Holidays Samhain

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 at Lughnasadh 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 permanent altar 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.

What You Need:
A table to use as your Samhain altar
Decorations that represent the late autumn season
A meal with lots of veggies, fruit, and bread
A cup of wine or cider

What is Samhain?:
Samhain is known by most folks as Halloween, but for Wiccans and Pagans it's considered a Sabbat to honor the ancestors who came before us. 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 Witch's 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!

Samhain Rituals:
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
Halloween Traditions:
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:

Black Cats
Jack O'Lanterns
Trick or Treating

How To Hold a Samhain Rite to Honor Animals

This ceremony is designed to honor the spirits of the animals - both wild and domestic. Man's relationship with animals goes back thousands and thousands of years. They have been a source of food and clothing. They have protected us from the things that lurk in the darkness. They have provided comfort and warmth. In some cases, they have even raised and nurtured our discarded children, as in the case of Romulus and Remus. If you have animals in your home — pets or livestock — this is their night. Feed them before you feed the humans in your family. Put some food out for any wild animals that may happen by as well.

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.

When every family member has their stew, each takes a piece of bread. As they do, say:

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.

Tips:
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.
What You Need:
An altar table
A pot of stew
Some hearty dark bread

How To Honor the Ancestors at Samhain

For many modern Pagans and Wiccans, there has been a resurgence of interest in our family histories. We want to know where we came from and whose blood runs through our veins. Although ancestor worship has traditionally been found more in Africa and Asia, many Pagans with European heritage are beginning to feel the call of their ancestry. This rite can be performed either by itself, or on the third night of Samhain, following the End of Harvest celebration and the Honoring of the Animals.

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 some Soul 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 recieves 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.

Take some time to meditate on the value of family, how fortunate we are to be able to know the connections of kin and clan, and the value of heritage. If your family has a tradition of music or folktales, share those as a way to wrap up the ritual. Otherwise, allow the candles to burn out on their own. Leave the plate and cup on the altar overnight.

Tips:
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.
What You Need:
Items to represent your family members
A meal to eat
A cup of cider or wine to drink
Candles

more to come…….

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License