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There are connections between the broader world and paganism all throughout the year, and a big part of that, no doubt, comes from the borrowing of early Pagan festivals by later religious practices (which shall remain nameless).
Even after those religious holidays became increasingly secular, it can help for Pagans and Wiccans to look back on those early festivals, and to look at the world around them, and see the Gods and Goddesses all around. Samhain is a sacred time, set aside for celebrating the gifts of the Gods and Goddesses and preparing for the winter ahead… is what I should say!
All of the above is true, too! But it’s Halloween, too! It’s the season where we get to just cut loose, and enjoy a holiday that’s all about being spooky and weird and just cut loose! How can a good witch walk the line? How do you do your duty, recognize the Gods and Goddesses, and really feel like you’re part of the world, and go to parties dressed as the sexy witch you pretend not to be all year round?
Well, I’ve got a few ideas, and with any luck, by the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll have some ideas to make my favorite holiday, your favorite holy day.
1. Spend Some Time With Nature
This is the simplest, and at the same time, can be the hardest. Don’t worry too much about being spiritual, don’t think too hard about what Samhain “means,” and just spend some time on a nature walk. But if it’s so simple, then how is it ‘sacred’? The idea requires a little unpacking.
The Gods and Goddesses are responsible for all of creation. They maintain the trees, and the birds, and the grass. They’re always doing this, for all of us, whether we ask them to or not. This is something worth celebrating! You can celebrate it so many ways, but if you’ve ever given a gift, you know that the best “thank you” is to see someone making use of it.
By enjoying nature, taking your time, taking a breath, you show that you appreciate the value of this gift that the Gods and Goddesses have given you. And then, when all that is done, you can thank them in other ways, too.
But that’s not the only benefit of nature walks. Particularly if you can slip your shoes off for a bit, you can reconnect yourself with those natural powers, and re-center your energy. And of course, every benefit of meditation applies here, too.
You can tune the busy, demanding world out for a while, and every ability to turn off the noise in your mind is another chance to deepen your ability to slip into trance and work more powerful spells. There have even been scientific links between forest walks and improved memory and cognitive ability, so it’s not just a fun time.
2. Share A Drink With A Deity
If you’re like me, then you like to have a sip or two of the good stuff on special occasions. Maybe you like a little more than one or two, even! That’s alright. It’s Halloween! It’s a time to celebrate how hard you’ve worked over the last year, and enjoying yourself is an important part of that process.
But if you just needed permission to party, you wouldn’t be here. I can’t give you permission, because you never needed it from me! But I promise, I do have a point.
See, one of the most important parts of my pagan practice is sacrifice. I don’t mean blood, or whatever. I don’t burn dollar bills. I offer spices and herbs. And that’s where the drinking comes in, because I also offer drinks.
When you pour out a sip for the Gods, that’s a sacrifice, and it’s just as good as any. Better than some, even. So just tip your bottle a little, and pour it out, and make sure to say, “this one’s for you.” Then you can have a little more for yourself. Share with the Gods, and they’ll share with you.
There’s an important question here, though, and I don’t want to get away from it. Historically, there is a basic formula to making sacrifices to the Gods. You can look at specific prayers all day—Cato’s prayer to Mars provides a fine basis, but there are many others to look for, both modern and ancient.
Is it necessary to say a prayer before you make an offering? I think there’s room for debate here. I never make an offering without a prayer first, but does that mean that secular Pagans are bad and wrong? Does that mean that if you forget, you ought to feel bad, and the Gods have turned their faces from you? Don’t be silly—it’s the thought that counts.
But if you remember to say a prayer, then you certainly get brownie points.
3. Bonfires Burning Bright
This goes great with the first two. You’re outside, you’re all charged up with the love of being outside, you’ve taken the kids out to get their candy, and now it’s night-time. You’re ready to crack open your drink—the Gods drink! You’re just going to have a little taste, of course.
And what better place to do all this, and to enjoy the fruits of nature, than at a bonfire? Everyone loves them. There’s something really delightful about being able to go out to a bonfire and watch the flames. But would you believe that there’s actually a bit more precedent to it than that?
Bonfire Night is a bit of a complex topic in our modern day. There are many bonfire nights, historically, and to make things more confusing, in the UK, the celebration has shifted from the 31st of October, Samhain, to the 5th of November. But then, culture has shifted wildly, and part of Pagan practice is knowing when you should look at how our forefathers did things.
Besides, this doesn’t necessarily need to be anything very big. A little fire in your backyard can be just as valid as making a giant pyre to the Gods.
4. Not Your Usual Altar
Most of us have a way that we like to keep our altars. You’ve got your special athame, your special crystals, your special placement, and it all adds up to a very specific idea of how you practice your prayers and rituals.
But this is a special time of year for us, and sometimes recognizing the specialness of the event means that it can help to do things a little bit differently than how you’re used to doing them. The altar is a good place to do this, as long as you’re not doing anything to upset the balance of energies.
Put a few reminders of the season out, prominently placed enough that you remember what makes this time of year different than the others.
The biggest thing to remember is that a big part of Samhain is remembering the harvest, but there’s another part of it that, so far, I’ve almost entirely neglected. Don’t be worried, I promise I’m getting to it, but I like to build up to the big stuff.
Samhain is also important because it gives us a time to remember and celebrate our beloved dead. The people who have left us, in the past year, and all the years before it. Not even just people! Whoever ended their journey on this plane, remember that this is the time when the barrier between you and them is thinnest.
As far as I’m concerned, skull imagery is always in fashion, but this is never more true than when Samhain approaches, and on the night itself, it’s still more true. And don’t think that you need to be too terribly morbid with this.
You don’t need a real human skull. Heck, it can be a gorgeous candy skull, for example! Photos of your loved ones who have passed on are also great choices to add around the periphery of your altar. Remember them and show them your love with your spread, and that feeling will reach them through the veil.
A lot of the titles, I wanted to make fun. I’m embarrassed by how long it took me to think of ‘Share A Drink With A Deity’ to make it sound cool. But this was the exception. I looked at my notes, saw the word “Feast!” written, and was absolutely certain that was what I was going to title this section. It’s so exciting! Have a big meal!
Every holiday is a feast-day, in paganism, but no holiday is more of a feast-day than Samhain. Imagine you’re living in 200 A.D., you’re a farmer, and you’ve just finished hauling in all the harvest. You’ve got a few cattle that look a little small, and it’s going to be a cold winter, like it is every year. So you have a slaughter, you offer it up to the Gods, and you have more than enough for yourself and your family.
You know when you just got paid and it feels like you’ve got so much money you can never run out? Same idea here. There’s a long and storied history of feasts on Samhain, and you’re tapping into all that history, and all the memories of all those ancestors, by joining in the feast!
Have A Sweet Samhain And A Happy Halloween
There’s a lot of negativity in the world, and every pagan I’ve ever met has tried to bring a little positivity in to counteract that, but even the best witch in the world sometimes gets caught up in thinking that they know how to do things right.
I’m worse than most, being on average a more negative person and less experienced with this wonderful community than many. But I want to make one thing absolutely clear: There’s no wrong way to celebrate. I’m hoping that you’re looking forward to it. I hope you’re so excited that it feels like you’re buzzing. That’s the perfect time to do a spell. Put all that energy, all that excitement, all that focus into your magic. And if you don’t, and you don’t want to?
You’re still right.
I love you guys, and I hope you have a happy, safe, beautiful Samhain. Let us know what you’re excited about, and what you’re planning, and how it all went down. We’re always excited to spark a little discussion.