All Soul's Day for many years. Poor people went begging, and the middle-class wives handed out special treats known as Soul Cakes. When a beggar was given a Soul Cake, he promised to say a prayer for the dead. This practice was known as going "a-souling".
In Ireland, rather than begging for cakes, the poor went about asking for donations of eggs, butter and other food in preparation for a festival honoring St. Columba. In County Waterford, the night was known as "mischief night."
Trick-or-Treating in America:
By the nineteenth century, there were a lot of Americans who could trace their ancestry back to Britain, Ireland and Scotland, and they brought their traditions with them. Begging for sweets became something that was no longer the domain of the poor, and now instead was a children's activity. However, it was typically organized in the manner of the home country's traditions -- girls stayed inside, playing games of divination, and boys went out and caused trouble in the neighborhood.
The Depression Hits:
An interesting thing happens in America's Halloween history around the time of the Great Depression. As poverty and crime increase, as does the industrialization of America, the "mischief night" pranks become more and more malicious and harmful. At this point, we start seeing people -- typically adult leaders of various municipalities -- organizing Halloween events. Rather than having roaming hoards of boys out vandalizing the community, instead they are presented with more structured, safer activities. In 1939, the phrase "trick or treat" appeared for the very first time.
Modern Tricks and Treats:
What we know today as trick-or-treating, complete with costumes and candy, became popular decades ago. There was a slight lull during World War II, when sugar rationing limited candy production, but since then it has become a multi-million dollar business. In 2005, nearly eighty percent of adults said they'd be giving out at least $40 worth of candy on Beggar's Night. Although trick-or-treating for candy is primarily found in America, the British Isles, and Canada, thanks to mass media the custom has begun to see an increase in the rest of Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand.
Fun Halloweeny Facts:
Here's some fun facts from the Department of the Census. Did you know:
- In 2006, an estimated 36.1 million kids between 5 - 13 went trick-or-treating.
- Also in 2006, the major pumpkin-producing states produced over a billion pounds of pumpkins -- that's a LOT of jack-o-lanterns.
- The average American eats about 26 pounds of candy a year, and most of that is at Halloween. Admittedly, some of us eat more than our share.
- In 2005, there were 2,232 costume-rental stores open for business in the United States.
Caring for The Dead
Funerals Around The World
Every society, throughout history, has found some way to attend to the proper care of their dead.
Here are some different methods in which various cultures have said farewell to their loved ones:
- On the island of Sulawesi, in Indonesia, newborn infants who die are buried in the trunks of giant trees. The people there believe that the child's soul will rise up into the heavens through the tree.
- Many cultures, such as the Mayans and the Egyptians, buried their dead in tombs that were part of ceremonial centers. Multiple burials were often contained in the same pyramid or plaza. Earlier burials were often built over by later generations, making these sites a bit of a puzzle for researchers.
- The ancient Chinese buried their rulers insuits of jade before internment.
- Archeologists have unearthed the tombs of Neanderthal man dating back to 60,000 b.c.e. at the Shanidar Cave in Iraq. The graves included animal antlers placed on the body, and flower detritus nearby. This may indicate some sort of ritual took place, even that long ago.
- Modern-day women of a New Guinea tribe, the Gimi, have a ritual that involves eating the flesh of deceased men. Gillian Gilson, author of Between Culture and Fantasy A New Guinea Highlands Mythology indicates that this is partly because eating the body prevents it from decomposing, but there are some other, more complex, cultural reasons as well. In some ancient societies, the dead were cremated and then their ashes consumed.
- The burial of a Norse chieftain included all the things the man might need in the afterlife -- a ship, weapons, horses, and food. In an account given by the 10th century Muslim writer Ahmad ibn Fadlan, he describes a scene in which a slave girl is sacrificed in a chieftain's funeral. A fictionalized version of ibn Fadlan's tale appears in Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead.
- In some customs, funeral services consist of simply leaving the dead to rot, or be consumed by wild beasts. In Tibet, and in some Native American cultures, it was believed that those who were eaten by dogs were better off in the next world.
- Covering the face of the dead comes from the ancient belief that the soul escaped the body via the mouth. In some African tribes, it was common to tie the mouth shut. Many practices also come from the idea that evil spirits were hovering around the body to steal the soul immediately after death -- this is where we get the ringing of bells, firing of weapons, and the holding of a wake.
Celebrating The Day of The Dead
Author Sheena Morgan says in The Real Halloween that the original, pre-Christian celebration took place in late August, and coincided with the migration of Monarch butterflies. The Aztecs believed that the Monarchs were the souls of the dead, returning to their homes. After the Spanish conquest of Mexico, celebrations were moved to early November, and blended indigenous customs with observance of Christian holy days.
Today, people of Mexican descent celebrate the Day of the Dead with picnics, elaborate altars, parades, and visits to cemeteries. Altars include colored tissue ribbons, flowers, photos of the dead, and candles. It's also popular to include food offerings with a theme of death - sugar skulls and coffins are a common item, as are small figures made of bread.
Sonja Rosales is a Mexican-American living in South Carolina. She says that for her family and many others, this is not a day of mourning, but a day of happiness. "It's a chance for us to remember the dead with love. We start by honoring theangelitos, the children who are deceased, and then we remember the older people. We go to the graveyard and have a picnic. My husband brings a guitar and we sing songs. My children laugh and play among the gravestones. I know that our ancestors are there, and they are happy that we remember them."
If you'd like to celebrate the Day of the Dead in your own family, you can either incorporate it into your Samhain festivities, or hold it as a separate event. Here are some ways you can observe the Day of the Dead, no matter what your cultural background may be.
- Build an ancestor shrine in your home, so that everyone in your family can remember the dead.
- Make sugar skulls, or calaveras, and coffins.
- If your loved ones are buried nearby, visit their graves. Clean up the headstone if it's looking shoddy, and leave a small gift or token of your visit.
- Prepare a special dinner for your family, and include a place setting for those who have died. You can either make it formal and serious, like the Dumb Supper, or joyous and fun - it's up to you. Decorate the dinner table with lots of candles and flowers.
- Hold a ritual to honor your deceased ancestors. Make offerings if appropriate.
- Adorn your home with skulls, skeletons, and other symbols of death.
Samhain Crafts & Creations
Make a Grave Rubbing
*NOTE: We here at About Paganism/Wicca recognize that some people feel grave rubbings are destructive no matter what precautions you may take. However, because there are also graveyard experts who say that a careful grave rubbing should do no damage to the headstone, we will continue to include this article here on the site. Use your own best judgment, and if you are opposed to the creation of grave rubbings, then don't do it.
It’s important to keep in mind that if you’re tromping about a cemetery, you should be respectful. Not only of the people who are lying there, but also of those living beings who may happen to come along while you’re there. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself, but please make an effort not to disturb someone who may be grieving. Not everyone views death in the same way, so while your family may accept it as part of nature’s cycle, another family might be overcome by a sense of loss. Also, bear in mind that many cemeteries are private property. Before wandering into them, check to see if you need to get permission. If you do, be sure to get it before you end up trespassing.
Headstone rubbings are a unique way of preserving the past and getting some pretty neat décor out of it as well. While doing a rubbing usually doesn’t usually cause damage to headstones, particularly newer ones, there are certain precautions that should be taken. If a stone is worn or crumbling, pass on it. Rubbing an already-damaged stone can cause it to flake and chip to the point where it’s irreparable. Instead, choose stones which are in good condition – the best results come from either polished granite stones or solid slate markers.
Many modern Pagans include ancestor worship as part of their Samhain celebrations-- it's not out of the ordinary to meet members of the Pagan community who can recite their genealogy back ten or more generations. In addition, because it's common for Pagans today to view death not as ending but as the beginning of the next phase of spiritual development, grave rubbings are popular with many Pagans. It's great to use those of your own relatives and family members, but if you find a headstone that strikes you as interesting, there's nothing wrong with making a rubbing from it.
You will need: lightweight paper (white butcher paper works nicely, but you can experiment with other colors as well), a large crayon (preferably black, but again, feel free to try new stuff) or rubbing wax, masking tape, and a soft-bristled paintbrush to clear debris off the stone. You might also want to take a cardboard tube with you to store your rubbings for transport home. I also like to bring a notepad and pencil to jot down notes about the cemetery and the person whose headstone I’ve rubbed. A pair of garden scissors can be helpful for trimming off weeds at the base of the stone.
Once you’ve chosen your stone, brush it off lightly with your paintbrush. You’d be surprised how much dust and organic material can accumulate in the carvings, to say nothing of bird poop. Once it’s cleaned off, use the masking tape to keep the paper in place over the area you wish to rub. Try to extend the paper past the top and sides of the stone – that way you won’t get random crayon marks on the stone itself.
Start your rubbing by filling in the outer edges of the carved area. This will give you a point to work towards. Once you’ve done that, move to the center and begin working outward, back towards your edges. Use the flattest surface of the crayon or wax, and make light, even strokes. If it looks like your rubbing isn’t showing up well, don’t worry. You can go back and add more definition later. Keep your strokes uniform to prevent variations in coloring. As you do your rubbing, you may want to offer a small prayer or blessing to the person whose stone you are using.
Once you think you’re done, step back and look at the rubbing from a distance. Chances are that by viewing it from a few steps away, you’ll notice some irregularities in the shading or detail. Go back and fix them, without putting too much pressure on the stone. When you’re satisfied with the result, carefully remove all the tape. Be sure to clean up stray bits of paper or other garbage. Roll your rubbing up and place it in your tube for safekeeping.
Once you get it home, matte and frame your work and hang it up on your wall. A collection of grave rubbings is a good conversation starter all year long, but particularly at Samhain. If you have access to the gravestones of your ancestors, a wall of framed rubbings can become the perfect altar to your heritage.
Make a Straw Man for Samhain
This is actually one of the easiest and most primitive projects you can do. You can incorporate it into your Samhain rituals, or make one any time. You'll need two bundles of leftover plants out of your garden (if you don't have a garden, it's perfectly fine to gather some plants at the side of the road) and some string. If you're using plants from your garden, feel free to mix and match different branches. The straw man in the photo is made from hyssop, rosemary, and stevia. Make sure one bundle of plants is slightly thicker than the other.
With a long piece of string, tie the fatter bundle together about one fourth of the way from the top. This end becomes the head.
Separate the bundle a little bit, and slide the thinner bundle of weeds through the center. These will be the arms. Use the string and wrap in a criss-cross shape around the body to hold the arms in place. Tie it off to keep it tight, but don't cut the string.
Finally, spread the lower part of the fatter bundle apart, forming two halves as the legs. Bring the string down and wrap around the "thighs" to keep the legs in place. If your branches seem like they're too fluffy, tie a small length of string in place around the wrists and ankles; as the greenery dries it won't stick out as much.
This is a very basic design, and you can either leave your straw man as rustic as you like or pretty him up a bit, it's entirely up to you. Save him until Spring, and then burn him as part of your Beltane celebrations.
Make Your Own Samhain Headstones
The first thing you'll need is a sheet of insulation board, which is available at any home improvement store. A sheet is 4 x 8 feet, which will give you about five good-sized headstones. I recommend using a thickness of at least 1", but 1 1/2 - 2" is even better. The thicker your board, the sturdier your stones.
You'll also need:
- A box cutter or sturdy knife
- Gray flat paint
- Gray stone fleck spray paint
- Black acrylic paint
First, mark out the sizes and shapes of your headstones. They can be rectangular, angled at the top, cross-shaped, whatever you like. Use a pencil to rough out where you're going to cut the board. Once you have your headstones marked off, use a box cutter or sturdy knife to cut them out. Don't worry if your edges look rough or uneven -- they're gravestones, and no one cares if they're perfect!
To make the background for your headstone, apply one to two coats of plain gray flat paint to the front and sides (don't worry about painting the back). Once this has dried, it's time for the texturing. Using the gray stone-fleck spray paint, add a thin coat of flecking to the front of the stone. Don't apply too much, because it tends to get sticky and takes a while to dry.
One can of fleck-stone paint should give you enough to apply a thin layer of flecking to about five or six headstones.
The last thing you'll do is use the black acrylic paint to add your epitaphs. You can keep them simple, with just an "R.I.P." on them, or you can get really creative.
Here are some that I've used on mine:
Here lies two brothers,
by misfortune surrounded.
One bit by a snake,
the other got drownded.Here lies Jed,
age hundred & one.
Proof that only the good die young.This is the body
of "Speedy" McDrake
who stepped on the gas
instead of the brake.Of course, you can always use classic "horror story" names as well, like Dr. Jeckyll, Jack the Ripper and Freddy Krueger. One really clever variation of this that I've seen was set up in honor of the people who died during the Salem Witch trials, and included gravestones for Rebecca Nurse, Giles Corey, and a few others.
There are a few ways you can set up your stones, but the easiest way I've found so far is to use a tomato stake. Drive it into the ground where you want your stone displayed, and the use a few strips of duct tape to secure it to the back of the headstone (this is one reason not to paint the back of the foam board -- duct tape won't stick to painted foam). To add stability, shoot a few staples through the duct tape strips as well.
Another method you can use is to cut pieces of wire about 18" long from a wire coat hanger. Stick the ends of two or three of them into the bottom of the foam headstone, and the other ends into the ground. This works well enough on shorter, horizontally oriented stones, but on taller ones they tend to flop around during a good wind.
If you store these inside during the non-Samhain season, you can literally use them for years, just touching up the paint occasionally when it gets weathered.
Make An Apple Garland
You will need:
several large apples of any color, lemon juice, dried bay leaves, scraps of fabric, cinnamon sticks, raffia and florist’s wire.
Start by peeling and coring the apples, and then slicing them horizontally into circles about 3/8” thick. Fill a bowl with the lemon juice, and place your apple slices in it. Allow them to soak for about ten minutes – this prevents them from turning brown and discolored. Remove the apple slices from the bowl and pat them dry with a paper towel. Bake your apples for about six hours at 200 degrees. If you like, before baking you can dust them with a mixture of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Once your apples are completely dried out, the fun really begins. Using the florist’s wire, begin stringing the apples. The wire should go straight through the apples, but if you have trouble, make a hole with a toothpick. Between every few apple slices, string some bay. You can also alternate the apples and bay leaves with bows made from your fabric scraps.
Make your garland as long or as short as you like – or until your kids get bored – and then knot each end around a cinnamon stick. Tie a piece of raffia around the ends as well, and then drape your garland on your wall, across your mantel, or over your front door.
Another variation on the apple garland is to make a smaller length and then bend it into a circle, forming an apple wreath (see photo). Tie a piece of fabric – or bend a leftover bit of florist’s wire – to the top so you can hang it on a nail or hook.
Make Your Own Pumpkin Candles
The first thing you'll need is a baking-size pumpkin (you can use an acorn squash for this project too). Here's a hint -- before you buy a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch, check your grocery store's produce section. If you don't want to use a lot of wax, buy the mini-pumpkins instead - they're much smaller, and just as easy to work with.
Unless you already have candle-making equipment and paraffin wax, the other thing you'll need to get is some soy wax chips. These are inexpensive, melt easily and safely in your microwave, and burn cleaner than paraffin wax. If you already have paraffin, you can use that for this project, but you'll need to melt it over a double burner instead. If you want to add color or scent, you'll need some of that too.
Finally, you'll need a wick. You can either make your own by coating a string in wax, or you can buy a pre-made wick at any craft or hobby store. The pre-made ones typically have a small metal disc at the bottom for the base.
Assemble all your supplies, and cut the top off the pumpkin. Scoop out the goop inside (you can save the seeds for roasting later) and scrape the interior clean. A melon-baller actually works really well for this step.
Melt your wax -- again, if you use soy chips you can melt them in the microwave. Eight cups of dry chips will give you about four cups of melted wax, which is just about enough to fill a baking pumpkin or acorn squash. Before you pour the wax, secure the wick to the bottom of the pumpkin's inside. It's okay if it flops over a little, because you'll prop it up later when the wax is in place.
Once your wax is melted, add scent or color chips if you like. Stir before pouring. Fill the pumpkin with wax up to the bottom edge of the opening. You'll probably have a little bit left over -- don't throw it away, you'll need it later!
After you've poured the wax, if the wick seems to lean to one side or the other, place a butter knife across the top of the pumpkin to hold up the wick and keep it from flopping.
Once the wax has cooled, you may notice a small dip or indentation around the wick where the wax has sunk. Use the leftover wax to fill this spot up. Trim the wick back so it is no longer than 1/4" long.
When you burn your candle, be careful not to leave it unattended. If the inside of the pumpkin begins to burn, put your candle out immediately. Use it on your altar or around your house as part of your Samhain decorating.
Set Up an Ancestor Shrine
If you've got the room, it's nice to use an entire table for this shrine, but if space is an issue, you can create it in a corner of your dresser top, on a shelf, or on the mantle over your fireplace. Regardless, put it in a place where it can be left undisturbed, so that the spirits of your ancestors may gather there, and you can take time to meditate and honor them without having to move stuff around every time someone needs to use the table.
Also, bear in mind that you can honor anyone you like in this shrine. If you have a deceased pet or friend, go ahead and include them. Someone doesn't have to be a blood relative to be part of our spiritual ancestry. Be sure to read our article on Honoring the Ancestors When You're Adopted.
First, do a physical cleaning of the space. After all, you wouldn't invite Aunt Gertrude to sit in a dirty chair, would you? Dust the table top or shelf and clear it of any items that are not related to your shrine. If you like, you can consecrate the space as sacred, by saying something like:
I dedicate this space to those
whose blood runs through me.
My fathers and mothers,
my guides and guardians,
and those whose spirits
helped to shape me.
As you do this, smudge the area with sage or sweetgrass, or asperge with consecrated water. If your tradition requires it, you may wish to consecrate the space with all four elements.
Finally, add an altar cloth of some sort to help welcome the ancestors. In some Eastern religions, a red cloth is always used. In some Celtic-based paths, it is believed that a fringe on the altar cloth helps tie your spirit to those of your ancestors. If you have time before Samhain, you might want to make an Ancestor Altar Cloth.
There are different types of ancestors, and which ones you choose to include are up to you. There are our blood ancestors, who are the people from whom we directly descend -- parents, grandparents, etc. There are also archetypical ancestors, who represent the place that our clan and family came from. Some people also choose to honor the ancestors of the land -- the spirits of the place you are now -- as a way of thanking them. Finally, there are our spiritual ancestors -- those who we may not be tied to by blood or marriage, but who we claim as family nonetheless.
Start by selecting photos of your ancestors. Choose pictures that have meaning for you -- and if the photos happen to have the living in them as well as the dead, that's okay. Arrange the photos on your altar so that you can see all of them at once.
If you don't have a photo to represent an ancestor, you can use an item that belonged to him or her. If you're placing someone on your altar who lived prior to the mid-1800s, chances are good there's no photograph existing. Instead, use an item that may have been the person's -- a piece of jewelry, a dish that's part of your family heirloom set, a family Bible, etc.
You can also use symbols of your ancestors. If your family is from Scotland, you can use a kilt pin or a length of plaid to represent your clan. If you come from a family of craftsmen, use an item designed or created to symbolize your family's artisanship.
Finally, you can add a genealogy sheet or family tree to the shrine. If you have in your possession the ashes of a departed loved one, add those as well.
Once you have everything in your shrine that represents your ancestors, consider adding a few other items. Some people like to add votive candles, so they can light them while meditating. You may wish to add a cauldron or cup to symbolize the womb of the Earth Mother. You can also add a symbol of your spirituality -- a pentagram, ankh, or some other representation of your beliefs.
Some people leave food offerings on their altars as well, so that their ancestors can partake of a meal with the family.
Use the altar when you perform a Samhain ancestor meditation or a ritual to honor the ancestors.
Make a Kitchen Witch
Do you have leftover fall produce hanging around that you aren't sure what to do with? Take advantage of the opportunity, and put together a cute kitchen witch to watch over your home and hearth in the fall. This kitchen guardian is easy to make, and she'll keep you company while you're mixing up kitchen magic - the one in the photo above is a basic design I make every year. My kids have named her Betty Butternut.
- A small fall vegetable, like a baby butternut squash or pumpkin
- Black acrylic paint
- 1 thick black chenille stem
- Witch accessories, like a hat and broom
Pie Crust Soul Cakes
- A refrigerated roll-out pie crust
- 2 Tbs. melted butter
- 1 C mixed dried fruit
- 2 Tbs honey
Quickie Shortbread Soul Cakes
- 1 stick of butter, softened
- 4 Tbs sugar
- 1 1/2 C flour
Buttery Soul Cakes
- Two sticks butter, softened
- 3 1/2 C flour, sifted
- 1 C sugar
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg & saffron
- 1 tsp each cinnamon & allspice
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp malt vinegar
- Powdered sugar
- 4 C flour
- 1 pkt active dry yeast
- 1 C milk
- 2 Tbs butter
- 1/2 tsp each cinnamon & salt
- 3/4 C sugar
- 1/2 C lemon zest
- 1 1/4 C golden raisins
Fold in raisins and zest, cover with a damp cloth and let rise. Divide in two, place each half in greased 7" round pan. Cover, let rise again for 30 minutes. Bake 1 hour at 400 degrees.
- 1 16-oz. tub frozen dessert topping, thawed
- 12 - 14 oz. chocolate syrup
- 1 C. mini marshmallows
- 1/4 C. chopped walnuts (optional)
- 1/4 C. shredded coconut
- 1/4 C. chocolate chips
- 1/4 C. candy corn, chopped
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Total Time: 15 minutes
PREPARATIONPut the thawed dessert topping in a large bowl, and gradually add the chocolate syrup. Mix while adding, so that the topping turns your preferred shade of brown. Use a little more or a little less syrup, depending on how dark and chocolatey you want your Ghost Poop.
Once your whipped topping is the right revolting color, add the marshmallows, nuts (if you're using them), coconut, chocolate chips and candy corn.
Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight, so your Ghost Poop can firm up.
Serve in a big decorative bowl with a large spoon.
- 1 1/2 teaspoons plus 3/4 cup butter, divided
- 2 1/2 C. sugar
- 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 12-oz package white chocolate chips
- 1 7-oz jar marshmallow fluff
- 1 Tbs. orange extract
- Orange food coloring (or red and yellow food coloring, if orange isn't available)
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 2 lbs of fudge
PREPARATIONUsing 1 1/2 tsp of the butter, grease a 13x9" pan and set aside. In a saucepan, combine the remaining butter, cream and sugar. Cook on low heat until the sugar has dissolved completely, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil, and then cook for another three minutes.
Remove saucepan from the burner, and stir in the white chocolate chips and marshmallow fluff. Blend until smooth. Scoop out about a cup of the mix and set aside.
Add the orange extract and a couple of drops of orange food coloring to the mixture still in the pot, and stir until blended. If you use gel food coloring, you can typically get it in orange. If you use just regular liquid coloring, you'll probably need to blend red and yellow. About 10 drops of yellow and five drops of red should do it (or any other 2:1 ratio), but you can adjust that depending on what shade of orange you like.
Scoop orange mixture into your prepared pan. Take the cup of remaining white mixture and drop small globs over the top of the orange, using a teaspoon. Use a knife to swirl the white into the orange, giving it a marbled appearance. Don't blend it all the way; you still want to be able to see streaks of white.
Cover and refrigerate until firm, and then cut into squares. This makes about 2 1/2 pounds of fudge.
Quick note - if you find that your fudge doesn't set firmly even after refrigeration, you can roll it into small balls instead. It still looks pretty, and tastes just as good!
- 1 C granulated sugar
- 1 tsp meringue powder
- 1 tsp water
- Food coloring in your choice of colors
PREPARATIONBlend the sugar, meringue powder, and water together, and then press into skull-shaped molds. You can get the molds at candy stores, or if you have a Hispanic marketa near you, that's an even better resource. Once the molds are filled, allow to dry for 24 hours or more.
Pop the skulls out of the molds, and put a thin layer of white icing over the skulls. Use the food coloring to decorate with bright colors -- for some great ideas of designs and patterns, check out the photo gallery at About Mexican Food: Sugar Skulls.
The above recipe makes about a dozen small sugar skulls, but you can adjust it accordingly to make more, or to make larger skulls.
Butternut Squash & Apples
- 1 small butternut squash (about 2 to 2 1/2 lbs)
- 2 tart apples
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
- 4 tablespoons butter, cold
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
PREPARATIONButter a 2- to 2 1/2-quart baking dish. Heat oven to 350°. Peel, seed, and cut squash into small slices. Core the apples, peel, and cut into thin slices. Toss squash and apples together. Transfer squash and apple slices to the prepared baking dish.
Combine brown sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; cut in butter with fork or pastry cutter until crumbly. Sprinkle crumbs evenly over sliced squash and apples. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 350° for 50 to 60 minutes, or until squash is tender.
Jack O` Lantern Quesadilla
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 3 tablespoons shortening or lard
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup warm water
- (***Or you can use 6 pre-made tortillas and 1/8 cup water and a medium paint brush for the food coloring)
- Orange food coloring (or red and yellow mixed to make orange)
- 2 cups white or yellow cheese, shredded
PREPARATIONAdd orange color to the water until the color is very dark. In a separate bowl blend the flour, baking power, salt and shortening, with a pastry blender or back of fork, until it resembles coarse meal. When well combined, slowly add colored water until soft dough forms. Knead for 5 minutes. Separate into 6 portions and roll each one out approx. 1/8 inch thick. Place on a hot comal or a preheated skillet over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until they begin to brown on each side.For pre-made tortillas
Add quite a bit of orange food coloring to the water until it is a vibrant color. Use a paint brush to brush the water onto 3 of the tortillas. It should be just enough to get the color on, not make it soggy. Let the damp tortillas sit until dry and then continue with the directions below.
For 3 of the tortillas, use a sharp knife to cut out your Jack 'O Lantern face. This usually consists of a triangle nose and eyes and a mouth.
Place a whole tortilla on a comal or a skillet preheated over medium heat. Cover with cheese. Place a Jack 'O Lantern tortilla on the top and cook over low heat until cheese is melted.
Black Cat Cookies
- 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 eggs
- 1 pkg. chocolate cake mix
- small candy-coated chocolate candies
- red hots
PREPARATIONBeat together peanut butter, eggs, and water. Gradually add cake mix. Mix well. Form dough into 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten balls with bottom of glass dipped in sugar. Pinch out 2 ears at top of cookie. Add small candy-coated chocolate candies for eyes and red hots for nose. Score with a fork to form whiskers. Bake at 375° for 8 to 10 minutes.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
For more Mystical Samhain Recipes, Enriching Stories & Pagan Ways...
Recipes for The Pagan Soul Cookbook by Psychic Bella
former pen name: Druidessia
This cookbook was a collaborative effort from Pagans all over the world, From recipes 8 generations back to historically enriched recipes with cultural fusion and a rich tapestry of words to adorn each recipe. From the far east, middle east to the far west this cookbook is full of recipes, stories and educational insight and rituals from pagans all over the world. Without the contributions from multi-generational and first life pagans this book wouldn't be possible it was a world wide effort made entirely of good food and a lot of love.
Recipe's for The Pagan Soul Cookbook
Ritual Cooking Section for Sabbats, Esbats, Handfastings and more, to Mead, Druidic Teas, Vegan & Vegetarian Dishes, and each page is full of beautiful photos, stories from all over the pagan world, we even have recipes for your children to create and enjoy along with special organic treats for family pets or "familiars" as we witches call them. So what are you waiting for?! This cookbook was featured on Amazon.com for 3 years for being the most unique cookbook on Lulu.com!