Samhain, Halloween, All Hallows Eve marks the start of what many wiccans call “The dark of the year”. This is winter, the time of rest and renewal, the time for everything to sleep for a brief period before it all awakens again at Imbolc. There are many names for the same night, the same festival with different faiths marking its passing. Carved pumpkins and spooky decorations adorn houses, people delight in horror movies and jump scares. Children run up and down the streets begging for candy. Over the centuries, this sabbat has become a melting pot of customs and traditions. So much so that sometimes it is hard to tell the modern from the ancient.
Samhain springs originally from the ancient Celtic Druid rituals that marked the two liminal times of the year. Beltane, and Samhain. The exact midpoints between summer and winter, the time of change, a time not quite one or the other. From these springs the belief that the veil is thinnest because it's not quite there, but it is there. That those who usually could not, can freely walk the earth. Jack o-lanterns carved originally from turnips, would stand outside houses to scare away evil. Oracles were consulted to try to catch a glimpse of what might be coming with the new year. Trick or treating may have its origins in many ancient customs such as villagers dressing in animal costumes to scare away evil influences. But its modern application of candy collecting was ‘invented’ in the 1920s to try to stop children from causing too much damage at Halloween.
There are many beliefs woven around Samhain, the most well-known being that it was one of two times of the year that the veil between the worlds is the thinnest (the other being Beltane). Many hold that this is the time when those who died during the year finally pass through the veil. Others hold that this is the best time to reach out and communicate with loved ones who have passed, since it is easiest for them to join us on this night. A coven I was part of had the tradition of writing on a leaf the name of a loved one who had passed during the year. Those leaves were then tossed into the ritual bonfire to say a final goodbye.
On a personal level though, how do we use this energy of change that is so ripe at this time of year? How do we encourage the thinning of the veil to reveal to us what we need to know?
Tonight (and the days either side of tonight) is best for Divination. Either seeking out someone to do a reading for us or doing one of our own. The lowered barrier between the two worlds not only allows those who have left us to pass over, it also allows our Higher Self to speak into our lives with crystal clarity.
Honoring our ancestors on this night helps us to reconnect with our roots, to remember where we came from and what our calling is. One of the simplest ways to do this is the custom of the Dumb Supper. Simply set an extra place at the table and invite those who have passed to join your family for the meal. During the meal, talk about those who have passed, happy memories you have of them, family legends that may have been passed on. Samhain is a time to keep loved ones alive by speaking their names.
Something I like to do is sit with a candle in the middle of the night and speak the names of those Ancestors. Sometimes they speak back, sometimes they don’t. What is important is that I have honored and remembered them.
Samhain is also the perfect time for us to set aside what is done. Allow it to pass from our lives with thanks for what it may have taught us and then to turn and welcome in the new. This can be done in many ways. Some write it down and then burn the paper, some simply sit in meditation and allow things to be released. If you like to include physical movement with ritual, then you could face west (the traditional land of the dead) and speak aloud what you are inviting to pass from your life. Then turn to the East wherein everything is born, open your arms to embrace the new and invite that into your life.
However you choose to mark this night, do it with the knowledge that for the next three months, it is a time of quiet. A time to slow down the mad hurry of modern life and take time apart when we are able. Time for self-reflection, for healing, for welcoming a deeper connection with our own hearts.