Samhain is the Celtic festival of the dead and the precursor to our modern Halloween. Samhain, (pronounced sow-in), takes place on October 31st in the northern hemisphere and is a celebration of the spirit realm, underworld, and our own innate magick.
Samhain always occurs during Scorpio season, when the sun is in Scorpio, and the sign of the Scorpion lends many of its themes to the festival. Both have to do with death, rebirth, shadow work, and the occult.
How to Celebrate Samhain: 5 Rituals To Honor The Origin of Halloween (Plus A Brief History!)
Festival Samhain was one of the most important in the pagan year, which is why it was co-opted by the early Christian church. In the Christianity of the Middle Ages, October 31st became All Hallows’ Eve, followed by All Saints’ Day on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd.
In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, of course, All Hallows Eve morphed into the phrase, “Halloween”, but many of our modern Halloween traditions still have roots from pagan history.
Some of the most enduring Samhain symbols include pumpkins carved into jack o’ lantern faces, dressing up in costumes, and images of death such as skeletons and ghosts. All of these have connections to the ancient Celtic festival!
To understand the function of all of these, you need to understand the meaning of Samhain and why this day was considered so sacred. It was believed, (and still is by many modern witches and pagans), that the veil between our physical world and the spirit world becomes very thin at this time of year, allowing spirits to pass into our realm.
On the one hand, this means that our lost loved ones, deceased family members, and ancestors can visit us to share their wisdom, blessings, and love. On the other hand, it also means that malevolent spirits or demons could pass into our world as well.
Samhain vs. Halloween
The ancient Celts carved faces into turnips, parsnips, and other hearty root vegetables. The faces were intended to scare off these evil or simply mischievous spirits from causing havoc in the land of the living on Samhain night.
Once settlers migrated to North America in the 17th and 18th centuries, they discovered that the native pumpkins and squash made an excellent vessel for these protective faces – although by then, most people considered it a flight of fancy, as opposed to an actual religious or magical tool, due to the advent of Christianity many centuries earlier.
Dressing up in Halloween costumes also has its roots in this same idea of protection. By dressing in costumes and wearing masks, we allow spirits to mingle among us without being recognized. This also contributes to the mischievous aspect of Halloween, ala children going door to door saying trick or treat!
Of course, the imagery of death is pretty self-explanatory once you understand the important themes of Samhain. Ancient peoples all over the world honored death and the dead as sacred. Our honored dead guide us from beyond.
In that context, skulls, skeletons, and little ghosties become less frightening and more comforting and spiritual. Haunted houses and the outright scare factor are much more of a modern invention.
Samhain Correspondences to Help You Celebrate
- Samhain Colors: Black, Gold, Silver, Orange, Dark Purple
- Samhain Crystals: Obsidian, Smoky Quartz, Black Tourmaline, Black Kyanite
- Samhain Plants: Pomegranates, Dark Red Roses, Pumpkins
- Samhain Foods: Chocolate, anything pumpkin or pomegranate, candy, soul cakes, traditional foods from your ancestral cultures
Celebrating Samhain can be done in many ways! Here’s some ideas honoring its original intentions.
Celebrating the New Year
Many pagans observe Samhain as the new year. This is a great time to reflect on the past year and to set intentions for the year ahead.
You can do this practice of reflection and intention setting on Halloween night or you can do it on the new moon closest to October 31, which is always the new moon in Scorpio.
This is one of the witchiest new moons of the year and a great time to set your intentions for embracing your power, intuition, and inner witch. This year, the new moon in Scorpio is happening on October 25, 2022!
This is also a great way to celebrate Samhain alone, in quiet solitude and self-reflection. You might incorporate some journaling, pulling tarot or oracle cards for guidance, or even taking a soothing ritual bath into your night.
Honoring Your Ancestors
Honoring your ancestors is one of the most powerful ways you can really honor the origin of Samhain and celebrate how pagans celebrate Samhain. One of the first things you will want to do is create an ancestor altar, either by itself or as part of a larger Samhain altar.
An ancestor altar typically includes photos or images of your deceased loved ones, (but never anyone who is still living which is considered bad luck). It could also include offerings to your specific ancestors of things they enjoyed while they were alive, like your grandmother’s favorite flowers or your dad’s brand of beer.
When the holiday is over, dispose of any perishable offerings outside of your home in the garbage or, if safe to do so, by burying or scattering them.
If you don’t know any of your deceased relatives or you have a challenging relationship with your family, then honoring your ancestors might not feel appealing and that’s totally okay. Nothing is ever required when practicing witchcraft or celebrating the Wheel of the Year. However, you can also work with your ancient ancestors, not just those you actually know personally!
This is a great way to reclaim your ancestral magick, even if your family doesn’t support your alternative spirituality as well. Obviously, in this case, you aren’t going to have images of individual people but you can include items on your ancestor altar that honor the cultures your ancestors originated from, such as traditional foods, symbols like Celtic knots or Egyptian ankh, textiles in traditional patterns, or photos of the lands they lived on. Doing some DNA or genealogy work is also a great practice at Samhain!
A dumb supper is another Samhain tradition you can do to honor your ancestors. Set the table for a family dinner, or dinner by yourself, and set one extra place at the table for your ancestors.
Then you eat the meal in silence, reflecting on and honoring the spirits who may gather with you for celebrating Sahmain. You can eat pretty much any foods for your dumb supper but traditional recipes from your ancestral cultures would be even better. You can also take it up a notch and eat the meal in reverse: start with dessert, to honor the shortness of life, eat each course in backwards order, and end with a toast!
Samhain Rituals to Connect with Spirits and Your Intuition
Many modern witches also use Samhain as a sacred day to connect with spirits, spirit guides, and intuition in general. Some believe that intuitive messages or ‘hits’ come from spirits or ancestors, or that they come from your higher self or even the divine – wherever they come from, most people agree that when the veil is thin at Samhain, it’s a good time to connect and receive!
Before you open up to the spirit realm, it’s always a good idea to do some grounding and protection as a first step. You are in control here and you get to set the boundaries, so there really is very little danger but it’s still a good idea to protect your energy. You could burn some common sage or spritz essential oils to clear the room of any negative energy.
Then sit or lay down and imagine a protective bubble surrounding you, the room, and even the entire house or building. You might want to think or speak out loud your intentions and boundaries for this experience, such as, “I wish to receive messages and guidance through my divination tools only,” (if you are not open to auditory or visual messages), or, “I want to connect with my healed and well-intentioned spirit guides or ancestors”, to block any entities or energies that are not in service of your highest good right now.
Then set up your space so it feels comfortable, cozy, and witchy. You might light some candles, place crystals around you, sit on a soft blanket or pillow and put on some meditative music, (or music from your ancestral cultures!)
Working with divination tools is a great way to tap into your intuition. You can use a pendulum, throw runes, or read tarot or oracle cards. There are tons of great tarot card spreads on Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok.
If you haven’t work with tarot or oracle cards before, they are basically just decks of card with particular artwork and you draw a card or multiple cards for guidance and inspiration. Tarot cards have a set number of specific cards, while oracle cards can be basically any theme.
Just shuffle the deck as you would any deck of cards, focusing on the question you have or issue you need guidance on, and draw cards that you feel called to. Then you can read through the book provided or just reflect on the artwork and words on the card to give you the intuitive spark of wisdom that you need.
It might seem a little silly, but another good way to connect to your intuition at this time of year is to embrace your inner child. Eat candy, (within reason), watch your favorite old movies and shows, (hellloooo Hocus Pocus and Charmed!), and carve pumpkins.
When we’re kids, we are very intuitive and open to messages but society tries to squash this as we grow up. We’re told that playtime is over and our ‘imaginary’ friends aren’t real.
Letting your inner child out to play and celebrate Halloween is actually a great way to tap back into that open, curious energy! How will you be celebrating?