Now that we have gone over the history of Samhain, let us explore some ideas of how to celebrate the Sabbat in 2021! The following 10 suggestions are exactly that – you can do all of them or none of them. As always, it’s your practice so it’s up to YOU.
Let’s get into it.
- GO CRUNCH SOME LEAVES
This is an easy way to celebrate Samhain and can be done alone or with others. I prefer going on a solo walk as an opportunity to take in the smells, sights, and sounds. Many Pagans – such as myself – also celebrate Samhain as the old Celtic New Year (although some consider it to be at Imbolc). As such, I take the time to contemplate death and rebirth and their roles in Nature.
Obviously you can go on a walk with a friend, lover, partner, little ones, your coven – whatever suits your fancy. You may also wish to respectfully collect items from Nature, like leaves, fallen sticks, acorns, etc. and decorate your home or seasonal altar with them.
- CONSTRUCT AN ALTAR FOR YOUR ANCESTORS
As the year dies around us, it is a solemn reminder of our dearly departed. You can construct an ancestor altar as a means of honoring your deceased loved ones. This altar can be dedicated to multiple family members, friends, or animal companions.
Collect heirlooms, mementos, photographs, favorite snacks, etc. and display them as you please. Arrange candles and/or incense around the altar. Whenever you have some time to spend honoring them, light your chosen illumination and talk to them. Out loud or silently connect with them, thank them, express gratitude or anything else you want them to know.
- CONSTRUCT AN ALTAR FOR SAMHAIN
Celebrate the Sabbat with a dedicated altar! Even if you’re brand new to celebrating Samhain and an altar is not yet a permanent fixture in your home, setting up space on an end table or other surface will suffice. Three days before the Sabbat is a good amount of time to begin set up. Here are some ideas for things to decorate your altar with:
- Colors that embody the late Autumn season – gold, orange, black, burgundy, purple
- Altar cloths
- Cornucopia filled with end of harvest fruits and vegetables – apples, pumpkins, root veggies, etc.
- Sickle or other tool representative of harvesting
- Corresponding magickal herbs for the season – mugwort for divination, rosemary for ancestral remembrance, butcher’s broom for psychic powers, etc.
- Skulls, bones, tombstone rubbings and other symbols of death i.e. a scythe
- Divination tools – pendulum, Tarot deck, scrying mirrors, etc.
- Cider, mulled wine, mead (be mindful if you have little ones or pets in the house so they cannot get into the goods!)
- Corn husks or full ears of corn
- Acorns, dried leaves, fallen sticks, etc.
If you do not wish to construct a separate Samhain and ancestors altar, consider combining the two together. Simply add mementos, heirlooms, photographs, etc. of those you wish to remember alongside the Samhain items. Offerings for your dearly departed are also traditional.
Just remember – make it yours. Decorate your Samhain altar using what you’re called to. Arrange the items thoughtfully. Don’t be afraid to rearrange things after the initial set up if something feels “off” either.
- PUT ON YOUR DIVINATION SHOES
Samhain is a fantastic time of year to begin or explore psychic and divinatory powers. Whether you choose to explore divination via an old ritual or use a more popular practice, a lot of practitioners experience a sort of “power boost” during this Sabbat.
Here are some different ways you can explore divination:
Tea Leaf Reading
TRADITIONAL SAMHAIN DIVINATION CUSTOMS
If you’re more interested in divination customs from Samhain past, there are a few rituals to choose from. Samhain is one of four fire festivals. As such, bonfires play a huge part in celebration and traditions.
This 18th century custom was used to divine who would die in the coming year. Stones were marked for each person attending the bonfire and then placed in a ring around the flames. Everyone would grab their own torch and then run around the fire “exulting” – with much joy and merriment. All of the stones were examined the next day to see if any were out of place. If any stones were mislaid it was said that the individual it symbolized would perish in the coming year.
Another divination practice was to roast two hazelnuts close to a fire. One was designated for the individual doing the roasting and the other named for the one they desired. If the two nuts quietly roasted next to each other it divined a fine match. However, if the hazelnuts crackled loudly and jumped from the heat of the fire it was considered a bad omen.
Children would also participate in divination. They would chase crows and then divine various things from the direction the birds flew and how many birds there were.
Using apples during Samhain for divination purposes manifested in two ways: bobbing for apples or playing a game of snap apple. Both methods involved the young and unmarried members of the community. They would try to bite into an apple that was floating in a tub of water (bobbing for apples) or try and sink their teeth into one hanging from a string. The first person to successfully bite into an apple was divined to be married next.
Apples were used in a couple of other ways to again divine marriage for the young and unmarried. A small rod made from wood was hung from the ceiling to fall at head height. An apple was hung from one end and a lit candle was placed on the other. Participants would aim to sink their teeth into the apple and the first to do so would marry next.
The third way this blessed fruit was used to divine marriage was through the fruit’s peel. Those curious of their future spouse would peel an apple into one long, continuous strip and then toss it over their shoulder. The shape that it would land in was then interpreted into a letter. That letter was thought to be the first intial in their future marital partner’s name.
EATEN FOOD DIVINATION
It was a pretty common custom to hide divination items into food. The future was divined by whatever the item found was. If someone got a coin, it foretold coming wealth. If a ring was found, marriage was on the horizon.
Another practice was for someone to eat a baked salted bannock made of oatmeal right before bed. The custom was to eat the bannock in three bites, drink no water, and go straight to sleep. This was to instigate a dream in which their future spouse would visit them and offer a drink in order to quench their thirst.
OTHER FOOD CUSTOMS
Those looking to divine the number of future children they were to have turned to egg whites. They would drop the thick viscous substance into water and then read the shapes that resulted.
- BE A SPIRIT WORLD ESCORT
With the veil being thinnest between worlds at this time of year, you may wish to guide the dead and deceased to the Spirit World. This is a simple activity that requires only a white seven day candle and a windowsill. On the night of Samhain, place the candle on your windowsill and light it.
You may wish to repeat this incantation in order to help guide the dead along to their destination:
“O little flame that burns so bright, be a beacon on this night.Source
Light the path for all the dead, that they may see now what’s ahead.
And lead them to the Summerland and shine until Pan takes their hands.
And with Your light, please bring them peace, that they may rest and sleep with ease.”
- PLAN + HOST A SÉANCE
As previously mentioned, this Sabbat is prime time for the normal order of things to come to a halt. Borders are blurred, the veil is thin, and the the stage is set to connect with those on the other side. Holding a séance this time of year is a perfect way to celebrate Samhain.
If you or another who plans on hosting is not well adept or familiar with séances, here are a few tips:
- Cleanse the space you will be holding the séance
- Use your preferred method of protection once everyone has arrived and gotten settled
- Invite open-minded participants
- Limit the number of attendees to match the space where you’re holding the event – overcrowding is not conducive to a successful séance
- Incense is a common tool used in séances so make sure no one attending is allergic
- Request all phones be turned off so as not to disturb or disconnect from the task at hand
- Ask everyone to do what they need to before getting started, i.e. smoking or bathroom breaks
- Lay out some snacks to keep anyone’s hunger from interrupting the flow of the séance
- Do a quick walk through of the evening’s events so your guests will have an idea of how the séance timeline will play out
- Some guests may fall into a trance. It is important to allow them to return naturally – Do NOT try and snap them out of it
- Be sure to close the door by having everyone there thank the spirits for visiting and interacting
As with any new practice or custom, do your own research! Séances are nothing to be trifled with. I highly recommend you do not overestimate your capabilities when it comes to contacting spirits. This is not to deter you from trying or learning how to conduct a séance, but rather to encourage properly educating yourself and others on all facets of this practice.
- MAKE A SAMHAIN SACHET
Magickal herbs and plants are powerful allies in our work as practitioners. Each Sabbat has their cluster of botanica that tie in with the representation of the turn in the Wheel of the Year. Samhain is no different. From rosemary, mugwort, and catnip to sage, oak, and straw, there is a myriad of herbs to support an array of magickal workings.
One way to celebrate this Sabbat is to formulate and make your own unique Samhain sachet to keep with you through the dark half of the year. This could be a sachet for protection, to help guide you through the New Year or to keep you connected to your ancestors.
Add 1/2 Tablespoon of each chosen herb to a sachet plus 1 Cinnamon Stick that fits the bag (for purification) and 1/2 Tablespoon of Sea Salt
Keep the sachet with you or place it on your altar.
- WALK AMONGST THE TOMBSTONES
If you wish to add another layer to ancestral connections, a visit to the graveyard works wonders. The act of stopping by their resting place and caring for the gravesite are phenomenal ways to show up for the relationship.
Just as you would with an ancestors altar where you speak to them and thank them, do the same here. Catch them up with what’s going on with your life, family, friends, hopes, dreams – everything you would normally share if they had not passed on.
Offerings of fresh flowers, favorite foods and drinks, art and gifts are all acts of fostering that spiritual connection you have with them.
- A TIME TO REFLECT
Samhain is all about contrast- light and dark, beginnings and endings, life and death. Now is a fantastic time to really stop what you’re doing and take a look back. Read through old journal entries, review planner pages for what you did, look at photographs, soak in what you created over the past year. Celebrate your growth and learn from your pitfalls.
Take some time to set intentions for the coming year. Who do you want to be? What no longer serves you? What will die and be cast off with your shedding skin? What are you looking forward to? Answer these questions in a new journal dedicated to seasons to come.
- KINDLE A FLAME
As we’ve already discussed in the divination portion of this post, Samhain is a fire festival. If you are able to, start your own bonfire or attend one. It could be in your fireplace or a small vessel like your cauldron. Participate in a burning ceremony. Write down the things, people, situations or habits that no longer serve you. Cast the paper into the flames and release it from your life. Embrace and embody the feeling of freedom and change as you dance clockwise around the fire.
Well, there you have it. Regardless of your beliefs and practices, celebrate Samhain as you are and how you wish. These are just a few customs you could incorporate into your life! Is there anything you do that wasn’t mentioned? Let me know in the comments!