Samhain (pronounced sah-win) is an old holiday that comes from the Celtic people. It represented the end of the harvest, and the beginning of the winter months. In this way, it is most like modern New Year's Eve. The end of the agricultural cycle was effectively the end of the year, with the new year beginning on November 1st.
The holiday is also when the "veil between worlds" is considered to be at its thinnest -- spirits of the departed travel to the afterworld, and ancestors, restless souls, and trickster spirits can make contact with this world more easily. Many of the traditions we associate with Halloween, like dressing up and carving Jack-o'-lanterns, evolved as ways to deal with this.
While many modern Pagans who celebrate Samhain also enjoy the trappings of Halloween, they also generally perform religious or magical rituals at this time. Here are a few ideas for ways you can celebrate the turning of the year:
Create an Ancestors' Altar
Since Samhain is when the spirits of the dead cross over and the veil between worlds is thin, many people choose to use this time to communicate with their ancestors. To create an ancestors' altar, choose a space where it will not be disturbed. For a very basic altar, all you need are an offering bowl and candles ( white or black skull candles are good for this). Leave offerings of food, liquor, or incense in the offering bowl, or burn Ancestor Money in it. Recite your ancestors' names, offer them your thanks, and wish them well.
For a more elaborate altar, lay it with a white altar cloth, and decorate it with photographs or objects that used to belong to your ancestors. Add a dish of fresh or dried rosemary and mugwort. Use this area for divination, to communicate with your departed loved ones.
Clear Your Home
Since Samhain is a holiday celebrating the end of the year, why not start the next with a clean slate? Samhain's associations with death also tie it to the idea of the "death of the old." Get rid of negative or stagnant energy and make space for blessings in the next year using your favorite energy cleansing method.
You can use Spiritual Cleansing Bath & Floor Wash to clear your home. You can also light a House Cleansing Candle, burn incense, or light a bundle of herbs and carry it through your house, saying out loud that you are cleansing the energy there. You can also sprinkle salt in the corners of every room.
Have a "Dumb Supper"
The tradition of the Dumb Supper involves a meal eaten in silence. Set your table with black linens, use black candles as the only light source, and, if you can get them, use black dishes. Set a place at the head of the table for the spirits -- no one should sit here -- and cover the chair with a cloth.
Each guest should pause by the spirits' chair and offer a silent prayer before sitting down. No one should speak during the entire dinner. The host or hostess should serve everyone from oldest to youngest, and no one should eat until every plate (including the spirits' plate) is filled. After the meal, guests should pause by the spirits' chair again to say a final, silent goodbye.
A Releasing Ritual
Chances are, there are some things from this year that you do not wish to carry into the next. You can perform a small ritual to let these things go, clearing your path to live the life you want in the year ahead.
For this, you can either use a double-action candle, or two candles -- one white, and one black. Use a knife, pin, or tip of a crystal to carve all of the things you wish to release in the black wax, and all of the things you wish to bring in in the white one. Light the candles, and allow them to burn. If you must leave them unattended, snuff them and re-light when you return.
Even though Halloween is full of bright costumes, tricks, candy, and parties, Samhain is a solemn holiday. With these rituals, you can use the energy of this time of year to let go of things that no longer serve you, communicate with departed loved ones, and set yourself up to have a fantastic year.
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