Samhain (spoken Sa – win) is one of the eight festivals in the Wheel of the Year, which in its entirety represents the cycle of life. In this cycle of becoming and unbecoming, death and rebirth, Samhain is the third and final of three harvest festivals and marks a time of letting go, looking within and honouring our ancestors.
When Christianity spread, the customs of the Celtic and Germanic tribes who honoured the Wheel of the Year, were replaced by Christian festivals. So the (Roman-Catholic) Christians celebrate All Hallows’/All Saints’ Day (in memory of all Christian saints) and All Souls’ Day (in memory of all the souls who ended up in purgatory).
When do we celebrate Samhain?
As Samhain is one of the lunar festivals in the Wheel of the Year, the celebrations used to be based on the moon – some traditions refer to the 11th Dark Moon (New Moon) of the year, others to the 11th Full Moon, because the Celtic and Germanic tribes revered the Full Moon. But the celebrations always take place at sunset of the previous evening, since we first have to let go, before something new can begin.
Nowadays, many follow our solar calendar or the Christian festival of All Hallows’/All Saints’ Day, so Samhain is celebrated from October 31st to November 1st in the Northern Hemisphere, for example in the form of Halloween. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is celebrated on May 1st.
Why do we celebrate Samhain?
Samhain is the third and last of three harvest festivals. The gifts of Nature are now fully harvested and it is necessary to continue the preparations for winter.
In the past, Celtic and Germanic tribes held large gatherings with lots of foods and drinks. The people would discuss whether or not enough supplies had been stored for winter, which animals needed to be slaughtered, marriages were arranged, court was held and laws were made. For them, this was the beginning of the new year.
It is said that during the time of Samhain, the veils to the Otherworld are thinner than usual. It’s easier to connect with our ancestors, but also with our subconscious and the “ghosts and demons” haunting us on the inside. Now begins the descent into our inner darkness that we often try to suppress …
The Crone (the elder, the archetypal part of us who possesses deep life experience, regardless of our age, the part who is wise and connected to the bigger picture) invites us to connect with our ancestors, to remember the people and teachers who came before us and who have a special place in our life and our hearts.
We are invited to consciously seek the darkness and lose our fear of it – of the shadows we might find, but also of death itself. Because ending/ dying/ letting go are part of life and inevitable, even though often uncomfortable. But they create space for something new, for a constant evolution where we decide which burden we no longer want to carry!
What is the energetic quality of this time?
Nature is now retreating fully, preparing for winter rest. The days are getting noticeably shorter and cooler, trees and plants draw their juices inwards to their roots, animals prepare for hibernation, migratory birds head south.
But even though it looks like Nature is dying – this isn’t the end! Because hidden from our eyes there are processes going on in the darkness of the underground.
Mother Earth takes the decaying remains back into her body, a decomposing and composting begins, a sorting out and recycling, so that in spring new nutrients will be available for a new cycle.
For us, Samhain is a time to draw our focus back inwards, reassess our life and look at the aspects that aren’t working in the way we’d like. Which beliefs or behavioural patterns can we release, that aren’t making us happy? Is there something material we’d like to declutter? Which relationships have come to an end and can be let go of?
This process is comparable to menstruation or Dark Moon if you don’t menstruate: a letting go and elimination of what’s no longer needed on all levels (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual), to create space for new possibilities. And best of all: We don’t have to actively do anything for it!
Although that can actually be the hardest part for us humans – waiting and practicing patience ;-) We need to trust that Nature knows exactly what she’s doing, outside as well as inside our body. Knowing that all growth begins in the darkness!
How can you honour the quality of this time?
You can honour this time in your day-to-day life with little rituals or special moments:
- Daily Life: Cook stews with colourful autumn veggies, hold a tea ceremony, take time for yourself, make sure you get enough sleep, snuggle up in warm blankets or take a bubble bath.
- Fire: The transformative power of fire brightens the mood and has a cleansing and protective quality, so light candles or get a fire going in the fireplace or a fire bowl and ask Fire to burn everything away that’s weighing you down.
- Enjoy Nature: The leaves are changing colour, Nature is drawing within, we experience a few last warm days and the first autumn storms – how about going for a walk in the autumn fog or bathing in the warm sun to prepare for winter?
- Allow sad and melancholic thoughts: It may sound obvious, but unbecoming and dying come with feelings of sadness, melancholy, fear, maybe even anger. Give yourself permission to moan and sigh and let your shoulders drop, if you feel like it!
- Remember the Ancestors: Whether they’re blood relatives or spiritual ancestors, take a few moments to remember those who walked this Earth before you. For example, you can place an image or photograph of them on your autumn altar.
The meaning and themes of Samhain
Samhain is a time of letting go, introspection and transformation, so that a new cycle can begin.
Letting Go & Ending
Nature sets a good example, reminding us that constant, everlasting growth is an illusion. Like everything in Nature – and we are part of Nature after all – growth is cyclical, too. And periods of retreating, reflection and conscious letting go are needed to ensure that growth is sustainable, even regenerative.
So right now is the time to take stock and release the Old, because only through letting go do we create space for something new.
I believe this part of Life is so difficult for us, because we live in a society that is very death-averse. Because think about it, every time we experience a change, we experience a death – one part of us dies, so that a new version of us can emerge.
But change doesn’t always mean our whole life is going to be turned upside down, sometimes all that’s needed are a few little tweaks and we’re good to go and navigate the transition on our own.
The most important thing is to allow ourselves to experience the whole range of emotions that comes up. It’s okay to experience grief, anger and gratitude at the same time. Or joy. When we talk lovingly with ourselves during this time of change, we can tap into the medicine of intentional endings.
(I’ve had an incredibly inspiring conversation about this with my guest, Death Dominatrix Brionna Ned. You can watch it HERE.)
Darkness, Introspection & Transformation
The dark half of the year began at Autumn Equinox and the darkness is noticeably increasing day by day. She invites us to look within, to the strengths and resources we have and also to the areas of our life we’re not that happy with.
What happened over the course of this year, who or what came into our life or left it? Where did we evolve and which areas of our life need to adapt to this new version of ourselves now?
We are invited to become still – within us and around us –, so that we can hear our inner voice and see our inner light better. Just like the stars are visible more easily when it’s dark around us.
Trusting that our system of body, heart, mind and soul knows exactly what it needs to let go of and compost now, in order for us to grow an even stronger foundation for next year.
Honouring the Ancestors
In indigenous cultures and many countries of Southeast Asia, honouring the ancestors is a natural part of daily life. The dead belong to the family as much as the living, since their blood is running through our veins, too. (Granted, in some cultures it’s more about asking the ancestors for protection while in others it’s more about appeasing them…)
Believe me, I know how difficult it can be to be grateful for those who came before us, depending on the family history. Both sides of my family are marked by dysfunctional relationships and emotionally-immature to emotionally-abusive behaviour.
And yet, I’ve managed to make peace with it. Because I firmly believe that every human is trying their best at all times – regardless of whether that’s in the best interest of the other as well. Some people are more empathic and have an easier time taking into account the other person’s situation to create a win-win situation. Some have never had a model of a healthy relationship and were emotionally (and/or physically) abused themselves. It’s not an excuse for their behaviour, but at least an explanation that leads to compassion on my side and helps me make peace with it more easily.
And then there are ancestors who aren’t part of our bloodline. People outside of our family who have been with us through part of our life, spiritual teachers, people who have inspired us with their message even though they’ve long been dead.
At Samhain the veil to the Otherworld is thinner than usual, so that we can connect with them all more easily. For example through a little altar, with image or without, with a candle and some fresh fruit, tea or sweets they can enjoy during their visit ;-).
Samhain in the Cycle of Life
The wisdom of the individual festivals of the Wheel of the Year can always be applied to our bigger cycles of life, which we move through as humans – no wonder, since they represent the Cycle of Life.
Samhain represents the time from about 70 years until (physical) death. It’s the time of the elder and the time of wisdom, because knowledge combined with life experience leads to wisdom.
We learn something (e.g., knowledge through books or other people), apply it in our life, and through the lessons we learn from that application we gain a deeper understanding for ourselves and the interconnectedness in Nature, Life and society. Hence in the future we know what works well for us in a certain situation and what doesn’t and, where appropriate or asked for, we can counsel others.
At this age the pace of life slows down, partly because the body is ailing and doesn’t work in the ways we’re used to anymore, and one’s own death becomes more present. Or perhaps one discovers a new purpose in being a grandparent, being happy to learn from the young generation.
This, however, requires a certain openness, which unfortunately often seems to fade at this age. Maybe because our system is afraid of anything New and prefers to stick to old habits (our brain is worried that this New could be dangerous). Maybe the energy and care-free-ness of youth highlights that one’s own body isn’t as fit anymore. Or maybe because of the attitude that young ones are too unreasonable to learn anything from them (while being afraid to be called “old and senile” by them at the same time).
I personally think it’s a pity, because I firmly believe that every human can learn something from every other human – especially about oneself ;-) And I do my very best to include different ages with their respective wisdom into all spaces I create.
How can you celebrate Samhain?
Since Samhain is all about retreating within, the rituals of this time are all about darkness, introspection and connecting to your roots.
- Inviting in the Darkness: Take some time to get comfortable with the darkness. Turn off all the lights and candles and sit down. Notice the darkness. Breathe. Allow the darkness to trickle into you, to expand and fill you up from the inside. Observe which emotions or thoughts arise for you. Let them be present – where are they located in or around your body, where do you sense them? Do they have a shape or a size, do they move?
Allow the darkness to transform and heal them.
- The Violet Flame of Transmutation: Imagine or sense how you step into the violet flame of transmutation and let everything old, outdated and burdensome be burned away (you don’t have to know what exactly it is), so that you can begin a new cycle with fresh strength.
- Taking stock: Get pen and paper, maybe a blanket and a hot beverage and let the last year pass before your mind’s eye:
> What went well this year, what didn’t go quite as well?
> Have I lived in tune with my own and Nature’s rhythm?
> Who or what entered my life and what of it would I like to keep?
> What has come to an end and what do I want to say goodbye to (e.g., habits, life circumstances, people)?
> What was painful and what do I want to let go of now?
- Seeds for the new year: (e.g., in combination with the previous ritual) Ponder the following questions:
> What do I wish for in the new year?
> What would I like to have happen in the different areas of my life, which changes do I want to make?
> How do I want to feel next year (in the different areas)?
Let these musings be the foundation for the “Ritual of 13 Wishes” during the Twelve Holy Nights of Winter, and think about what (metaphorical) seeds you’d like to plant for next year.
- Journey to the Ancestors: Take a few deep breaths and connect with your body in the Here and Now. Sense your mother/one parent behind your left shoulder and your father/the other parent behind your right shoulder. Notice how they stand, in which distance, what they do and what comes up for you when you think about them.
Then sense your mother’s mother behind your mother’s left shoulder and your mother’s father behind her right shoulder. Similarly, sense your father’s mother behind his left shoulder and his father behind his right shoulder. Again, observe how they stand, what they do and what comes up for you.
Feel into the next generation of 8 people standing behind your grandparents, then the 16 people behind them and so on. When you don’t know them personally, simply feel into their energetic presence.
So many people contributed to you being here today, on this Earth. If you like, visit one of them in your mind’s eye and have a conversation. Ask questions, tell them something, or listen what they want to share with you.
End this journey when you feel complete.
- Fire Ritual: Meet together by the fire (campfire, fire bowl), by a fireplace or simply light some candles. In turn, whisper your worries into the fire, handing everything over that you don’t want to carry into the new year. If grief or sadness rise up, melancholy or the wish to hold on to the past, allow these feelings to be present and ask the fire to transform them, to make room for a new beginning.
- Remembering Together: Meet with family or friends and talk about the people who have been dear to your heart, but are no longer with you. Their physical body might have returned to the Earth, but they live on in our hearts, through the power of our memory.
Do you have any questions or know other Samhain rituals that you love celebrating? Send me a message, I‘d love to learn more!
Do you want to reconnect with the cycle of life and with the rhythm that’s running through your veins month after month? I send out weekly personal (electronic) letters, so you can remember the ancestral wisdom stored in your cells.
It’s time to take our lives back into our own two hands and trust the wisdom our bodies hold!
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