How to Celebrate Samhain (or Halloween) - Traditions and Symbols

How to Celebrate Samhain (or Halloween) – Traditions and Symbols

In Paganism by Chris A. Parker

This is the second part of our article about Samhain, in which we will look at how to celebrate Samhain (or Halloween) in traditional and modern ways, and its magical correspondences. If you want to read about the beliefs, origins, and history of Samhain and how it relates to Halloween, read part one, here.

Samhain Traditions & Celebration

The way people celebrate Samhain now is very different from how they did it in the past. Practicing any of the following customs at Samhain is a great way to show respect for Pagan beliefs and the heritage of the ancient Celts.

Dumb Supper-Remembering Our Ancestors

Honoring your ancestors is a really meaningful thing to do at this time, and there are many easy ways to do it.

Place pictures of all the deceased people in your life—including family members, friends, and maybe even pets that the kids would want to remember—on your altar. Give them your hospitality and make them feel welcome in your home.

Set a place at your Samhain table for the spirits, and make sure they get an offering for every dish. Cook and eat their favorite meals, chat about them and remember them. Dine in silence to get the full Samhain Dumb Supper experience.

On Halloween night, you and your kids can leave some dog food outside as an offering for departed pets. Many nighttime animals will enjoy this offer.

Candle Ceremony to Honor the Dead

This is a very easy ceremony that may be performed with friends and family or alone. If you want, you can invite your kids to this. It starts in the dark and ends with a lot of light.

You will need a lot of small black or white candles or a lot of night lights.

You’ll need a heat-resistant tray or a container of sand or soil to place them in. Put one in the center of the container, where it will serve as the source of all the others’ lighting.

Turn off all the lights and sit quietly in the dark. Allow yourself to be enveloped by the darkness.

Request your ancestors’ presence. Then, when you’re ready, light the center candle while saying:

” We honor your presence among us and welcome our loved ones who have died into this home.”

Let each person in the circle remember someone who has died and say something about them. Then, from the center candle, light one candle for each individual: “I remember Grandma Hannah and how kind she was…”

Let this process go as long as necessary to fully recall everyone. You’ll finish up with a plate full of glowing candles. Once everything is finished, express gratitude and let the candles burn out.

As an alternative Collect pictures, heirlooms, and other items from dead family members, friends, and household pets. Place them together with many votive candles on a table, dresser, or other surface. As you shout out their names and give your best wishes, light the candles in their remembrance. Sincerely appreciate their presence in your life. Sit calmly and pay attention to your surroundings. Keep a notebook and write down any messages you get.

Samhain Traditions & Celebration - How to celebrate Samhain
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Samhain’s Altar

If you’re new to pagan practices and don’t yet have an altar set up, you may simply use temporary a table for the three days leading up to Samhain. Create an autumnal altar by decorating it with items like:

  • Skulls and bones
  • Black candles
  • Harvest fruits and vegetables such as apples, squash, and root vegetables.
  • Dark breads, nuts and berries
  • Acorns and dried leaves
  • A cornucopia full of fruits and vegetables
  • A cauldron with candles
  • Photographs of relatives and friends who have died.
  • Wine, mead, or mulled cider
Tricking

Tricking each other is a fun Samhain tradition that has made it into the modern world. During Samhain, it was believed that ghosts and other spirits would visit our world from the afterlife in order to play pranks on the living.

As a result, many people in the community—often children and young adults—took the chance to prank their neighbors by saying that the events were caused by beings from another world.

Nature Walk on Samhain

Understanding nature and how it influences your life is a key component of Samhain. So, go for a meditation walk in a nearby natural area. Look at the colors, smells, sounds, and other feelings of the season and think about them. Consider yourself a part of the Circle of Life, and accept death and rebirth as natural processes.If the environment allows it, collect some natural things and use them to decorate your home when you return.

Samhain Traditions & Celebration
Image by Marci Marc from Pixabay
Seasonal Art

Use Samhain holiday symbols as well as the colors orange and black to decorate your house. Hang an autumn wreath on your door, and if you decorate your table, windowsill, or mantle, consider making a short-term display for Samhain.

Decorate it with gourds, apples, acorns, pumpkins, cornstalks, and other fall-themed objects, such as vibrant leaves. Set candles in cauldrons, as well as gemstones like tourmaline, obsidian, or amber.

Consider it something you can look upon as you reflect on all you’ve accomplished this year.

Visit a Cemetery

Another method to commemorate relatives and friends who have died is to visit and care for their grave in a cemetery. Consider how the loved one is still present in you as you recall past experiences. Make an offering of fresh flowers, dried herbs (rosemary is a good choice), or fresh water.

Reflections

Think about the past year and how it has affected you. Look back at the journals, planners, photos, and other notes you made over the past year. Consider your achievements, difficulties, adventures, trips, and learnings. Meditate. Write in your journal about how the year went and what you thought about it.

Bonfire Spells

Start a fire outside if you can, or light a fire in a fireplace or small cauldron. Write down an old habit you want to get rid of and throw it into the Samhain fire as you think about being free of it. As you travel around the fire clockwise, imagine yourself embracing a new, healthier way of being.

- How to celebrate Samhain
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Most contemporary societies disapprove of animal sacrifice. However, you may still make an offering to the otherworldly spirits and faeries to honor the Samhain ceremonies. Simple, on Samhain night, leave a small offering of food and drink outside your door for the nature spirits to enjoy.

Because apples have a strong relationship with the otherworld in Celtic culture, they can be a wonderful option for your offering.

Divine Guidance

Druids thought that because there were numerous spirits around, they could more readily predict what would happen. Celtic priests often told people’s fortunes at Samhain bonfires for those who were interested and for the whole community.

So, now is the moment to get your fortune read, either by yourself or by a professional fortune teller. Find guidance for the coming year through Tarot, Runes, Scrying, or another method of divination. Summarize your ritual and the messages you receive on paper. Decide on an acceptable course of action and take it.

Connections in the Community

Make contact with people. Participate in a local group rite. Plan a Samhain potluck at your house. Look up historic and modern Samhain customs in books, journals, on the internet, or via conversations with people. Share your thoughts, facts, and celebratory experiences. Whether you practice alone or with others, consider for a moment that you are part of a great network of people who are celebrating Samhain all around the world.

Costumes and Masks

Another custom that has virtually immediately transferred to our present festival of Halloween is the habit of dressing up in costumes and masks (called back then as “guising”). Costumes of animals, monsters, and creatures were common during Samhain parties as a way to trick the spirits of the dead.

Dunking for Apples

Samhain ceremonies were not just concerned with death and pleasing the spirits. Some activities were purely for enjoyment and to express gratitude for a bountiful crop.

The game “dunking for apples” is one of them that you might be familiar with. Apples are thrown in a tub or barrel of water, and dunkers use their teeth to try to recover them. Those who do well will be rewarded with a prosperous New Year.

Samhain Symbols

The Apple

As a result of the notion that apples are a sacred and magic fruit, several apple games are played on Samhain. The apple represents life and immortality. During Samhain, apples were buried in the Celtic culture as nourishment for the souls that were awaiting rebirth. When the apple is split crosswise, the five-pointed star, or pentacle, at its heart, a Goddess sign, is revealed.

They’re frequently employed in magic and fortune-telling. On the evening of Samhain, a young woman would peel an apple in a single motion and toss it over her shoulder. The peeling would form the first letter of the guy she would marry. Eating an apple while brushing your hair in front of a mirror will bring up your true love’s picture in the mirror.

Mabon Symbols
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The Cauldron

The Cauldron, also known as the Holy Grail, is strongly tied with Samhain. It’s feminine and acts as the universal womb for births and deaths, change and rebirth.

The Besom

This time, the besom is employed both literally and metaphorically. It gets rid of the last leaves of fall, but it is also used in rituals to get rid of the old, clean up old energy, and make room for the new. Besoms are traditionally constructed from birch twigs, which are associated with cleansing and rejuvenation.

At this time of year, you may create a besom by collecting and tying together a big bundle of birch twigs. Insert a broom handle, preferably made of ash or hazel, in the center of the bundle.

Acorns

The acorn, which is the germ of the great oak, stands for knowledge, longevity, and regeneration, and is a sign of future power. Carrying an acorn as a lucky charm can bring you prosperity. All of the nuts that come from native trees, like walnuts, hazelnuts, conkers, and so on, are pure potential and have the same qualities as the mother tree.

Hazelnuts

In Scottish and Irish folklore, hazel is regarded as a sacred tree. In Ireland, there were nine hazel trees around the Well of Segais, the place where the sacred Salmon lived. The root of all wisdom was there. Using hazelnuts during Samhain enabled seers to access this precious wisdom.

Additionally, hazelnuts were employed in marital divination. The eligible single women and men of the village were separated into two groups, and their names were written on “Sweetheart” hazelnuts that were placed in the fireplace. A love connection was made between the two names when the nuts popped. On a more dark note, individuals would occasionally place a hazelnut with their initials into the hearth fire. If the nuts were not found the next morning, the unfortunate individual would not make it through the year.

How to Celebrate Samhain
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What about Pumpkins?

Pumpkins and black cats, or trying to avoid breaking mirrors, stepping on cracks in the road, or spilling salt, are all symbols of Halloween but have nothing to do with Samhain.

Samhain Correspondences

Samhain Colors

Regarding the colors connected with Samhain, consider autumnal colors such as:

  • Black (death and endings)
  • Orange (vitality of life inside death)
  • Red
  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Gold
  • Silver
Samhain sacred plants & Herbs

There are many plants that tie in closely with Samhain. To name a few:

Allspice BerriesMullein
CalendulaOak Leaves
BroomAcorns
CatnipRosemary
Mountain Ash BerriesSage
Wild GinsengPine Cones
MugwortStraw
Samhain Deities

Some Samhain deities include:

  • Ishtar
  • Horned God
  • Osiris
  • Loki
  • Persephone
  • Cernunnos
  • Dionysus
Samhain Crystals

Some examples of Samhain crystals are:

QuartzAmber
ObsidianCarnelian
PyriteSmoky
OnyxTurquoise
Samhain Runes 

Isa

Isa
Isa

Isa represents “ice” or being frozen. This might refer to a spiritual or more tangible aspect of a project, goal, or connection. This indicates that activities have been placed on pause and that it is time to look inside.

Jera

Jera
Jera

Jera symbolizes the “harvest.” Unlike Isa, it means that you can now enjoy the results of your hard work. It serves as a reminder that everything has a cycle or process.

Eihwaz

eihwaz
Eihwaz

Eihwaz means “ash or yew tree,” but it is meant to represent Yggradsil, the major holy tree of Norse mythology. For several traditions, the tree has symbolized death, yet it may also signify healing and transformation.

Berkana

berkana rune
Berkana

Berkana represents the birch tree as well as new beginnings. It is a symbol of smooth rebirth or regeneration. It can mean that something needs to be done or that change is coming.

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Some More Interesting Facts

  • The Yellow Book of Lecan, a collection of stories from the Middle Ages, says that people called it the “Feast of Mongfind.” Mongfind was a legendary witch who married the King of Tara in old Ireland.
  • Samhain is referred as Trinouxtion Samonii, or “Three Nights of the End of Summer.” on the ancient Coligny Calendar, an engraved bronze discovered in 1897 in France that dates back to the first century C.E.
  • Some Pagans celebrate Samhain around November 6, which is halfway between the Fall Equinox and the Winter Solstice from an astronomical point of view.
  • Most Pagans in the southern hemisphere celebrate Samhain during the middle of their autumn, in late April and early May, instead of the usual European date of the celebration.

End Words

Samhain may bring up our worst fears about death, but its lessons are priceless, and its intense energy can be relieving and even helpful.

Samhain teaches us to distinguish between the things in our lives that must die and the things that must live. It might offer some difficult realizations, but its transforming force allows us to live a more true life.

Whether you’re planning a Samhain party or simply curious about how other cultures view death and the afterlife, there’s always more to learn about Samhain customs.

And while the modern celebration of Halloween may resemble the ancient ceremonies of Samhain in many ways, we frequently ignore their underlying meanings. From now on, when you dress up in a costume, bob for apples, or go trick-or-treating, you’ll know where these ancient traditions come from.

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Chris A. Parker

Since 1998, researcher and blogger in practical occultism and Mind-science, who believes that the best way to predict the future is to create it…