Samhain, on 31st October each year, is the time of the end of the harvest, where the crops have been gathered in, trees are shedding their leaves and vegetation is dying back. It marks the end of Summer and is often seen as a time when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is at it's thinnest.
The origins of Samhain date back thousands of years to the Celts, for whom it was the last day of their year. Large bonfires were lit where the last of the harvest was sometimes sacrificed and the embers of the fire were collected afterwards to light their homes during the winter months. Participants celebrated the harvest and dressed up to ward off the ghosts of the ancestors.
The association with death and ancestors has remained to this day and has influenced the modern celebration of Halloween. There are a number of ways to honour the festival, including lighting bonfires, holding a festival dinner and setting up an altar.
To set up your altar, lay your cloth over your altar surface ( a black cloth is ideal). Then lay a smaller, different coloured cloth on top that reflects the traditional colours of Samhain; orange, yellow or red. Then place your centrepiece in the middle of your altar. Your centrepiece may be something that reminds you of your ancestors, or that connects you to the spirit of Samhain being a festival of the dead and the end of summer. Some ideas for a centrepiece are:
- An image of loved ones, who have passed away
- An image or statue of your chosen god or goddess
- Cornucopia or carved pumpkin
- A Cauldron, perhaps full of Autumnal flowers
- A large orange candle
Once you have set your main base up and you have your centrepiece in place, then you can start to decorate your altar. You can use items such as the following to decorate your Altar:
Berries and Nuts
Pumpkin, Squash, Apples etc
Altar Candles (usually black, orange, white, silver or gold)
Gemstones and Crystals ( such as: Obsidian, Amber, Garnet, Clear Quartz)
Some people like to make an altar dedicated to their loved ones at this time and may include many photos of lost loved ones, lighting candles and calling out their names in remembrance and asking for their guidance. Tealights can be left to burn out, if in a suitable container and not likely to be a fire hazard.
It is also traditional to set a spare place at dinner, for the ancestors to visit. Invite them by name and serve a plate with some food to show they are welcome.
Whether you know this time of the year as Samhain, Halloween, Oie Houney or by another name, we hope that you take time to celebrate and reconnect.