What to do at Samhain (or What does a Witch Really Do at Halloween?)

Me and the Husband. We both clean up quite nicely.

Me and the Husband. We both clean up quite nicely.

Happy (almost) New Year! Because Samhain (Halloween) is the Witches’ New Year!

First of all, I just got married! Last week I tied the knot with my true love which goes to show that even the World’s Greatest Hot Mess can eventually find a match. For those of you who knew me in the epic years of my now defunct MySpace blog, you know this is TRUE MAGICK MANIFESTED!

Now that wedding-ness is behind me, I can focus more on writing this sorely neglected blog.

First of all, a profound thanks to all the kind words and affirming messages after posting When Loved Ones Don’t Get It.  Planning a religious ceremony across faith lines, particularly when those faith lines typically clash, was an exercise in true love, compassion, and patience on all sides. But we did it! It was a beautiful day and truly the greatest day of my life, so far. Having such support and knowing I was far from the only one delicately navigating the balance of including nervous loved ones in a crucially important part of my life while still being true to myself helped me find the grounded balance I needed to make it happen.

Now, let’s talk Samhain!

Altar from my Coven's Samhain three years ago, just after Super-Storm Sandy. The candles were meant to honor those who had passed over in the previous year, particularly those lost to the storm.

Altar from my Coven’s Samhain three years ago, just after Super-Storm Sandy. The candles were meant to honor those who had passed over in the previous year, particularly those lost to the storm.

Why do Witches love this time of year so much? Samhain or Halloween is as important to us as Rosh Hashanah or Christmas is to our Jewish and Christian friends, respectively. It’s a time of honoring our Ancestors and checking in with Them for guidance in the coming year. It’s a time of sacred solemnity, but also fun.

In old-world Ireland, this time of year became associated with death for very practical reasons. The harvest needed to have be completed by this time and any livestock not expected to live through the winter would be slaughtered and its meat preserved as a food source through the lean winter months. The veils between this world and the next were considered to be very thin and the Dead were believed to walk among the living. Faerie Spirits could emerge from their mounds and potentially steal children or whisk away wives.

Contemporary Witches may fortunately not be facing the same food shortages (at least, not any due solely to the seasons), but can still use this time of year as a way to honor those who have passed on. I spoke to the Huffington Post last year about how my Coven would be honoring the holiday, publicly. 

Today, however, I want to share how someone might honor it, privately.

A Dumb Supper (Dumb meaning Silent)

Our fur baby Lilith sitting in the seat reserved for the Ancestors...probably waiting for us to turn our backs so she could steal the chicken left for Them....

Our fur baby Lilith sitting in the seat reserved for the Ancestors…probably waiting for us to turn our backs so she could steal some Dumb Supper chicken.

Every year, my now-husband and I make dinner for our Ancestors. We both have Polish/Slavic Ancestors so we make kielbasas and pierogi. He’s also Italian, so pasta with red sauce usually ends up on the plate as well. I have many Southern roots, so I fry chicken and add collared greens. We heap all of this on a single plate and leave it by an empty chair, which is meant to be occupied by the Spirits of those who have gone before us. We then consume our own dinners together in silence, contemplating on those who are no longer present in Spirit. We also set out a glass of wine, a mug of whiskey, and if we’re feeling extra generous, a can of cheap beer as we have a number of departed relatives who really dug the cheap stuff.

If you wish to try it:
Make foods you know where either culturally appropriate for your Ancestry or even those a relative happened to particularly like. You don’t have to consume them yourself, if those foods aren’t your thing. If feasibility or personal morals conflict, do the best you can. For example, say you know your great-grandfather was meat-and-potatoes guy but you are Vegan and don’t want steak grease in your kitchen, find a compromise. Maybe Great-Grandpa Meat-Head also loved strawberries? A dish of strawberries at the Dumb Supper table could do the trick. If you don’t know your Ancestry (say you’re adopted or if your family simply doesn’t have records), there is nothing wrong with honoring non-blood family. Maybe your Ancestors are friends who gone over, or they are the relatives who adopted you or married into your family.

photo-99Divination

Samhain is traditionally an important time for doing future forecasts. If you are a Tarot, Runes, Crystal, Bones, or other reader, this is a great time for dusting off those tools and letting the energies of the night inform you. We conclude our Dumb Supper with a heavy Divination session. Last year, we got the bad omen that we would experience a severe loss of life in the coming year. That loss ended up being our beloved kitty Velcro, who did pass away a few months later. 🙁  Here’s hoping our reading this coming year will be brighter.

If you don’t do Divination yourself, consider going to see a reader in the days after Samhain. Generally speaking, the first week after a holiday will hold greater power than the days leading up to it.

"Antonio de Pereda - El sueño del caballero - Google Art Project" by Antonio de Pereda - 5wE6Jp0KdDKljA at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antonio_de_Pereda_-_El_sue%C3%B1o_del_caballero_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#/media/File:Antonio_de_Pereda_-_El_sue%C3%B1o_del_caballero_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

“Antonio de Pereda – El sueño del caballero – Google Art Project” by Antonio de Pereda  Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Dream Magick

Pay attention to your dreams around Samhain. Chances are good that your beloved Dead would like to provide you with messages or information you may find useful. Then again, you may not find it so useful. I’ve had my own Dead appear in dreams to ask my why I wear green eyeshadow or scold me for wearing blue jeans with holes in them: “We didn’t move halfway across the world so you could walk around with holes in your pants!!!” But even those messages, as strange as they may seem, let me know They’re still presentIn addition, I may laugh about seemingly silly messages, but my Ancestors have brought me incredibly important messages more often than not.

Say a prayer to your Ancestors before going to bed. Let Them know you’re thinking of Them and would love to talk to Them. Keep a journal by your bed. If you wake suddenly in the middle of the night, write down any details you can remember, even if they’re spotty. Do the same when you first wake in the morning.

You may find that someone who isn’t your blood Ancestor may show up. A friend’s mentor appeared in my dreams one Samhain night two years ago, someone who I thought was still living. The next morning, I learned that he died the same night that I dreamed of him.

Dreams are a true portal to speaking with the departed. Take advantage of this time.

Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.

Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.

Visit a Cemetery

If you have loved ones buried there, perfect! Bring flowers, food, drink, or other gifts they might enjoy. If you don’t have loved ones buried close to you, a cemetery visit is still a lovely thing to do. Let the Dead know they are loved and not forgotten. You’ll want the same thing done for you. Be sure to make three stops as you’re heading home from the cemetery as you don’t want any tricky or curious Spirits following you.

What do you do? Do you have a personal practice I haven’t mentioned, here?

If you’re in the NYC area, my Coven is hosting an open Samhain. Details are at this link. 

2 Comments

  • Daniel says:

    First, congratulations to two lovely people! Sorry I couldn’t be there, but the photos are wonderful. I wish you both great happiness. 🙂

    As for Samhain traditions, I learned of an alternative to the Dumb Supper a few years ago, the Bright Supper. The supper part is identical, but instead of honoring your Ancestors in silence, you invite them to supper and talk to them and about them, telling stories and reminiscing. What is remembered, lives, and this way the Ancestors are remembered and honored by all present. It isn’t better than a Dumb Supper, just an alternative. Your Ancestors can tell you which they would prefer, and it’s about them anyway. 🙂
    Blessings,
    Daniel

    • panpanbrid says:

      Thank you, Daniel!

      I love the idea of a Bright Supper. What a great idea! We’ll have to try that one of these years.

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