While kids everywhere are going door-to-door collecting candy this Halloween, there are others who’ll be celebrating in a somewhat different manner.
Wiccans, witches, and pagans across the Northern hemisphere will be ringing in Samhain on October 31st, which is often said to be the ancient celebration that our modern Halloween traditions came from.
Samhain is one of eight festivals that make up the Wheel of the Year, a calendar that many witches and Pagans follow. It corresponds with the seasons and the harvest, helping to bridge the connection between nature and our modern world.
Samhain is the last harvest, the final celebration before winter arrives, and while the imagery associated with this day is traditionally dark, there’s nothing scary about it.
Samhain, also known as the witch’s new year, is a time when “the veil is thin,” a phrase you see a lot that really just means the barriers between life and death become more fluid.
Many people, not just witches, believe that the dead can more easily visit the land of the living at this time of year, and cultures worldwide have historically held celebrations on this day to honor those who have passed.
Whether you’re interested in Wicca or witchcraft or just want to try something new this year, here are three ways to celebrate Samhain the way real witches do—no cauldron required.
1. Host a Dumb Supper
A dumb supper is the tradition of hosting a dinner party where everyone must be silent the entire time. The idea is that, while the veil is thin, the spirits of the dead are better able to commune with the living—but only if you’re listening. A symbolic place is set for the spirits, either adorned with photos and mementos as an invitation for a specific loved one or left plain to be more general.
During the dumb supper, the table is usually draped with a black tablecloth and black place settings. (But honestly I don’t think the dead care much about the color scheme, so feel free to use whatever you have on hand that feels special.)
Candles serve as the main source of light, and there is absolutely no talking. Rather than being awkward, the silence is an opportunity for reflection and tuning into any messages you may receive from your loved ones at this time.
While the idea is to have others join you for this dinner, you could also hold a dumb supper alone. I would recommend doing something symbolic to represent the start and end of the dinner in this case, such as lighting the candles at the beginning and snuffing them out at the end.
2. Honor Your Ancestors
Regardless of your beliefs in the afterlife, this is a good time of year to remember those who have passed and to honor their memories. If you’d like, put together an altar (this can be as simple as the top of a bookshelf or a side table) and lay out pictures of your deceased loved ones, along with any mementos that remind you of them.
Light a candle and focus on the person in question, thinking or speaking out loud any messages of love you may have for them. Tea lights are my favorite choice for things like this, as they have a short burn time.
You can really take some liberty with this process and honor your relatives however you see fit, dedicating an altar to several people or just one at a time. Once you’ve created your altar, sit quietly with it for a while and reflect on your memories or thoughts of this person.
Let them know, either silently or out loud, that you’re grateful for their presence in your life and that you welcome them into your home. You can either snuff out the candles or wait for them to burn out on their own, as long as you exercise proper fire safety!
I’m honestly not sure what happens to us after we die, but I like to leave an altar out for the spirits of my loved ones anyway—if they’re around, I want them to know that I care and I’m happy to have spent time with them.
3. Do Some Shadow Work
Shadow work is a term that means confronting the darker parts of yourself, the parts we try to hide away. Things like jealousy, anger, temptation—all of the traits that society tells us aren’t okay to exhibit.
Rather than trying to pretend these parts of us don’t exist, shadow work asks us to honor these feelings and, more importantly, to understand them. It’s a path towards self-love and self-acceptance.
Shadow work isn’t easy and it’s usually uncomfortable, but there’s no better time of year to give it a try than Samhain. As the weather gets colder and the nights get longer, it becomes easier to turn inward and tap into our shadow selves.
One of the best ways to understand your dark side is through journaling—sometimes just by writing things down without judgement, we can begin to piece them together bit by bit.
Some good prompts to start with: what are you afraid of and why? What parts of yourself are you hiding from others? What are you afraid people will find out about you? What don’t you like about yourself? These prompts are bound to touch on some nerves, but they’ll help you discover the parts of yourself that most need your attention.
There are plenty of other low-key ways to celebrate Samhain, as well: taking a nature walk, meditating, performing or receiving a tarot reading, and making resolutions for self-improvement are all good ones.
However you choose to celebrate, I hope that this gives you a little insight into the deeper meaning of the Halloween season and inspires you to try something new this year!
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