Samhain, the Celtic pagan holiday that honors the dead and ushers in the dark half of the year, is observed October 31st through November 1st at the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. Samhain celebrates the completion of the harvest season and the inevitable and miraculous cycle of death and rebirth. Its name means "summer's end" in Irish.
It is believed that during this time the veil between worlds is thin, and not only between the realms of the living and the dead; interference by the fae is also a concern. Celebrating Samhain, therefore, involves communing with spirits as well as protecting oneself from fairy mischief.
Here are five takes on traditional Samhain practices that you can adopt in your celebrations today.
1. Cleanse and Manifest with Fire
Busy with collecting the harvest, ancient Celts allowed their home hearths to burn out until the work was finished. Upon completion, Druid priests joined the community to light a ritual bonfire from which celebrants would each take home a flame to re-light their hearths.
In lieu of a bonfire, you can imbue a candle with protective, healing, or abundance-attracting intentions and make this your fire ritual. You may wish to designate a candle for each room in your house, lighting each one from the first, blessed candle so as to take those intentions along with the flame, and let them burn in each room for a time. (Do not leave burning candles unattended.)
2. Hold a Silent Supper
It is said that deceased relatives come seeking hospitality during Samhain, so it may be best to honor them with a prepared spot at the table. A "dumb" or silent supper is traditionally held in silence, and with a chair left empty for the spirits of the departed whom you expect to honor and commune with.
Start by preparing your space. You can asperge - sprinkle with blessed water or oils - your surfaces and doorways, or add moonwater to your cleaning solution or blessed oils to the cloth you clean with for added protection. You may also wish to cleanse with smoke. You can burn incense or dried herbs like rosemary, lavender, juniper, or mugwort, open doors and windows, and invite negative energies to exit the space.
Prepare your meal with care, and leave a seat for your metaphysical family. Everyone should remain silent until they have left the room.
3. Leave Offerings for the Dead
While the veil is thin, it's a good time to leave offerings for the dearly departed. You can visit a loved one's grave if you'd like, or you can set up an altar in your home. Light a candle upon the altar and fill it with things that would delight the spirits it is for - their favorite foods, drinks, colors, trinkets that symbolize experiences or hobbies, flowers, burnt offerings, etc.
4. Leave Gifts for the Fae
If you aren't familiar with the fae folk, the prevailing advice is that you leave well enough alone. They are mischievous tricksters, and their pranks can be downright mean! You would not want to cross them.
You may have heard warnings about interacting with the fae, like not to tell them your real name. But you're also not to lie to them, so be careful when giving a pseudonym! (Giving a fake name is a lie, but saying "You may call me..." isn't. ) It is also advised that you never accept a gift, say "thank you", or apologize, and that's because doing any of those things leaves you indebted to the fae, and that could be worse than being indebted to the mob.
You'll want, instead, to leave them a gift in exchange for sparing you their tomfoolery. Find a place outside to leave your offering. Choose somewhere natural and away from lots of people. You can leave them things like stones or crystals, pretty trinkets, alcohol, or any kind of natural food or drink that will wash away or break down, eventually leaving no trace. (Milk and honey are a classic.)
5. Dress Up to Avoid Mischievous Spirits
Another way to avoid mischief from the fae folk and other spirits is to dress up in costume so they don't recognize you!
Even if you don't care to placate the fae or foil mischievous spirits, dressing up is inarguably one of the most enjoyable traditions this time of year.
And yes, since Halloween and Samhain are not the same holiday, it's a perfectly valid excuse to do more than one costume.