The nights grow colder and longer. Winter has finally set in. The days are short, and the darkness creeps in earlier. It’s a beautiful time of the year when the leaves are changing colour. Earth is slowly dying, the leaves falling off the trees, the flowers withering away, even the sun sits lower on the horizon. I don’t find this ‘death’ scary or sad. There is a deep beauty, and lesson from the winter season that we, as humans, seem to have forgotten. In a society that is focused solely on action and results, we forget often the importance of introspection.
Fall has always been my favourite time of year, and here in the Northern Hemisphere it is a season that I feel is truly celebrated by nature. Much like the phoenix that goes up into flames and dies, only to be reborn, the trees around us are alight with burnt umber, ambers and ruby – a fiery display in the dreary greyness that’s settling in.
This is an important time of the year. Traditionally Samhain (Sow-wen) marks the third and final harvest in the Celtic Wheel of the Year, which is also the Celtic New Year. It was a time when the veil between this world and the ‘Otherworld’ was considered to be at it’s thinnest. Many of the traditions of Halloween were based on these old Celtic beliefs and traditions. As the year winds to an end it was a time to honour the ancestors and to celebrate the year that was. Here are a couple of ritual ideas you can do to mark the ancient feast of Samhain!
Honouring the ancestors
To honour those who have transitioned from the physical world into the world of spirit, it’s traditional at this time of the year to leave food offerings, as well as rituals. If you have photos of your loved ones, you can put them on your altar, light a candle and say a prayer for them, sending them love and light. It was traditionally thought that the veil between the worlds was thinnest on this night, so you can reach out to your loved ones, sending them love and light on their journey.
A slightly more complex tradition at this time of the year is the ‘Dumb Supper’. Cooking the favourite meal of the person you are honouring, a table is set with extra places for those who are no longer here. Make sure that all electronics are switched off – it’s traditional to hold this meal by candlelight. And most importantly it’s important that no one speak during the meal. Given that it’s a solemn occasion, it is usually best to hold this ritual without young children present. Each person attending should bring a note to the dinner which will be kept private, and should contain what they wish to say to their deceased friends or relatives.
A table is set with a place for each guest, and the head of the table is reserved for the ‘spirits’ of those gone. There should be a shroud in black or white on the chair. Although it’s nice to have a place setting for each individual you wish to honour, sometimes it’s just not possible! You can use candles at the head of the table where the ‘spirit’ chair is placed to represent each of those you are honouring.
Silence should be observed from the time people enter the dining room, and as each guest enter, a moment is spent at the shrouded chair offering a silent prayer to the departed. Once everyone is seated, join hands and take a moment to silently bless the meal. The host or hostess, who should be seated directly across from the Spirit chair, serves the meal to guests in order of age, from the oldest to youngest. No one should eat until all guests — including ‘Spirit’ — are served.
When everyone has finished eating, each guest should get out the note to the dead that they brought. Go to the head of the table where Spirit sits, and find the candle for your deceased loved one. Focus on the note, and then burn it in the candle’s flame (you may wish to have a plate or small cauldron on hand to catch burning bits of paper) and then return to their seat. When everyone has had their turn, join hands once again and offer a silent prayer to the dead.
Everyone leaves the room in silence. Stop at the Spirit chair on your way out the door, and say goodbye one more time.
Re-lighting the Fires of a New Year
From sunset on 31 October, the old year was celebrated and released, and the new year welcomed in. Now is a good time to wrap up and let go of anything that no longer serves your highest good. It’s time to release all that you no longer want to carry with you into the New Year.
A good house clearing is traditional, as was the extinguishing of all fires to be re-lit at sunset. Of course, now that we live in an age of central heating and electricity this is done by symbolically extinguishing the fire of the old year by lighting candles in the morning, saying a prayer for the old year, and giving gratitude for all that was. Journal your thoughts, and write down all that you wish to release. As you blow out the candles, imagine these things falling away from your energy, just as the leaves on the trees around us as letting go of all that will not serve them over the winter months.