Samhain: Honoring our Beloved Dead

Samhain: October 31 - November 1

We are approaching the gate of Samhain – also celebrated as Hallowmas, Halloween, and the Day of the Dead – when the veils between the worlds are the thinnest of the year and we can honor and communicate with our beloved dead and the spirits of other realms. In the Celtic calendar, this is a time of purification and a time to ready oneself for the New Year. We reflect on the year gone by, taking a good hard look at what we need to leave behind and what we will take with us through the gate. We can ask for help in this task from our ancestors and leave offerings for them in thanks.

In personal and collective ceremonies, we honor those who have crossed over in the past year, to remember our beloved dead. It is also time to celebrate those who’ve been born in the past year and to remember that we are the future’s ancestors – a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Building an ancestor altar is a tradition to be found in many cultures, and helps us connect to the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

If you someone you love has died in the past year (since Samhain of last year), this is a time to honor them again, to tell their stories, to fill their deaths with love. What is remembered, lives! When we remember our dead with love, honor, and celebration, it removes the veil of otherness from death. Suddenly, death can be seen as a part of life, not separate or opposite from it. Death comes to everyone. By embracing this knowledge, perhaps we can loosen the fear that grips us and turn it into an invitation to be present to our lives.

The magic of this time is deep change, reflection, endings and beginnings. Gathering together in rituals and feasts, we expand ourselves into the deep reservoir of time – past, present, future – which exists around us always, but is pushing against us seductively and powerfully at this time of year.

Make space to offer your time in silences in order to listen to what the ancestors have to say. Think about your own lineage and consider both the gifts and the challenges that your ancestors bestow upon you. Where we are now rests on all that has come before us. What does it mean to be an ancestor?

One way to honor the spirits of our ancestors is to make a plate of food and leave it outside or on an altar as a tribute. The ripening darkness around us makes this a potent time to do spellwork and divination of any sort. Utilize the possibilities for transformation surrounding us at this point on the wheel. Peer into the cauldron to see what needs to be cooked, stirred, burned away, boiled down. As we each approach the long journey of winter, let’s be sure we’re carrying only what we need.

Going Deeper

Here are some journaling questions you might use to help yourself further investigate the energy of Samhain and the Goddess in her aspect as Crone, Destroyer, Shaman.

Death: What is your relationship with death? Have you known many people who have died or yourself experienced a near-death? What is your story of the afterlife? Make one up.

Difficult Emotions: What is your relationship with emotions like fear, anxiety, anger, disgust and despair? How do you express these emotions in your life? What messages have you been given from others when you express these emotions? Think of one area of your life in which you often feel painful, negative emotions. What are your feelings trying to tell you?

Healing and Regeneration: How do you nurture and restore yourself after intense periods of work or activity? Where in your body do you tend to hold onto stress? Can you see the value of shedding old parts of your life or your identity in order to have them shaped into something new?

Age: How do you feel about aging? What do you think about menopause? What are the fears and hopes you carry for this phase of your life? Write down some of your associations with the image of an "old lady" or "crone" figure.

Sexuality: How do you feel about your own body? What do you think of your vulva or menstrual blood? What were you taught about your body and its cycles or about sexuality? What does healthy sexuality look like to you?