Samhain: Rituals, Traditions, & Easy Ways To Celebrate

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samhain rituals and samhain traditions

If you’re fan of Halloween, then you probably know that there’s something different about Halloween night. Even before I practiced witchcraft, I could always feel the energy shift. I just didn’t realize that this was because October 31st is also called Samhain, which is a popular pagan holiday with a lot of meaning and energy.

The Samhain holiday is a time to honor the dead and those who have passed on. It is celebrated during the last few days of October, typically on Halloween night. More specifically, Samhain celebrations begin at sunset on October 31st and end at sunset of November 1st.

Samhain is almost exactly halfway between the the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. The name “Samhain” comes from an old Irish word meaning “summer’s end,” and it marks the beginning of winter. Samhain is pronounced “Sah-win” or “Sow-win.”

Known as the witch’s new year, Samhain is a perfect opportunity to release old grudges and feuds, especially with anything associated with your past.

It is also a time when the veil between life and death grows thin. Food is set aside for ancestors and lost loved ones as gifts, and rituals honoring the dead take place.

I think it’s fitting that Samhain falls on Halloween, because Samhain does have a sinister vibe. This pagan holiday focuses on the end of the summer (and the seasons that provide plenty of food), so sacrifices that must be made to get through the winter. It’s also the night when spirits of the dead are closest to our physical realm, which can be a bit spooky.

How Did Samhain Originate?

samhain rituals and samhain traditions

Samhain originated from the ancient Celtic peoples of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

The Celts believed that this time marked a boundary between two worlds: the world of the living and the world of spirits who had passed on to another life. It was observed as a festival where people would wear costumes in order to share food with those they were honoring who had passed on.

The Samhain ritual was really important because the Celts were so superstitious. They believed that terrible things would happened if Samhain rituals weren’t perfectly followed.

For instance, it was said that any crops sown during this time would never grow because this would displease the spirits, so people were instructed to leave their fields unplanted until the spring.

This holiday is typically observed on Halloween, and some of its most iconic symbols include pumpkins carved into faces to represent ghosts, as well as bonfires lit in order to ward off spirits.

It’s also a day where people would share food with those they were honoring who had passed on. Often, this was a dish of potatoes and apples, which has evolved over the years into today’s tradition of pumpkin pie.

The Catholic Church adopted the traditional Celtic holiday Samhain when they attempted to institutionalize Christianity in England. The Church renamed it All Hallow’s Eve and incorporated elements of pre-Christian ritual into their observances; this blending eventually led to the creation of Halloween.

Many Halloween traditions started as pagan rituals, mutated as the Church claimed them, and evolved into the modern, non-religious practices that we now enjoy.

However, much of the meaning and ritual behind Samhain has been lost. As a practicing witch, I believe that there is lots of importance to Pagan holidays, not only because we all love a good holiday, but because these days mark specific occurrences in nature and shifts in the seasons. Our bodies often sense these shifts are occurring, even if our minds don’t.

If you want to feel closer to nature and to the energy of the spiritual world, then consider incorporating a few easy Samhain rituals into your day on October 31st this year.

Why Do We Celebrate Samhain?

Because Samhain is also known as the witch’s new year, think of it as a reset. Similar to our New Year celebrations, Samhain is a time to look pack on the past (both the past 12 months as well as the past in general – personal and historical) and to set goals for the future.

samhain rituals and samhain traditions

Samhain is a time of release. Instead of holding onto the past, you can let it go. It is an ending and a new beginning.

This is why ancestors are so often incorporated into Samhain rituals. We can look back and remember our ancestors, honor them, and release any grief or ties so that their souls can be free.

You probably celebrate Samhain without even realizing it. If you put up fall decorations, clean your home, walk in nature and enjoy the leaves, or do other classic fall activities, you’re actually celebrating Samhain.

However, I like to actively participate in Samhain traditions. I find that the night of Halloween does always feel like an end, and recognizing this (the Pagan calendar) is a great way to get in-tune with nature.

Easy Ways To Celebrate Samhain

There are so many ways to celebrate Samhain. These are some of my favorite simple ways to incorporate ritual and celebration into your life during the month of October.

Keep in mind that these are simple rituals, not full-on spells. For more information about what types of spells work well on Samhain, scroll down a few sections.

Spend Time In Nature

I love spending time in nature during the autumn months. During Samhain, the world is getting colder and darker, but that isn’t necessarily bad. Instead, nature is just changing and preparing for the next season.

To get in-tune with nature, I like to walk, sit under a tree, put my feet on the ground, and even speak aloud to the spirits of the wind, trees, earth, etc.  

Have A Bonfire

Bonfires have been lit on Samhain for centuries. Traditionally, a bonfire was a way to welcome the spirits to the earth so that we could communicate with our ancestors.

However, this theoretically welcomed both good and evil spirits. Other folks believed that the bonfire was a way to honor good spirits, but the flame would keep negative entities away.

Even nowadays, you can light a bonfire to welcome your ancestors or spirits you want to communicate with.

You can also use a bonfire in a therapeutic manner. Get paper and write down the things that don’t serve you in life, things that you want to let go of, and burn it. 

If you’re not able to have a bonfire, you can also have a fire inside, or even light candles and celebrate the flame.

Give Fall Offerings To Deities Or Spirit Guides

If you work with deities or spirit guides, now is a great time to leave them a fall offering in the spirit of renewal. This thanks them for their help over the last year and sets the intention of working together for the coming season.

Do A Samhain Tarot Spread

Tarot is a great way to celebrate Samhain. It’s safe and super effective, especially when the veil is low. 

There are many Samhain Tarot readings available. I love the classic past, present, and future reading, because Samhain is all about releasing the past and looking forward.

Engage In Divination

You can also engage in various divination activities when the veil is low.

Consider scrying or using the pendulum. If you’re feeling brave, you can also use a ouija board, though I recommend that you set up adequate protection before doing this.

Host A Feast

Another way of celebrating Samhain is by hosting a feast- big or small.

Come together with your closest friends, family members, mentors, and colleagues to partake in this event.

You may set up an altar for the spirits to be appeased, offer them food and drink. You may also give thanks to loved ones who have passed away with a short speech followed by a toast.

Even if your family or friends don’t have the same spiritual beliefs as you do, you can still serve food with intention and decorate with subtle symbols of Samhain to celebrate without making anyone uncomfortable.

Make Old Family Recipes 

Find out what some of your favorite family recipes are and make them this Samhain. It’s a good time to come together as a family and enjoy some food!

Plus, making old recipes is the perfect way to celebrate your ancestors.

Set Up A Samhain Altar

I always set up a Samhain altar for my ancestors around the beginning of October. However, you can dedicate this altar to just about anything and anyone.

Consider making an altar for self renewal, energy release, or dedicating your altar to your ancestors, spirit guides, or deities.

Burn Samhain-Inspired Incense

A really simple ritual for Samhain is to burn autumn incense. I especially love clove, cinnamon, and apple incense.

While I often make this into a ritual (cleansing and warding), I’ll also burn incense every night during October just to celebrate.

Tell Family Stories

Samhain is a time when spirits are active and able to communicate with the living. Many people take this opportunity to tell family stories, share memories of loved ones who have passed away, or ask specific questions to relatives who are still living.

It may also be worth considering which ancestors you would like to invite into your home on Samhain night for a meal.

Take this opportunity to celebrate the lives of those who are gone, or even to celebrate events of the past, by retelling these stories.

Carve Pumpkins

Carving pumpkins is another way of celebrating. You may use the pumpkin to carve a Jack-O-Lantern to put outside for all to see on Halloween night.

Even as an adult, I love carving pumpkins because I carve with intention. One of my favorite things to do is to carve sigils into my pumpkin, so that my home is protected while the pumpkin remains on my step.

Cook Autumn Meals With Intentions

One of my favorite ways to celebrate this holiday is by cooking. There are many different traditions associated with what you might cook, so you can get really creative, depending on your background and tastes.

I like to focus on dishes that involve apples, which are one of the agricultural symbols of Samhain season.

Foods are often offered in worshiping rituals at Samhain. Remembering our loved ones who have passed away and having a meal with them is a common ritual during this time period, so baking is a great place to start if you’re looking for ways to celebrate Samhain.

Decorate For Samhain

Just like decorating for Halloween, I find decorating for Samhain to be a great ritual activity. This can be as simple or as complicated as you want!

Some of the best items to use for Samhain decorations include:

– Pumpkins
– Autumn leaves
– Apples
– Cauldron
– Broom sticks
– Witches hat
– Skeletons
– Pomegranate
– Crescent moon
– Bones

Make Samhain Moon Water

If there was ever a time to make strong moon water, it’s during Samhain.

This moon water will definitely have regenerative properties and will be perfect for any spell about release or banishment.

Check out this full post on how to make moon water for more tips and tricks.

Do A Past Life Regression

Past life regression is a hypnotherapy technique that seeks to explore the idea of reincarnation.

When you do a past life regression, you not only see your past life, but you also release any negative emotions or ties associated with that lifetime. Of course, this makes a past life regression a great activity to do on Samhain, a day all about release.

Check out this post for information about the different ways to do a past life regression.

See A Trusted Medium Reader

The veil is low on Samhain, so it’s a great time to connect with a medium reader, especially if you aren’t confident in your own divination skills.

Remember to keep an open mind, as things can come through that you didn’t expect.

Incorporate Samhain Symbols Into Your Life

There are specific symbols related to Samhain. These include:

– A full moon
– Jack o lantern
– Black cat
– Skulls
– Ghost
– Waning moon
– Scarecrow
 
I like to decorate around my home with these symbols, change my iPhone’s wallpaper, draw sigils that incorporate these symbols, etc.

Do A Ritual To Release The Past “You”

Samhain is the perfect time for release. If you feel that you need to let your old self go, or release a piece of you that no longer serves you, consider doing a ritual on Samhain.

You can celebrate the past self and how far you’ve come with a release ritual, too.

I personally like to dig a grave and bury the qualities of myself that I want to leave behind (written on paper), but you can also dig a grave and bury your past grievances, either with yourself or others.

Spend some time in self reflection, meditate, or journal and think about where you want to go next.

This is a symbolic death and rebirth ritual that’s really moving and effective. It can also be a great way to receive clarity.

More Traditional Samhain Rituals

Traditionally, Samhain was celebrated by some set rituals. These Samhain traditions have mutated over time, so it can be cool to learn about the original tradition and why it began.

samhain rituals and samhain traditions

One of the most popular ways to honor the the dead was by cooking a feast and setting out a portion of the feast for spirits. This tradition spanned for centuries, so cooking became a very important ritual on Samhain.

In fact, most villages celebrated Samhain with a feast. This was a really big event in many different areas of the world. Villages would cook, bake, dance, sing, and do other activities to honor the dead.

Another tradition was to light a bonfire or a candle near/in the home to welcome spirits. Many believed that it was necessary to actively welcome the spirits of the dead, so they wouldn’t get angry and enact revenge.

Others opened western facing doors or windows and placed a candle in the opening, since it was believed that ghosts came from the west.

In Ireland, folks carved turnips with scary faces and set candles in the turnips in order to frighten away “Jack,” a man who was denied getting into Heaven, and who supposedly roamed the earth as a ghost. Because Samhain is the day when the veil is lowest, turnips were carved in preparation of October 31st.

Now, we carve pumpkins instead of turnips, but the superstition remains the same for many people.

Trick-or-treating is another common Halloween pastime that evolved out of Samhain practices. Starting in the middle ages, people would dress up like their deceased loved ones (hence the costumes) and go door to door, receiving offerings for the spirits of the dead. This was a way to honor these spirits, even if they couldn’t be present in the flesh.

Types Of Spells To Cast On Samhain

Samhain is a night when natural energy is very strong, so you can cast just about any kind of spell. If you’ve been waiting for a special night to cast a big spell or have something in mind, go for it!

samhain rituals and samhain traditions

Otherwise, I find that spells about release, regeneration, and the spirits of the dead tend to be quite successful when cast on Samhain.

Here are some of my favorite Samhain spells to give you inspiration.

Cleanse Your Home

Samhain, the time where the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest, offers a good chance to ward off negative entities. You can cleanse your home to allow benevolent spirits through, while warding against those with negative intentions.

Cord Cutting Spell

A cord cutting spell can be done in order to sever ties with someone or something that you unhappy with. Samhain is a great time to release negative energy, and a cord cutting spell will help you do that quickly and effectively.

Cleansing Bath

This is a great ritual to do on the evening of October 31st. Fill your bathtub or other large container with water and add natural items like bay leaves, apple peels, rosemary or sage sprigs, honeycomb pieces, ginger slices, cedar chips etc. You can also include anything else you find pleasant smelling in the mix.

Add these items to the bath and stir them around. Then step into the water, close your eyes, take a deep breath and say: “As I wash away my old year, ____.” Speak your intention for the new year in the blank space.

You can also simply cleanse yourself in the bath without saying anything if you’d rather not speak aloud.

Next, say a prayer to whoever your deity or spirit guide is. After that you can scrub the parts of your body that need it most with a natural soap. Then rinse off and step out of the tub or container, drying yourself thoroughly before dressing in new clothes from head-to-toe. You are now cleansed!

This ritual will help you release negativity and make room for new ideas. I find that is a cleansing bath is a really effective yet gentle method of cleansing. I always feel rejuvenated and new after.

Summoning Ritual

If you’re feeling daring and want to connect with spirits or entities, Samhain is the best time to conduct a summoning ritual since the veil between worlds is extremely thin.

Make sure that you have appropriate protections in place (wards, cleansing agents, etc.) before attempting any kind of summoning spell. Trust me – if you aren’t prepared, these spells can go bad quickly.

Banishing Spell

If you need to banish someone or something, Samhain is the time to do this. In fact, Samhain might be the best pagan holiday for a banishing spell out of the whole year!

There are many different ways you can banish something/someone. Check out my eBook all about protection spells (including a whole section on banishing) for more information.

Any Spell Or Ritual To Celebrate Nature

I like any sort of ritual that celebrates the turning of the seasons. After all, Samhain literally marks the transition from summer to winter.

For me, celebrating nature means that I’m more in-tune with nature and with the seasons.

You can perform just about any spell that celebrates nature, or you can make an offering to any nature spirit, the wind, the ocean, the rain, etc.

One simple Samhain spell that I like to cast goes like this:

  • Find a tree, and carve your name into it.
  • Light a pumpkin with a candle inside.
  • Take five minutes to sit in silence – contemplate how nature changes and what you want to change in yourself.
  • As the pumpkin starts to burn, take some of its ashes and throw them into a windy place (preferably outside).
  • Leave the pumpkin at the base of the tree where you carved your name – this will symbolize that you are returning home.

Of course, make sure that you don’t injure the tree or yourself during this ritual!

You can also perform any ritual outside and harness the power of nature for your spell. On a warmer Samhain night, we like to gather under the moon for spell work.

Burial Spell

This doesn’t mean you actually bury a person. Instead, you can bury just about anything else during a spell, and Samhain is the perfect time to do this.

For example, you can bury a (biodegradable) spell jar when you’ve gotten what you needed and are ready to release the intentions of the spell to nature. I do this a lot with freezer spells.

You can also write out your intentions for the coming year and bury them.

Lastly, you can bury offerings to your spirit guides, ancestors, or deity. 

love burial spells because I feel like I’m directly giving back the energy to nature. 

Hexes or Curses

If you’re into hexes or curses, then Samhain is a good time to cast these sorts of spells. Check out this post for more info on how to cast hexes and curses.

Samhain Celebrations With The Fae

Samhain is a time of the year when many fairy beings are present and are willing to interact with humans through rituals, prayers, and offerings. In fact, Samhain is one of the most important holidays for the Fae.

If you’re out and about on Samhain, you may encounter the Fae. Sometimes, they disgusise themselves as humans, while other times you can see a fairy creature in their original form.

Samhain is a great time to throw a feast for your fairy friends, or you can leave them gifts in the spirit of the season.

However, even if you’re familiar with the Fae, be careful around Samhain. This is the time when the darker Fae come out (such as the Unseelie) and even good manners on your part won’t necessarily stop them from enacting mischief or even doing something more sinister.

If you listen, you may be able to hear the Fae’s celebrations on the eve of Samhain, though I don’t recommend actually trying to find it.

Samhain Recipes

I love to bake around Samhain. There are so many traditional Samhain recipes that are really yummy and double as a ritual activity.

Here are some of my favorite Samhain recipes from various blogs and sites:

I find that baking is a great Samhain ritual activity to do in the days leading up to the holiday. In fact, I end up baking for most of October! 

Kitchen witches will also enjoy baking with intention. If you’re a kitchen witch, you can use traditional Samhain recipes (which are already steeped with intention) or design your own recipe using fall ingredients.