Across cultures and time, the Halloween season has been associated with remembering, honoring, and reflecting on our loved ones and ancestors that have passed on. Samhain is a time for remembering the dead for Wiccans as well. It is our New Year, our last harvest festival, a time when the lines between realms are weak and open. It is a time for celebration, for looking forward to the new year, but it is also a time for reflection. Death is part of the wheel of the year, part of the balance of nature, and Samhain is a time to honor its place in the circle of life.
We honor the dead at Samhain because it is the time of death in the wheel of the year. Summer is ending and winter is beginning. Winter is the time the earth is seen as dead. Life and nature are dormant, waiting for new life to be born in Spring. We honor death at this time because we need to respect its place in the wheel of the year. Without death, there is no life. Death is inevitable and transformational. It is not to be feared because it comes for us all. It is due respect and honor, so Samhain is a time to respect and honor death itself.
Our loved ones can visit us during Samhain, so while we honor death itself, we also honor the dead. We honor their place in our lives, remember how they touched us, what they taught us. The dead guide us after the pass, so Samhain is a time to thank them for that guidance. We thank them for what they brought to our lives.
Perhaps the most well known ceremony for the dead is Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico. Mexican tradition involves the ofrenda – an altar with photos and offerings for loved ones who have passed on. Catholics around the world remember the dead on what they call All Saints’ Day. These traditions have their roots in the pagan rituals for the dead during Samhain.
We all have pictures of deceased loved ones in our homes, perhaps have named a child in memory of someone who has passed, have mementos that bring us happy memories of times spent with them, even objects that have been passed down through generations. These are wonderful ways of remembering the dead on a daily basis, but Samhain is a time for focusing dedication and honor on those we have lost.
There are many ways you can honor the dead at Samhain. Some can be done alone, others require at least a small group to perform properly.
On a western wall of your home, set a place for an altar to honor your ancestors. Drape it in black or purple cloth. Place pictures of your loved ones who have passed on the altar. Make a special section for the ancestors you never met, to honor them for being a part of your circle of life. Place an offering personal to each person next to their photo. For example, if someone was a big fan of cigars, place a cigar next to their photo. If someone liked racing, place a toy race car. Place candles, flowers, and other decorations on the altar to show respect and honor.
Have your friends and family tell stories about their loved ones. Share moments that made you laugh, moments that touched you, treasure time together. If members of your group are named after an ancestor or loved one, make sure they are told stories about that person and why they are honored with their name. For ancestors further back in your genealogy, make sure their stories are still told, even though they don’t involve you directly. Telling their story keeps them alive and gives them power to guide you from the afterlife.
Invoke Your Ancestors
Before any ritual, speech, spell, or meal on Samhain, invoke your genealogy as far back as you can. “I am Parker, daughter of Francis, daughter of Mary, daughter of Imogen, daughter of Victoria.”
Feast for the Dead
At your Samhain feast, leave an empty seat for the dead. Set it with a plate and glass. Pour a little bit of every drink served into the glass. Put a small piece of any food served onto the plate. Invite your ancestors and other departed loved ones to come dine with you. Bless the food and drink before sharing it, and don’t share it all at once. Share it as it is shared at the table.
Visit the Cemetery
Visit a local cemetery to honor and commune with the dead. You can visit your own loved ones, or merely honor those who are buried there that helped build the area you now live in. Tend the area of the graves. Leave an offering of flowers, herbs, water, or other gifts for the deceased.
Hold a Séance At Samhain
With the thinned veil between realms, Samhain is the perfect time to commune directly with the dead via a séance. Make sure someone experienced is leading the séance – with the distance between the worlds so short, you don’t want someone unfamiliar with navigating communication with the afterlife leading the séance. This is a way to find out more about your ancestors, by calling on them to guide you. For those with a strong connection to an ancestor, such as being named for one, sharing features or personality traits or vocations, or other connections, a Samhain séance will allow the strength of that connection to call upon the ancestor.
Samhain is a time for death and the dead. It is important to remember more than just the loved ones we knew. Samhain is a time for ancestors to be honored and respected. To be thanked for their guidance in our daily lives, and to request continued guidance. Remembering the dead helps to keep them alive in us, as well as giving them the power to assist us from the next realm.