The Wheel of the Year is nearing the end of its latest revolution as we approach Samhain, the Celtic New Year, also known as the Witch’s New Year. It’s a time when the veil is thin, final harvests are in, and the nights are getting longer and colder. As a year round witch, this time of year is always interesting, as suddenly being witchy is “cool”. But unlike the movie version witches with their pointed shoes and cackling laughs, for practicing pagans and witches, this is a very important and powerful time of year filled with ancient traditions. A time when we dive deep into our spirituality, connect with loved ones, and prepare for a new year.
Exploring the Magic of Samhain
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First, let’s make sure we are pronouncing it correctly. Samhain is a Gaelic word pronounced “sow-in”. Now as someone who learned most of my words by reading them, my brain wants to pronounce it as “Sam-hane”, but it is important that we say the word correctly, no matter how much my brain likes to fight me on it!
What is Samhain?
Now we know how to say it, what exactly is Samhain?
To put it simply, it is the Celtic New Year. Often celebrated from the evening of October 31st to the evening of November 1st. It is a very important sabbat that marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the dark half of the year and the arrival of winter.
Samhain is a time when the veil between the physical world and the spiritual realm is at its thinnest. In many traditions, it’s a moment to honor ancestors, connect with departed loved ones, and gain wisdom and guidance from the spirit world.
Samhain is also a time to reflect on all that has happened during the previous turning of the wheel and set your intentions for the new year ahead. To manifest our desires, first we need to understand where we have come from and where we want to go. Reflect, listen, learn, and visualize. Samhain is the perfect time for this type of work.
Although Samhain is the traditional Celtic name for this sabbat, over the years and across cultures it has been called many other names. Obviously the most popular name used for festivities on this day in modern times is Halloween, but it has also been called: All Hallows Eve, Day of the Dead, Celtic Winter, Celtic New Year, Witches New Year, and Shadowfest, to name just a few.
The History of Samhain
Why is Samhain so important to so many pagans and witches? Originating from ancient Celtic traditions, this festival marks one of the four Greater Sabbats in the Wheel of the Year, along with Beltane, Lammas/Lughnasadh, and Imbolc. The Celts believed that on Samhain, the boundary between our world and the “Otherworld” could easily be crossed, allowing for communication with spirits and divinities.
The Christian church later took many of these practices, transforming it into what we commonly know as Halloween. But for those who follow Pagan paths, Samhain has retained its deeper spiritual significance. It’s a day to respect the cycle of death and rebirth, to honor the wisdom of the Crone aspect of the Goddess, and to prepare for the darkness of winter with a strength and purpose built through reflection and intention setting.
As for its significance in paganism and witchcraft, the rituals and traditions surrounding Samhain are diverse, reflecting the richness and vast variety of spiritual paths. Wiccans may celebrate by invoking the God and Goddess, while Druids might focus more on the connection with nature and the elements. But no matter the path, Samhain is a time for connection with loved ones here and through the veil, and for deep spiritual work. Whether you’re a solitary practitioner or part of a coven, the themes of transformation, renewal, and honoring the past are universal.
Samhain Rituals and Traditions
Dumb Supper Ritual
A popular ritual is the Dumb Supper Ritual, also known as the Silent Supper or Feast of the Dead. Like all the sabbats, a feast is a big part of the celebrations. It can also be a time of pain and grief as we miss those we have lost. For many of us, food and meals are a very deep memory we associate with those we have lost. With this ritual we set out a spot at the table for our loved ones who have passed on (you can also do this for your ancestral guides).
How you chose to do this ritual is incredibly personal, do what feels right for your customs, traditions, cultural practices, and traditional feasts with loved ones. This is a time to invite your departed loved ones to be with you. You want the ritual feast to reflect you and your loved ones in a meaningful way. Do this by cooking a favourite food, burning a candle with a specific scent that reminds you of the person, or by setting out pictures or objects that connect you with them. You can do this as a solitary ritual, or you can do it with your loved ones who are still with you in body. No matter what specifics you include in your dumb supper ritual, when you are done your feast, send your love back through the veil as you thank your loved ones for being present.
Reflecting and Releasing Ritual
With all sabbats, I love to include a fire element. As this is the end of the year, I like to write myself a letter or even just short notes. This writing is about what I need to let go and release from the previous year. To move forward we need to make space and that requires that we free ourselves from those things that no longer serve us. Once I have written down my thoughts, I meditate, grounding myself firmly into the moment. Then, when I am ready, I toss the paper into the fire and not only physically let it go, but also spiritually, mentally and emotionally. You can do this with a bonfire outside, an indoor fireplace, in a burning bowl, or you can scribe your intentions into a candle and burn the candle.
Divination can be a powerful addition to your practice during Samhain. Tarot readings, rune castings, and pendulum work are fantastic ways to seek guidance for the coming year. It can also be a wonderful way to connect with your ancestral guides and loved ones who have passed.
You don’t need to be fancy with this. You can create your own divination tools using items you find in nature, like fallen leaves or acorns, or spend time watching the skies for messages. Often I am sent messages through the stars, clouds and especially the birds.
With Samhain being a celebration of both endings and beginnings, the cycle of death and rebirth, it’s only fitting that its symbols echo these transformative themes.
You’ll often find symbols like the pentacle or pentagram, representing the five elements, and the Triple Goddess symbol, emphasizing the Crone aspect at this time of year, but there are more symbols that reflect this time of year.
Let’s start with crystals. I love to incorporate crystals into my altar and my spiritual practices. In fact, I also have pocket crystals, purse crystals, office crystals… crystals everywhere! But I like to change them out with the sabbats and seasons to help align them with the energies I am seeking and my needs at certain times.
For Samhain, Black Tourmaline is one of my favourites to add to my altar and rituals. I have a piece that fits so beautifully in my hand. It provides a powerful point for grounding, reduces fear, brings happiness and it balances energy. Tourmaline is also considered a bridge to the spiritual realm, making it a powerful crystal for when the veil is thin.
Obsidian is my go-to for protection and grounding. It is especially useful when you’re doing any form of spirit communication. Use it during your divination rituals or dumb supper.
My birthstone and favourite crystal (mainly because it’s purple!) is the Amethyst. It can assist with opening your third eye and enhancing your intuitive powers. Wonderful when connecting with your guides or doing divination.
Don’t forget quartz, the versatile “master healer,” which you can use to amplify your intentions for the new year and enhance your manifestation energies. It can also be helpful when navigating grief and loss.
As the last harvest festival, feasting is a big part of the sabbat. So let’s explore some of the foods you may want to include.
Apples are big during Samhain, symbolizing knowledge and the harvest. You can bob for them, or make a delicious apple pie as an offering to your ancestors. You can also do an apple ritual which we shared during Mabon.
Pumpkins, aside from being awesome to carve, also symbolize abundance and fertility. I dried two pumpkin stems and use them on my altar every year.
Foods like nuts, pomegranates, and root vegetables are also connected to the season and make great offerings or additions to your feast.
For my personal practice I like to include tea as well.
Plants and Herbs
Plant-wise, sage and mugwort are powerful allies at this time of year. Sage is for cleansing—great for clearing out old energy to make way for the new. Mugwort aids in divination and dreamwork, perfect for those midnight meditations or journeying to the “Otherworld” in your dreams.
Like all sabbats, I always set up a special altar.
For Samhain I like to include natural elements representing the season and harvest, such as pine cones, leaves, harvest fruits (I have a cool 5 point gourd that I have nicknamed Gord for my Samhain 2023 altar), and berries from my Rowan tree.
I always include crystals, mainly Amethyst, Tourmaline and Obsidian. Then to aide in connecting with my ancestors and loved ones, I will include a crystal that reminds me of them. For my father it is the beautiful rainbow fossil crystal Ammonite.
Connecting with lost loved ones is such a powerful part of this season, I will not only use crystals, but I will also include more items reflecting my loved ones. It could be pictures, items that belonged to them, or an item they gave me. I like to include a little antique tea pot that belonged to my grandmother. One of my greatest memories of her is having tea while she did my hair. Find what connects you with your loved ones.
During this time I like to work with the cards a lot, so I will also include a tarot or oracle deck on my altar. For Samhain, my favourite tarot deck is True Black Tarot. I also place my scrying mirror where I will be doing readings. I love to aim my scrying mirror where I am doing my spread and look for the cards or images on the cards that are reflected back at me. Often this there is a message in this reflection from my ancestral guides. The scrying mirror reminds me to pay attention and listen.
How you set up your Samhain altar is very personal. There is no right or wrong way. Do what feels right for you. And, if you feel called, change and adjust things throughout. Whatever you do with setting up your altar is perfect and right for you.
As you prepare for this magical season, really sink into what Samhain means for you. Make this time completely and utterly personal. Follow your intuition and use that to manifest the perfect Samhain celebration for you.
How can you honor your ancestors?
What wisdom are you seeking?
Who do you wish to honour during this season?
What are you ready to release?
What are you eager to manifest?
With the veil so thin, the spirit world is just a whisper away, waiting to guide you. Take the time to meditate, to consult the cards, to whisper affirmations, and to connect both with your spirit within and with the great energies around us.
As you prepare your altars, craft your rituals, or simply sip some warm cider by the fire, remember the transformative power of this season. Feel the ancient wisdom coursing through the symbols, the rituals, and even the cooling winds. Open your heart and soul to receive so you are ready to manifest for the upcoming year.
Your spiritual journey this Samhain is what you make of it. It’s time to forge your own magic and make it magical!
Wishing you a Blessed Samhain! May your season be filled with magic, wisdom, and bountiful love.