Samhain is one of the most significant festivals in paganism and Celtic cultures. People do a lot of activities to celebrate the day meaningfully. Are you wondering what the rituals for Samhain are? Well, the day is considered to be sacred and has some unique traditions. I have tried to discuss all the Samhain rituals throughout the article.
What is the Samhain festival?
Samhain (pronounced “SAH-win” or “SAW-in”) is a pagan religious festival originating from Celtic cultures. It marks the end of the harvest season, which falls on the 31st of October and welcomes the winter on the 1st of November.
What is the Celtic festival of Samhain?
In the ancient Celtic calendar, the year was divided into two halves: the dark half and the light half. While the dark half starts on November 1, the light half begins on May 1. The day starts at sunset in the Celtic calendar. Therefore, the beginning of the year was also celebrated at the start of the dark half.
Celtic festival Samhain is the occasion when pagans say goodbye to the past, the light half, and welcome a new year with the start of the dark half time of the year.
Why do we celebrate Samhain?
Samhain is like celebrating a new year. Like we all do celebrate the new year on the 31st of December night, China celebrates its new year on the new moon that appears between 21 January to 15 February. So, we celebrate Samhain to welcome the new year in the Celtic calendar.
We also celebrate Samhain because the belief is that the barrier between this world and the afterworld is vulnerable this evening. Therefore, our ancestors may come to us for visits. Samhain allows us to remember and honor the people we lost.
Annie Finch wrote:
“Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is the ancestor.”Samhain by Annie Finch
Why is Samhain the witches’ new year?
Witches or Wiccans also celebrate Samhain as their new year. You may ask why is Samhain the witches’ new year? Well, witches are also followers of paganism like the Celtics. Part of Wiccan practices has originated from Celtic practices. The key point is, believers of paganism, earth-centered religious views, celebrate Samhain as their new year. That’s why Samhain is also the witches’ new year.
How do pagans celebrate Samhain?
Samhain is a very important day for Pagans. Besides the new year, the day is also popular as the “feast of the dead.” Traditionally pagans used to make bonfires on the evening of the Samhain. They also try to communicate with ancestors following various rituals. Today modern pagans often arrange music and dance parties to celebrate this special day. Such parties are often called Witches’ Balls.
Do you dress up for Samhain?
Yes, we do dress up, especially for Samhain. It’s a tradition to wear scary dresses on this special evening. The tradition originated from the ancient celebration of Samhain. As you already know, the veil between worlds is breachable on Samhain; many spirits from the afterworld may come to visit us. Not all spirits are good and evil ones may try to hurt us. That’s why people used to wear scary dresses to scare away evil spirits. Today it’s one of the most interesting parts of Samhain, and I do enjoy trying on spooky dresses at this festival.
Rituals of Samhain
People do a lot of rituals on Samhain. Samhain is a festival mainly celebrated by the Celtics and Pagans. Because those are the cultures where this special occasion originated. But to celebrate Samhain, you do not need to be a Pagan or Celtic. We all can celebrate the day as it can bring us happiness and also some great memories.
Below, I have explained the most popular rituals for Samhain that Pagans and Celtics perform:
Pagan rituals for Samhain
The festival of Samhain has a great significance to the spiritual beliefs of pagans. They try to practice their spiritual practices more efficiently on this day. Some of the rituals pagans follow on Samhain are:
- Communication with spirits: As Samhain allows spirits of the dead to visit the earth on this day, people often try to communicate with them. The popular belief is that witches or Wiccans truly can connect with their ancestors on the occasion of Samhain.
- Fortune telling: Such spiritual visit on earth is said to make spiritual power more significant. People believe that the presence of those other beings in the world makes it easier to predict the future. Hence, it became a practice to do fortune-telling on Samhain.
- Dance party: Almost every celebration includes dancing to music. Pagans also arrange dance parties to celebrate the Samhain. People gather together, have fun, and dance with each other.
Celtic rituals for Samhain
Samhain is one of the four fire festivals of the Celtics. They perform a lot of rituals to celebrate the end of the year. Some of the popular rituals are:
- Bonfire: Celtics believe fire has a protective and cleansing power. So, they used to make large bonfires as a measure of protection from evil spirits. An interesting theory is that force-fire warded off bewitching, the plague, and infections among livestock. Therefore, celts are used to start the fire with friction.
- Offering harvest: Celtics would leave harvest outside the city as offerings to the fairies and spirits. They believed that it was essential to appease the fairies to survive the upcoming dark winter months.
- Animal Sacrifices: Celtic priest Druids believed witches and evil spirits could turn them into black cats. Therefore, they often throw the animals into the bonfire, which was considered to be sacred among celts.
- Dressing Up: Many Celtics believe that the malicious spirits who have entered the city during the Samhain would kidnap people. Therefore, they used to wear scary dresses as protection.
Besides protection from evil spirits, Celtics also welcome and honor the good spirits on Samhain.
Rituals to do on Samhain
If you are pagan or Celtic, these rituals are a great way to celebrate this sacred day. Even if you are not one of them, there is no reason you can not celebrate the occasion. Below you can see two ritual ideas to do in Samhain to connect to yourself and something bigger than you.
Create an ancestor altar
We are at that time of the year, where summer is away and winter is coming. It is time to give thanks to all the summer energy and welcome the darkness.
It is also a time to remember and honor our ancestors or people or animals who are not in this physical reality anymore with us. They could be family members, friends, pets who passed away, and also those spiritual guides who found union with the One and who are guiding you from other reality.
You can create this altar with photos, books, handwriting, journals, memories and if you do not have anything reminding you of those people then simply you can write their name on paper and put it on your altar for you to see and remember.
You can also include 4 elements to your altar: fire (candle), water (cup of water), earth (plants), and air (a feather).
Create this altar in your sacred space while connecting to your intention of honoring them.
Singing a song near this altar could help you to connect. You can make some prayers for them as well. You can feel the love and also you can make an intention to let go if you still feel like there is connecting energy-maybe even a bit heavy, between those who are not here anymore and you.
Honor the light and welcome darkness: transformation ceremony
As we are slowly saying goodbye to summer and autumn energy and welcoming the darkness of winter, it is a great time to reflect on the whole year that we have left behind, giving our thanks to our accomplishments, let it go of those that do not serve us anymore and dream and set intentions for winter.
This time of the year is great for reflection. So you can do a reflection ritual in Samhain to connect. You can read more about self-reflection in this blog post here.
This transformation ceremony has been taken from the Yes Jam Facilitation Manual.
Being intentional about what we want to let go of in life, that which no longer serves us, as well as what we want to open up to or explore, can be a powerful ritual. This ritual allows us to seriously think about, and take symbolic action on, these intentions. Being witnessed by the group adds another profound layer if you can do this ritual as a part of a group.
You can invite people on Samhain night to your place and explain that on the Samhain night, you will be having a very special ceremony that has been deeply valuable to many people. The more people put into it, the more valuable it will be to them.
If you can not do this ritual as a group, it is also ok. You can do it as a ritual on your own in your sacred space.
The ceremony starts with 30 minutes of alone-time, where people disperse and sit silently, in nature, with pen and paper. The goal of this time is for each person to think of one quality/belief/attitude that s/he is ready to let go of in life, AND one quality/belief/attitude that s/he is ready to open to in the future. It should be as simple and clear as possible. Each person should write these two things down on two separate pieces of paper.
Call everyone back together to gather around the campfire (or around a metal bowl in a fire-safe place, if a fire is not permitted). Have a tune-in or some kind of invocation, like a song, chanting, reading a poem.
Each person steps into the center of the circle, one at a time, when ready. If they feel comfortable doing so, they read their ‘letting-go statement, or else, simply say a few words about it. Then, they put their paper into the fire, as a symbol of releasing it and offering it up to the powers that be. Everyone in the group says, “We hear you, brother,” or “We hear you, sister.” If you’re using a bowl, use a lighter to carefully burn the paper.
Then, the person reads (or says a few words about) what s/he wants to open to in life. The group responds with, “We support you.” This paper should be saved. It can be put into a letter, to be mailed to the person at a later date, or somehow ‘planted’, as a seed to grow.
The ceremony continues until each person has had a turn. When everyone has completed, return to your song or chant to close the ceremony.
As I have mentioned, if you are doing this ritual alone, it is also ok. You can take your time to self-reflect and then affirm those that you want to let go and symbolically by burning the paper and finally affirming your intention.
Samhain is an occasion when we leave our past behind and welcome a new dawn. Various rituals for Samhain allow us to honor the deceased and get protection from evil. Samhain reminds us to focus on the future. It also encourages us to be better people. I have tried to help you to find the true meaning of Samhain and how you can celebrate the day.
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Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so, you can pin it to your Rituals Board!